The 15th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) organised by Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) was a result of some wonderful programming. Movies that I had been only reading about from links shared by film enthusiasts and critics worldwide came home to a big group of people with a huge appetite for the classics and the new. Obviously, there was always the question, “Did you like it?” as soon as one got out of the theatre after a screening, but it is always too soon to answer that question. I would rather live with the experience for a while, maybe read a little about the film and what inspired the director to make it, and then decide how it made me feel. Just like in relationships, a little background always helps understand a film better.
I missed a lot of films I hear were good. That is the hazard of living far from the festival venue as well as having other personal and professional items on the agenda. Among the ones that I hope to catch in the near future are Act of Killing, The Great Beauty, 3X3D, Closed Curtains, A Touch of Sin, among others. I also have the entire filmography of Costa Gavras added to my never-ending list of films to watch.
Roughly a month and a half after the close of the MFF, in no particular order of preference, here are my top five films from the fest. Individual posts on these films may follow after a second viewing. I may add another five to the list if I find time in the near future:
1. Ilo Ilo – This is a soft, sweet story about a Filipino maid coming to Singapore to work for a middle-class family, while it is trying to work its way around the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The naughty-boy-protagonist’s slowly deepening friendship with the maid, while a very pregnant mother experiences pangs of jealousy, is what forms the plot. The residences remind you vaguely of how people live in Mumbai, where there is always a space crunch. The boy and his mischief is superbly entertaining and the flashes of everyday humour coming from the parents make you smile. It could be the story of anyone who grew up middle-class style in the 1980s/90s in India. I could see a lot of my family in the film. Maybe that’s why it became one of my instant favourites.
While the hype around this movie led a lot of expectations to be shattered, director Anthony Chen and the entire cast can still stake claim to wonderful storytelling and great performances.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis – Terribly distracted by the AC on full blast while watching this Coen Brothers film, I couldn’t enjoy the film in its full glory. Later, I sat thinking about it and how beautifully it portrays an artist’s will to stay true to his art despite wave after wave of hurt and failure marking his path. From what sounds like some lovely New York country music of the 1960s, we see the man face rejections, one after the other – his friends, the woman he recently slept with, his now-incapacitated father and the entire music community. It is painful, but as is always with Coen Brothers’ films, the quirky characters and situations make the whole deal look oddly funny. Watch it for some fantastic performances, great songs and a little bit of heartbreak. (Plus, I was pointed out to a fellow in the end who looked and sounded oddly similar to the legendary Bob Dylan. I am not claiming it is a real footage, but if you love the master’s songs, you have got to listen to the ones in this movie).
3. Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost – This one is dark. Set in the time of the India-Pakistan partition, it tracks the story of Umber Singh, who, ailing from the pain of being uprooted from his village, is so desperate for a son to carry forward his lineage, decides to raise his fourth-born daughter as a son. It is part-sympathetic and part-horrific to watch him try to cling on to something he doesn’t have, and in the process, messing up several lives, including of the low-caste gypsy girl he gets his “son” married to. Dealing with questions of identity, honour and roots, Anup Singh‘s film leaves an impact on you. It helps that all the actors are more than convincing in their roles. Saying any more would mean giving out the story. Best to just watch it.
4. Blue is the Warmest Colour – Undeniably the most anticipated film at MFF because of the rave reviews it received at Cannes, and the graphic lovemaking scenes between the two leading women, Blue, for me, fulfilled, if not surpassed, my expectations. Abdellatif Kechiche has adapted this heartbreaking love story from a graphic novel called Blue Angel, and changed the focus from how the French society views lesbians to just how “normally” their story too follows the love-curve. The attraction, the flirtation, the intensity of new found love and the excitement of sex, the settling into routine, the ennui, the straying, the bitter confrontation, the making amends. Worthy of mention are the actresses Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux, who are natural and make the characters seem so real and life-like – like people we know and meet almost everyday.
There has been lots of talk about the “male gaze” in the cinematography of the movie, if there is any story, or why the story is special at all and from whose point of view a women’s story of their relationship is being told – the male director, or one of the women themselves? Fundamentally, the story makes sense to me as it says that there is nothing special about a homosexual relationship. What it does is raise questions about fidelity and the forms of it – psychological, emotional, physical, and who can be said to be the first “drifter” – the one flirting with a third person at a party while still in a relationship, or the one who feels so lonely and unwanted that she seeks comfort in another person’s arms. It is this “seeking of love” that happens to each of us that makes the movie seem so normal. The pain of the protagonist, who is essentially a lonely being trying to find a natural connection with others, that lingers.
5. Matterhorn – This was a Dutch film by Diederik Ebbinge that anyone was hardly talking about, and I went to watch it, because the other show that I wanted to catch in the same time slot was running full-house. I am so glad for this serendipity. Matterhorn is a lovely discovery. It is about a lonely man, living his life by the second hand of the clock and religiously attending Church with his neighbourhood full of the elderly and the staunch. Till another man, an accident survivor with very limited social abilities makes an appearance in his life. A seemingly frozen heart gives way to regretfully supressed emotion through the plot, after the men bond, form a friendship, and find it in them to defy religious convention to discover big joys in life.
Again, the acting, the cinematography and the direction are splendid beyond words. The transition in the protagonist still feels fresh as the ends of the movie draws near. There is a welcome quality of unpredictability in the story because of the way it is told – linear, but with individuals threads joining into the weave of the plot to create a lovely tapestry in the end. Matterhorn is the story of victory over one’s own demons to move on and achieve all that we have been denying ourselves for the fear of being looked down by the guardians of society – subtly, but clearly told.