My association with BIFFes 2016, I like to think, started when I randomly ended up volunteering for BISFF 2014. A phone call from a friend regarding the event, an email later, I was volunteering for the short film festival. I particularly loved Line Gasoline in a Car by Massimo Amici (How do you resist a line like “Love ran out like gasoline in a car” said in between a sun set? Such intensity in emotions, those actors surely had really been through all that, did they not?) Stanley Pickle (highly recommended!) was an enchanting stop motion animation, and The Diminished Risk(really recommended!), an absurdist comedy. Butterlamp told stories of families gathering up for pictures, and The Stowaway (yes, recommended) had an orphan girl running away and staying in a blind old woman’s house (“How is the grass?” “Oh it is blue! The blue of a nice nail polish!”)
Watching hundreds of these charming short films was worth the nerves involved in announcing the films and their directors, duration and country of origin, because, yes, there were films from Luxemberg, Switzerland, France, India, Japan, Cyprus, Sweden, Korea, Russia, Lithunia, Mexico to captivate me with blissful enrapture. And oh boy, was I enamoured. There wasn’t a month after that event, where you couldn’t find me watching a great bunch of films at Suchitra Film Society ever since. A pretty and professional looking certificate didn’t hurt either.
I love that quiet, green place, from its old dust settled seats of the first screening hall, to its outer auditorium and the wooden benches of the third screening hall.
I even managed to watch Satyajit Ray’s documentary on Rabindranath Tagore and Ghare Bhaire, a Satyajit Ray film based off on a Rabindranath Tagore book, in this manner.
Then there was the Cinema of the World week. This was where I saw Catalina first and I completely adore the film. The experience of watching it was heightened by the tap-tappering of rain on the tin roof while the film played. Extremely entertaining and bewitchingly clever, Argentinian films immediately looked interesting enough to research thoroughly on.
And I was not disappointed with the Argentinian film in BIFFes 2016 either. More on that later though.
All right BIFFes 2016 then.
I couldn’t believe it. I was in Orion Mall, PVR Cinema Hall, pulling out my student ID card, and paying only three hundred rupees! To watch films on huuuge wide screens and oh my GODS the films! There were eight screens, each of which played one film after another almost continuously. I had expected the film festival itself to start on 28th, but that was only the inauguration ceremony at Vidhana Soudha, and I arrived just on time to watch, no, for real, not kidding- The Violin Teacher.
Yep, the Brazilian film about a violin prodigy guy teaching a bunch of unruly kids and forming a bond with them while working to get into the Royal Philharmonic as Head of Strings, featured a lot of violin. And so, of course, I was extremely happy. It was touching, and riveting in turns. I couldn’t help but notice the effect a calming, beautiful music has on a turbulent and violent scene, competely muted out in such a way that you are amused by how confused your reaction to the screen, at that moment, is.
The close up shots of the violin, his playing at gun point, everyone’s expression at the NGO concert, the little back stories for the kids, they were all worthwhile. I do wish the teacher’s life did not seem so superficial though. He lives in an upscale condominiums, and lies to his parents about being in the Philharmonic. While it is easy to guess how and why that came to be, a little focus wouldn’t have hurt either.
Victoria is easily a towering achievement and the best film of my three days at BIFFes 2016. Not the festival; they managed to delay the screening for almost 45 minutes because they couldn’t set the subtitles right!
Right from the blue glare of the club surrounding Victoria, our Milan girl, dancing to high powered EDM music created an atmosphere for me to actually being there, in the film, with the characters with my own view point, looking out at their actions and coolly observing them while also absolutely freaking out, especially at the second half segment.
The film is played out as one single long sequence shot and that’s how it was filmed too. For two hours the actors live as their characters and because it is a continuous show, without any cuts at all, not even sneaky ones, I knew that that moment at the piano where Sonne looks at Victoria playing the piano was as genuine as it gets.
Their banter right from when he takes a shine to her at the club, his charming ostentations and the entire entourage trying to impress her, lost me into their world immediately. The rooftop scene was interesting in its playing with the personalities of Victoria standing at the edge and coming back to Sonne, Birthday Boy Fuss, and erratic tempered Andi. But those moments when Sonne reached out to kiss her forehead but wouldn’t even hug her were endearing especially because just before I went in for the film screening, a distinguished older man sat by me, and declared Victoria, the “Jarmaan” film to be a single-lonely-girl-goes-on-a-date-and-things-go-downhill-with-the-man and warned me about its goriness. Well, actually, no, I am superbly glad I did not miss out on this charged thriller, bank robbery-gone-wrong, story, which had you finally whooping for the group once they are back in the club, and then Sonne and Victoria finally kiss, and the happiest high plateau is reached on the film. That particular sequence again contained all the vigour of a bank robbery with impending fate indicated with gentler music. From then on, it’s an erratic edge of seat visual of a police chase.
Laia Costa’s acting, right to the end conveyed every cathartic emotion so perfectly, she illuminates the pace of the film just as Frederich Lau’s Sonne is powerfully endearing. I simply need to mention the strength of Nils Frahm’s music score too. Aye, to watch the film again for the first time.
The Brand New Testament is reminiscent of French short film The Diminished Risk in that respect. Here, a baby speaking with a disembodied adult male voice, refuses to be born until its demands and commands are met with.
In the film, the Christian God is a jerk of odious proportion (he decreed that whenever a slice of jam bread falls, the jam side of it must always hit the ground), living in Brussels and his daughter Ea, with the help of a statue of her brother JC runs away. Right after releasing the death dates of everybody in the planet. She find a Scribe on Victor a homeless man and sets off to know the stories of six more apostles. This will be the Brand New Testament. The dream like quality of each of the stories is increased when Ea “listens to their “inner music”- Handel, Bach, and such. I do wonder if the Goddess Mother taking over the reigns of the computer which created the world implies a shift to matriarchal world. This film is for when you feel introspective and silly at the same time. The director Jaco Van Dormael started his career as a children’s theatre play director, and this accented his work here, I think.
The next day, a scuffle at the entrance to Mani Rathnam masterclass landed me in The Tree of Knowledge. It was a 1980 film on 1953 teenage life in school(which was shot on location of director Nils Malmros’ school over the time period of two years) There’s a lot of parties with boys sharply dressed in suits and girls in smart skirts, slow dancing in dark living rooms (where were the parents?) While also belittling Elin, a once popular girl turned outcast for reasons unknown to any of them when one day Hilge decides to call her a few mean names. High school, whyudis?
I almost forgot. The BIFFes preview logo. What was that even? Each time a film would start, subdued cackling would emanate from the occupants of the seats, what with the preview of gimmicky double headed pheonix (Is there a cultural significance?) gliding from one country to another and then Mysuru and Bangalore finally. Such fakeness. Not much wow.
Our Little Sister was a quiet, gentle and mellow story of three sisters and their half sister they adopt after their absent father’s demise. They live in a splendid old Kamaruka house together and watch how grown up and mature their youngest sister seems, and piece their own lives together too. My favourite parts were in the when anyone on screen was eating. Apart from having absolutely luminous perfect skin, rickety beautiful house, the food stuff at the table looked very delectable. Their sisterhood shown through at these moments especially. Even the slightest disturbance caused by their mother coming back is underplayed. I mean, I’m used to seeing full blown insulting yelling matches both, on road and TV screen. It’s the norm here, isn’t it. We are a loud lot. Not so in Yamagata and Kamaruka, Japan. Sachi is the sensible oldest sister, and most relatable too precisely because she makes her own set of mistakes. Suzu’s little crush story in school was nice too. I had to laugh at the typical Manga trope plagued out, where a lead character looks out of the window in a class room with mixed proportion of angst and boredom, just as Suzu does, albeit without pink hair. Yoshino and Chika are still child like despite being 22 and 19 respectively.
These kind of simple stories need to be told more.
The next film had the biggest crowd mismanagement possible with confusing lines for senior citizens bodily pushed by the younger crowd behind. It was quite disgruntling to see people who did not care for the film(“Argentina it seems! What blackies story we will see ayo, but everyone is going here only, so let’s go!”) annoy the volunteers continuously for a seat. Plus, the sound system apparently was not working so the whole screening was delayed for half an hour!
Wild Tales is multi tale film. Six separate shorts move at breakneck speed, madly entertaining through out.
First, on Catalina a Cinema of the World festival film I had the good fortune to catch in Suchitra Film Society.
Catalina is an Argentinian film on a play arranged by the Spanish, Italian immigrants and their descendants, and the intricacies involved. I adored the play itself, intercut with a family patriarch involved in the play, the directors and writers of the play discussing it, and through out rides a mysterious girl in white dress on a bicycle. It was funny, emotional, clever and charming. The sense of a community integration made it a familial parable.
Wild Tales focuses on individual characterisation.
The first tale “Pasternak” finds everyone who knows this one person in the same plane. The second tale “The Rat” in about a gutsy cook and a waitress serving up rat poison to someone from the past. The third tale “Road to Hell” is a road rage escalated quickly incident ending in a supposed crime of passion. The fourth tale “Bombita” is of a exhausted engineer blowing up, almost quite literally. The fifth tale “The Deal” deals with a father who has to negotiate his son’s protection from jail on a hit a pregnant woman and run case.
The sixth tale “Till Death do us apart” is a high energy big fat mad wedding where cathartic shock levels escalate quickly, again.
Each of these stories have a caprarious revenge plan as the backbone and only Damián Szifron’s marvellous screenplay and direction holds them together so well.
The Assassin or Nie Yinniang is cinematic richness. The setting, elaborate dresses, headgear, costumes and weapons are all a product of the Taiwanese director Hsiao-Hsein Hou vision. Even the dialogues, I imagine, must have been layered and nuanced. The reds and golds and bright yellows are a character in themselves.
In 8th century China Tang Dynasty, Nie Yinniang has been brought up to be a ruthless assassin but she is still merciful. To test her resolve she must assassinate her cousin and once betrothed, the military governor Tian Ji’an.
The names can get a little confusing; his adviser is named Tian Lian.
A Sanjay Leela Bhansali type of film, but with a plot to follow and wondrous Japanese landscapes in cinematography, this is a real treat for cinema afficiandos.
Thus ended my three days at BIFFes. I really really really did not want it to get over.
It was really tough; choosing only one film at each screening slot. I wanted to see Diary of a Chambermaid, Life in Metaphors:A Portrait of Girish Kasaravalli, The Magic of Making, Fracofonia, 99 Homes, Under Electric Clouds, Magic Men, Colonel Redl, Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome, Taxi Tehran, Thithi, Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Images of Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Sweet Red Bean Paste, The Life of Emile Zola, Onyx, May Allah Bless France, Marguerite, The Passion of Augustine, Leviathan, Cinemawala, Live, Free State, Kudla Café, Priyamanasam, and well, you get the idea.
But that was not to be. Ah well.
Now for French Film Festival!