Gautaman Bhaskaran
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Mad about the movies?

Mumbai Film Festival showcased some of the best of world cinema

By Gautaman Bhaskaran

The 11th Mumbai Film Festival was high on content. Supported by Reliance Big Entertainment, organised by the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image and steered by its new director, Srinivasan Narayanan, the event enslaved the metropolis. Although the festival was poorly organised and had an unimpressive star presence, with the exception of American script writer-director Paul Schrader, Filipino helmer Brillante Mendoza and a few Bollywood actors, the line-up was exciting. There were over 200 movies from nearly 60 countries. It is not easy to pick, but we give you here the best of them.

The Dust of Time: Greek Theo Angelopoulos does a masterly analysis of relationships in times of displacements. Known for his long takes, some stretching for 12 to 13 minutes, Angelopoulos is in no hurry, unlike, as he told me, Americans who have twisted the sense of time and rhythm. His narrative unfolds in a languorous manner as his characters saunter about. Spanning more than half a century and taking place across three continents, this film is a sequel to the monumental The Weeping Meadow. He tells the story of ‘A’, an American director of Greek descent who is in Rome to make a film on himself and his parents, Eleni (Irene Jacob) and Spyros. Turmoil and twentieth century history have separated them. A’s anguish is compounded by the disappearance of his own daughter. Fact and fiction mingle to let the camera gently caress what is essentially a love story.

Genova: Michael Winterbottom’s latest creation is not his best, which was the 1997 Welcome to Sarajevo. This film is about a widowed father left grappling with his own sexual urge and that of his beautiful teenage daughter. After his wife dies in a road accident, the man and his two daughters stay for a year in Genoa. As Winterbottom captures the marble and magnificence of the city, the father is busy teaching at the university and catching the eyes of his girl students, while the daughter cannot resist tanned Mediterranean boys. Colin Firth as the father finely balances grief, responsibility and physical attraction in an admirable performance.

Disgrace: David Lurie (John Malkovich) is a white Cape Town university professor teaching romantic poetry and experimenting with sex. When the girl happens to be a black and his student, it can only spell disaster, given the uneasy political atmosphere. The white rule is over in South Africa and the blacks are still angry, and it is this tense transition that helmer Steve Jacobs encapsulates: first through Lurie’s sexual escapade that goes horribly wrong and later through his daughter’s agony after she is raped by black men. The movie explores the turbulent times of racial distrust through the father-daughter duo as they try to heal their physical and emotional wounds. Gripping to the last frame.

Goodbye Solo: Ramin Bahrani’s film is both sad and funny. Solo is a sensitive black cab driver in North Carolina who can sense the mood of his passengers. When 70-year-old William hires Solo to take him to Blowing Rock, a treacherous mountain peak, in two weeks, the driver can predict what is to follow. Solo uses every weapon in his armoury to persuade William to live. Barmaids, drink and just about everything to stop William from keeping his date with death. Eventually, Solo realises that if someone has to drive the old man on his seemingly last journey, it must be him.

Fish Tank: British helmer Andrea Arnold follows her Cannes Jury Prize winning debut feature, Red Road, with Fish Tank, a vivid study of a young girl. Here newcomer Katie Jarvis plays with distinction a disaffected teenager, Mia. Loud, brash and ill-behaved, she dreams of being a dancer. Her clumsy mother’s new boyfriend encourages Mia in the beginning, but one incident throws things out of gear for the teen. Arnold portrays the claustrophobic squalor of urban wasteland and how this breeds anger and frustration. Mia’s affection for an ageing horse is just about the only redeeming feature in her life, and probably that is what keeps her sane. This honest effort shows how deprived families live in Britain.

Ricky: French auteur Francois Ozon, who gave us such marvellous films as Swimming Pool and Angel, was back with Ricky in Mumbai. A bold work, it is based on a fable-like story by British author Rose Tremain. Set in a northern French housing project, the film focuses on how the relationship between a mother and her seven-year-old daughter suddenly alters when the mother gives birth to Ricky, a special baby. The daughter’s exclusion increases with this arrival. Though something is lost in the flight from the page to the screen, the movie still impacts.

The Little One: Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel’s feature uses circus artists to tell the story of a toddler named Asia abandoned in a park. The handheld camera captures through grainy images how the middle-aged Patti looking for her dog in a park, on the outskirts of Rome, sees Asia on a swing. Patti takes her to the trailer she lives in with her companion, Walter. He is not happy with this arrangement and wants Asia to be taken to the police, but cannot bring himself to do this. Amateurs and two-year-old Asia give a sterling ‘performance’ in this touching narrative. Frimmel said that he had just left the child alone to get what he wanted. Asia was just being herself. The work got the Jury Grand Prize.

Applause: Fearless acting by Danish star Paprika Steen won her honours in Mumbai and endeared her film, directed by Martin Pieter Zandvliet, to the city. Thea Barfoed (Steen) is a critically acclaimed performer in Denmark, the darling of the crowds, but has a shattered home life. A drinking problem leads to her divorce and separation from her two boys. While she is brilliant on stage, she finds that she is a failure at playing mother and wife in her life. Her desperate attempts to get the custody of her sons make most of the movie. The high point of this work is certainly Steen’s role that is packed with abuse and ego on one hand, and self-loathing on the other. Unfolding in short riveting episodes, the narrative is interspersed with scenes from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to heighten the drama.

(Published November 15 2009 in The Week)