Sunday, December 15, 2013

A week at the movies: Mumbai Film Festival 2013

This post comes about a month and a half late but somehow time went by so quickly since October and I never got around to writing about it - in other words I have been lazy and less than inspired lately. But today seems perfect for going back to it though - so let me get through it while it's still a Sunday, while memory still serves me right, while the dog sleeps and the music plays.

It was a good week - luckily this year I got a few days off from work so I could watch all the movies I wanted to and enjoy the scene in its entirety. So this was my routine - get up in the morning, travel to the venue, watch movies, catch some lunch, coffee/beer, watch some more movies, catch some dinner, some more beer, get home happy. In between I also agonized over registering online for the movies I wanted to watch (they started this new system this year), standing in long queues, sleeping super late which I did not mind, getting up early which I did and the of course the Mumbai traffic in all its omnipresent glory. I did have company on some days and the rest I was by myself which was also good and it led to some really interesting random conversations involving strangers (some not involving me). Below are a few excerpts:

Random dude standing behind me in the queue for 'Heli' to another random dude standing behind him: "Hey did you watch Blue is my favourite colour?"
I did not hear what the response was (coz I was immediately laughing inside) but I am sure it was not "Yeah mine too".

Cyrus Broacha: Is this the queue for 'Son of Cain' ?
Me: Yes.

That's it. But I did overhear CB giving an interview to some festival blog kids about how we have always been interested in Spanish cinema. He did mention Kites, Hrithik Roshan and Barbara Mori too. The guy is brilliant.

And another one while watching the first few minutes of 'Only God Forgives' with an old lady who was looking visibly scandalized before she finally spoke to me.

Old Lady: Is this a violent movie?
Me: Yes. You should go catch "Your Next Life" in screen 5. That's a good one.

Apparently she was there because she thought it was a religious film. She left immediately.

Okay then now the movies. These are the ones I remember most dearly:

Short Term 12:
The warmest, loveliest and the most uplifting film I saw in the festival. It also drew the most rapturous applause from the audience I witnessed this year. Short Term 12 is a home for troubled teens, a place where these tender souls form bonds with the carers and each other and hope to be 'normal' again, to survive in a tough world which can be uncaring at times. We watch them as they open up, get better, smile,  also always at risk of sliding back into the darkness again. This is a sweet tale that's a testament to the capacity of the human heart to heal itself. It tells us - we are all a little damaged and we all need love. And it feels so good to be cared for even better to care of someone.

Inside Llewyn Davis:
It is New York of the 60s. A severe winter and our hero, a folk singer is trying to survive in the Greenwich village scene. No money, no roof over his head. All he is got is his guitar, his deep resonant voice, a stubborn talent and the kindness of friends and strangers. He is proud and makes no effort to become likable to anyone, not even the ones who love him or care for him. We wince as we watch our hero on the verge of giving up on his dreams, shivering in the cold as he realizes that maybe the world doesn't care and he may not make it after all. The music is gorgeous so is the cinematography and a cat, yes a cat is very central to the almost non-existent plot.

The Strange Little Cat:
This little film was the brightest surprise of the festival. I saw people kept walking out throughout its 72 minute length. Perhaps they should have been locked in, had they stayed till the end they would have realized its brilliant. Or maybe not. Its breaks all stereotypes, all barriers of traditional film making. And the moment you stop trying to figure it out you give in to its impossible charm. Its a family dinner and the dinner table is the center of it's universe. People keep talking, wondering, musing, walking in and out of the frame - all the time keeping you alive to every single thread that's going on. And there is so much going on. It makes you wonder, it makes you smile and no it doesn't let you neatly tie loose ends and all. And yes this one has a cat too. It's held together by a brilliant piece of music which acts like bookmarks between chapters. Its called "Pulchritude" by "Thee More Shallows" and it will haunt you long after the movie is over. This one begs repeated viewing and that's exactly what I am going to do.

All Is Lost:
This was the last movie I watched in the festival and that walk to the station from the theater is one of the most satisfying walks of my life. It is a solo act with hardly any dialogue. One old man against the storms or shall I say with the storms. His fight for survival, his hope, his despair and the eventual resignation is all played with out with great dignity by Robert Redford. It's nothing short of brilliant. There are moments of immense resolve and beauty and peace. It's ironic when he looks at the stormy skies and the swirling seas towards the end - there is so much beauty to marvel at but then perhaps he won't survive the next surge or the next tumble. Or perhaps he will.

Ivan Locke is a man of steely resolve. Or concrete resolve would be more appropriate. He loves his work, his wife, his kids but above all he is a man of unimpeachable integrity who will risk it all to do what he feels is the right thing. Another almost solo act, this one is a minimalist thriller - just a man in his car on a journey from Birmingham to London, a series of phone calls and how he tries to keep it all together and you can see its no easy feat as you watch him. The drama is played out in voices and it somehow appears so much more real, more fragile than a regular flashback device would have been. Tom Hardy has managed to pull it off brilliantly.

The Keeper of Lost Causes:
This one is a solid crime thriller from the place where the best ones are made: Denmark. It is based on a popular crime fiction by the same name. Carl is an out of favor police detective who is shunted to the Department Q - one of the old and now forgotten cases. He is assisted by Assad who is in equal disfavor perhaps due to his immigrant origins. Without talking too much about the plot this one is thoroughly enjoyable - for Carl and Assad's gruff yet warm camaraderie, the humour and of course the twists in the plot.

I cried without shame for the first half hour of the film. Its about grief and loss of a pet, yes. But also, its about that human condition of believing that happiness lasts forever and being inconsolable when you realise it doesn't. It's about needing and not being needed, about understanding that fine line between compassion and pity. Anna is a loner - doesn't have any friends, lives with her dog and is happy with her life until she loses her dog. She buries her dog in her neighbour's yard and tries to befriend the family. What follows is a tale of survival - of reaching out to the world and finally coming to terms with the fact happiness is not a guarantee and all we can do is try.

Ilo Ilo:
This was the only movie where I stayed for the post screening Q&A. Singaporean director Anthony Chen is as warm and forthcoming as they come. This one is a very personal story about a child and his nanny and even more remarkable was what happened after the movie. The director revealed after the movie that he met his nanny 16 years after they were separated. Perhaps he made this movie just to find her. Ilo Ilo is a province in Philippines where Teresa the nanny came from.

The Past:
We wish life wasn't so complicated but it is. We look at our relationships always through the prisms of our own flawed hearts. We all mean well, we all want to be happy, we all get hurt and sometimes hurt others - If only we could understand it all. We don't - this movie gives us multiple perspectives on a very complex situation and does not help us choose. But I am sure we all do - our experiences colour us , leave us biased enough to pick sides and that's what makes us so delightfully human. It comes from the director of "A Separation" - another brilliant movie.

Miss and the Doctors:
It had me at the opening credits - Tim Hardin sings "How can we hang on to a dream" as credits roll. You can't go much wrong after that. And it doesn't. This is the most charming movie I saw this festival. It's about two brothers Boris and Dimitri both of whom fall for Louise - the mother of a little girl they treat. Of course she is a vision and you can't blame the doctors - what follows is a good old fashioned sweet sad tale which will leave you feeling good about life. The french title literally translates to "Pull out your tongue, miss".

Also notable were: 
"Blue is the warmest colour" which left me a little underwhelmed to be honest, perhaps because of the hype.
"Young and Beautiful" - Pure Indulgence. :)
"An Act of Killing" a documentary about the genocide in Indonesia. Mostly an unpleasant  and chilling experience but a brilliant documentary nonetheless.

Frances Ha ..

A confession before I begin to talk about the movie - I watched it for Greta Gerwig.  I fell for her completely when I saw her in the mumblecore flick "Nights and Weekends" and I have been secretly in love since then. (And I mean it in a totally harmless non-stalker way). Well she plays Frances and has also co-written the screenplay. (+1)
Now the movie - beautifully shot in grainy monochrome, it is an unadorned story of Frances - a girl trying to make it in New York. In a world which has a very clear definition of having-made-it she is an oddball - a perennial underachiever and a fierce dreamer who refuses to give in to the onslaught of reality. She wants to be a dancer in a prestigious dance company where she works as an apprentice. We can see she is not that good. She shares an apartment with her best friend from college who is trying to drift away and she is almost always broke. But then despite it all she somehow manages to stay afloat and keep the darkness at bay with a genuine lightness of being. By the time it ends, we know it's a grim world we live in but there is hope within. So infectious is her goofy charm that we feel for her as she goes through her sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes embarrassing and always relatable life. Not all of us live our lives like this. I wished I did.

I finished this movie a few hours ago but thoughts kept swarming about in my head and I couldn't sleep. Also this song played on loop all this while: