Last year, I saw 15 films at the Mumbai Film Festival and I remember feeling pretty triumphant because as far as I recall, I had half a job back then. Which meant that I had to juggle a few hours of work along with trooping in to watch every film I could. This year, I decided that if there’s one privilege I should be able to claim in exchange for watching rubbish Bollywood on a weekly basis, then it would be attending this year’s Mumbai Film Festival without in official capacity. By ‘official capacity’ means dangling a badge marked “PRESS” around my neck and not having to go into work for the week of the festival. This year’s haul of films: 27.
If my life was a romantic comedy, then in the course of watching these films, I would have bumped into a delicious specimen of maleness and my life would have hurtled towards some difficult, where’s-the-Kleenex decisions before ending happily ever after. Instead, I got my period in the middle of it all and had to sit next to someone who’s anti-deodorant on more than one occasion.
But that’s ok. I watched some brilliant films and I now know that if the spirit is willing, the body can make it to the unfamiliar environs of Andheri to catch a 10am show even while cramping and bleeding like a stuck pig. Go me! By the way, the Andheri venue for the festival screenings was far better than the ones downtown. For those who are familiar with Mumbai and are aware of how Andheri is considered the black hole of civilisation, this may sound deranged but it’s true. Both in terms of the schedule (repeat shows!) as well as the general set up, Andheri’s Cinemax was way more convenient. For one thing, the queues were more orderly and there was a food court. Downtown, there were regular brawls in the queues and a choice between starvation and indigestion because food options were singularly limited.
Anyway, the point is 27 films! To celebrate this and to create a quick record of what I saw, here are one-liners for each of the films. Ok, a couple might be more than one line. The point is, they’ll all be brief. Here we go, in the order that I watched them.
1. The Butler, by Lee Daniels
Down a shot each time you spot a famous person — double shot for a black celebrity — and you might just be drunk enough to not notice what a trite and dull film this is.
2. Pardé (Closed Curtains), by Jafar Panahi
They say a dog is a man’s best friend, but it’s actually the imagination. Because with an imagination, you can conjure up a dog as well as a beautiful woman and a surreal story about what it’s like to be trapped inside Jafar Panahi’s head. At the end of the film, you have a shot very similar to the beginning — the camera looks out, past a locked collapsible gate and closed windows, as though it’s from the perspective of someone trapped inside — and there you are, in the theatre, wondering who’s been left inside.
3. Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, by Anup Singh
A Punjabi Boys Don’t Cry meets The Exorcist. Or, How To Go From Interesting to Weird to WTF in 109 minutes.
4. Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful), by François Ozon
Finally we have proof that being French and beautiful will seriously mess with your head. More seriously, Ozon’s film is about a young woman in her late teens who’s curiosity about sex leads her into all sorts of trouble. He’s so good at not blaming anyone and yet raising a critical eyebrow at the knee jerk reactions people have.
5. Inside Llewyn Davis, by Ethan and Joel Coen
I can’t help thinking that without Searching for Sugarman, there wouldn’t have been Inside Llewyn Davis. The real story is far more uplifting than the Coen brothers’ fiction, but still, it’s a charming little film with a lovely soundtrack.
6. L’Ecume des jours (Mood Indigo), by Michel Gondry
How do you tell a love story set in a fantasy? If magic is more magical and happiness is happier in the imaginary world of the fantastical, then sadness must be sadder and despair must be sharper. Except it’s a struggle to accept the latter after having delighted in the former. Imperfect, but imagined so, so beautifully.
7. Le Couperet (The Ax), by Costa Gavras
What do you do when the job market is tough and the competition is tougher? Eliminate the competition. With a gun. It is a little unnerving how easy it is to feel warmly towards a man who’s committing murder left right and centre.
8. La Vie d’Adele, Chapitre 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Color), by Abdellatif Kechiche
Snot + nudity = art. Apparently. I’m being harsh. It’s a good film with some amazing acting and one break-up scene that is bound to scrape painfully at memories of arguments with a loved one. The film also leaves you craving spaghetti bolognese. Seriously.
9. The Rocket, by Kim Mordaunt
Making a bomb is child’s play, literally. A classic case of taking a bunch of serious and interesting ideas — tribal traditions in modern times, the problems of relocation, the legacy of decades of warfare etc. — and flattening them into a cheesy, predictable storyline. That said, the guy who plays the Laotian James Brown is good fun.
10. Bad Hair, by Mariana Rondon
What’s the mark of a man? The clothes you wear, the way you dance, the people you hang out with, the way your hair falls (or stands straight) or the silences? It’s fantastic how many layers of questions and ambiguities are layered in the simple repetitions of everyday activities. Beautiful and heartbreaking.
11. Brave Miss World, by Cecilia Peck
Ostensibly, this is a film about surviving rape. What it ended up being is an uneasy document of how frenzy is the only thing that seems to be able to soothe the psychological scars left by rape. Very unnerving, but I’m not sure it’s intentional because the point of the film is to show a heroine. It’s the details at the fringes of that central PR campaign that are interesting.
12. Bekas, by Karzan Kader
Rarely does one respond to a scene with two cute kids — of whom one is standing on a land mine — with “Please let the landmine go off so that the film ends and I can leave.” But that’s how annoying and stupid Bekas is.
13. Kvinden i Buret (The Keeper of Lost Causes), by Mikkel Nørgaard
Scandinavian crime thriller FTW! (Sorry, I’ve just recently discovered this abbreviation and I just can’t stop using it.) Tight, twisted and so grey that even sunshine looks gloomy, this is just what the doctor ordered for all of us who are waiting for Sherlock to get on with season 3 already. Plus, brown people can feel happy since the sidekick is a dude called Assad. Best news: this is apparently going to be a trilogy.
14. The Selfish Giant, by Clio Barnard
One of those films in which the dialogues makes me remember with every fibre of my being that English language is not my mother tongue. Set in Bradford, this is a story about childhood friendships set in a very cruel and adult world. Beautifully acted by two young boys (Conor Chapman as the smartass Arbor is particularly good) and depressing as hell. Bradford, nothing good will come of it, I tell you.
15. Gloria, by Sebastián Lelio
We’ve all heard of second childhood, but it seems the 50s are the second adolescence. Gloria is a 58 year old divorcee and her journey through romance and heartbreak is almost exactly like what you’d have in a film about a teenager — right down to the doobie smoking. No idea whether this is accurate of that age group of women in general or German women in their 50s in particular (Mackie, we can discuss this later =P ), but it was a sweet little film.
16. L’image Manquante (The Missing Picture), by Rithy Panh
How do you breathe life into propaganda footage and clay dolls that attempt to re-enact history? With a narration that hums with poetic charge. This documentary about Panh’s own experiences during Khmer Rouge’s occupation of Cambodia is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen or heard. It’s poetry, that narration.
17. Fill de Caín (Son of Cain), by Jesús Monllaó
As an Indian who has cringed while watching films like Race 2 by Abbas-Mustan, I’m actually deeply relieved to realise we are not alone. Spain has its own Abbas-Mustan and in fact, he’s one better. The double genius of Abbas-Mustan is contained in one Spanish man and his name is Jesús. Praise the lord. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.) Pointless twists, illogical plot and subtlety of the variety that makes the bad guy wear all black all the time, it’s a miracle this film got into any festival.
18. La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty), by Paolo Sorrentino
There’s no way I’m going to sum up this film in one line but I can sum up my reaction to it in one word: Love.
19. Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin), by Jia Zhangke
Four ordinary people and one extraordinary portrait of how China’s people are responding to the repression and control imposed upon them. The violence in Zhangke’s film is mindless and delivered with the kind of casualness with which one decides to pop a painkiller or buy vegetables. There’s barely a moment’s reflection before inflicting violence upon others and one’s self. Chilling, brilliant stuff.
20. Wara no tate (Shield of Straw), by Takashi Miike
A serial killer has to be transported for his court appearances but one of his victim’s grandfather has offered a reward to of one billion yen to anyone who kills the dude. Attempted murder will also be rewarded. All hell thus breaks loose because forget justice, people want money. Yes, it’s got oodles of tension and some neat twists, but this is like a Japanese Lethal Weapon. Sheesh.
21. Medeas, by Andreas Pallaoro
The director should wear a T-shirt that reads, “I wanted to be Terence Malik, but all I got was a dude who can sort of copy Malik’s cinematographer”. Boring, pointless and one of the silliest interpretations of the Medea myth — I’m guessing that’s what it’s meant to be, given the title — that I’ve seen.
22. Ilo Ilo, by Anthony Chen
Lovely little portrait of a Singaporean Chinese family and their Filipino maid. This film won the Camera d’Or at Cannes this year and one of the films it beat in competition was The Lunchbox. You see Ilo Ilo and you realise that as sweet as The Lunchbox may be, it’s a little immature and raw in comparison to Chen’s film. Aside from issues in the plot and acting — none of which Ilo Ilo has. The acting and script are both superb — The Lunchbox relies quite heavily on India’s exotic value.
23. Vic+Flo Ont Vu Un Ours (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear), by Denis Côté
This is not an accurate title because neither Vic nor Flo see a bear. But they do see each other and a seriously creepy Chinese woman called Jackie. Politeness has never been as creepy and threatening as it is in this film.
24. Before Midnight, by Richard Linklater
I have a sentimental attachment to Before Sunset, but this one is probably the best of Linklater’s trilogy. It’s a fantastic exploration of marriage that’s written with such wit and sensitivity. And really, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are like the best on-screen couple.
25. La Plaga (The Plague), by Neus Ballús
Summer in the outskirts of Barcelona, some beautiful countryside and one seriously feisty old lady who constantly makes you smile. Sweet, slow little film.
26. Don Job, by Joseph Gordon Levitt
Porn addict, looking for love — that’s basically the premise of this film and like all things Hollywood, it doesn’t delve into any one of the issues in the film with any degree of depth. I’m just glad he chose to date the older women. It made me feel less churlish towards Scarlett Johansson.
27. The Fifth Estate, by Bill Condon
Crap. And you thought I can’t be brief.