Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Filmfan's First Filmfest


                 I have been consuming cinema for years: reading about it, the makers, the stardust; watching through the years eclectically, "chun chun ke" to use the Hindi expression. I trawl,select and watch, but read randomly, almost everything - reviews, interviews, analysis the lot . I am there on many an internet  based film-forum.

I have always wished to attend a film festival. Am doing so this time, in my own city.

Currently Chennai is hosting its Tenth International Film Festival,  from the 13th December to 20th December 2012. Here are my impressions.

Last evening spouse and self made our way to the opening ceremony and film at the Woodlands Theatre complex. This is not a swanky new multiplex; it simply remains a grand old twin-screen cinema. The  spacious parking lot, the  foyer, the wooden ramp to the top floor(and yes, it is a two-level old style theatre), the large air-conditioned  auditorium with  classic interiors and fans fixed to side walls --the very  venue  proved a nostalgic treat.

 VIPs from film,government  and other fields were expected, so the waiting  janta waited outside till the swish set breezed in --  and  people-watch activity  helped pass the time. The pretty  'matching yellow' brigade of  ladies, from leading  newspaper sponsor, if I'm not mistaken; busy press people with  cameras 'n' ipads, a goodly student crowd with distinctive pink IDs, us common folk with our blue badges cum season tickets -- and then thankfully, we were allowed in, seats found, the mob accommodated anyhow.

The opening ceremony started in good time, Indian Stretchable Time... and  the audience was good natured enough to understand that a certain philosophical resignation was needed to survive such  stretched out events.Some colourful light beams and nadaswaram music filled the air and  time; we watched and listened restlessly; youngsters joked... and the music show began preceded by some introductory talk from the bi-lingual MC pair.

A piano sat expectantly, left of stage; and at half past six, or a little later, it started --the well assembled musical  hour. The students of AR Rahman's music school   ( the KM Music Conservatory) did an excellent job, starting with a soulful sufi ensemble -- their rendition of Rahman's  rousing goose-bump inducing composition Al Madat Maula from the 2005 film Mangal Pandey -- it excited and gladdened my heart and soul exactly as the album did in 2005. The underated music of this unfairly panned film, it all came alive again. This appetizer was followed up with a feast involving very young piano wizards  (including the public debut of  Ameen Rahman, ARR's son); two  operatic expositions  that provided an international flavour -- and  two popular Rahman compositions from  Mani Ratnam's films --one of the songs was the energetic Oorvasi Orvasi --that  had the students whistling and cheering. Good fun.

The speeches took up  the next hour; a lot of it interesting and  informational, giving credit to all who have helped steer the Chennai filmfest scene to its current satisfactory status --  then FINALLY at 8.30 pm , we got to watch the opening film  'Amour' -- the acclaimed Palme 'd'Or winner, the film that has been making waves through this year, at almost all film festivals.

My views on the films will follow, soon enough, by and by.

More filmfest  information can be gleaned through the links. There is a video too, so do check out the links.

Update.17th December 2012.
So, at mid point of filmfest, here are my impressions.

Loved the first day's opening film Amour.

Amour Poster

 Amour is a French language film that has created waves this year at all the major film festivals and in fact won the coveted Palme'dOr at Cannes this summer; it has also recently earned a nomination from the Goden Globes, Foreign Film category. Amour is a poignant dramatic look at old age and debility;  straight and true without being maudlin  manipulative or sentimental; all about love being inherent to whatever actions are taken by old couples living with whatever life throws at them. Definitely worth a watch ; not very cheery, but certainly dramatic and interesting, even if the pace is slow, almost langurous at times.

Amour,  finally... leaves one gasping .  It made me ponder about the situation in India. I can't help feeling that our Indian way of living/spirituality/ meditative prayer discipline -- all these contribute to an acceptance of old age and its accompanying ills, a capacity to face the inevitable in a calm manner. The  truths of life  cannot be wished away , but one can and should prepare oneself mentally; true love manifests itself in the strangest of ways, especially among those who have  travelled past the oasis of youthful  happy companionship. The real test lies at  journey's end.

Check out the film at this site: 

Updated 21.12.2012.

So, the 10th  Chennai International  Film festival concluded yesterday. It was a hectic 8 days feast of  films that were shown morning 10.00 am to  late evening  8.00pm, last show. My husband, old  friend Sreela (who joined us on day 6), self, --  we had a good time. Took a breather on day 5; did not watch any film, but caught up on sleep and home cleaning-work. Did not watch on Day 8 either. Probably the impact of last film that we watched on Day 7, the highly hyped Holy Motors, which turned out to be one bizarre soulless dark piece of pretentious 'paethal' (to use a Tamil expression meaning idiocy/madness).

Well, Amour on day one was followed by the classic 1992 musical 'Strictly Ballroom ' (directed by Australian Baz Luhrmann, making his first film). This wacky sweet colourful kitchy film is set in the world of competitive ballroom dancing. Flamboyant, sinewy bodies doing their thing, emotions of characters at a high pitch generally...this film is very much a precursor to Luhrmann's  second film Romeo+Juliet and third  film Moulin Rouge. Watch it if you can. Will remind you of our  Hindi  director Sanjay L  Bhansali...but with more humour and irony, compared to Bhansali.

Check out Strictly Ballroom here :

Day 3; watched the Iranian veteran  Abbas Kiastorami's Japanese film , Like Someone in Love. Interesting story well shot, a good snazzy film   that ends abruptly, leaving one frustrated. If this is a filmmaker's idea of leaving audiences to draw their own conclusions...try it in India with an Indian film. The director would get torn by critics and audiences.

Day 4 --the scheduled French  film was replaced by a Hungarian film The Exam . We were a tad disappointed with the change, but finally the chosen film was quite good actually. This thriller follows two lovers living under a communist regime ( circa 1957), that spies on its own citizens, as a matter of routine.
Here is some information about the film, released this summer.

Same day, same venue (the lovely renovated Casino theatre, surviving  since 71 years, even as most single cinemas give up their seats to builders of malls), next show --watched my first Argentine film, a romantic comedy of sorts, called Un Amor.
Un Amor is all about a wild girl and her two male buddies; the trio during adolescence, then thirty years later. Too much of skin show at a few points, unnecessary, but yes, that's what some of these films consider real.OK flick, seemed slightly pointless and meandering.  But great poster --

Day 6. Watched an afternoon screening of my first Turkish film  --  Present Tense. This is a  minimalist film that tries to turn one tale about a young unemployed Turkish female into a statement about  young and restless Turks. The film could well have been renamed Coffee Dregs. Read this review to know why.

This slight and listless though charming  film was followed by a short interactive question-answer session with its female  debutant director. The director gamely  attempted to answer our questions --  Was coffee  dreg reading-fortune telling illegal though popular? What was the film's ultimate statement /conclusion ? Was  the film a reflection of present day Turkey? Well, we did learn that coffe cup  reading was hugely popular even while it was illegal. The  film was left open ended  so that the viewer could draw his/her own conclusions. And yes, Indian cinema both commercial and independent , was quite popular in Turkey.

From Turkey to Hungary, another film, another  theatre, same evening --  once again good old Casino on  Mount Road. This landmark moviehouse has managed to withstand the ravages of time. At 71 it is a stately old lady, kept going with some cosmetic touches and loving monetary inputs from dedicated cineastes.


 Well, at least during the duration of the festival, Casino has worked hard to bring in serious film fans. The evening's presentation was a lovely Hungarian film , The Maiden Danced to Death.

In my opinion, this film was one of the best offerings , right up there with critic favourites like Amour.  Perhaps film festival buffs and cinema snobs may find it amusing that I rate these two films equally. The reason I do so is because this Hungarian film has a certain mainstream dramatic sensibilty that is easy to relate to --one leaves the film screening, enlightened and enraptured. A story about a man returning to his roots, trying to exorcize old ghosts, a film full of native music, dance and emotion in true Indian film fashion -- I could relate to the film, and so did my companions.

Do check out this vibrant film :

Check out the following link too.  Understand  what this person says -- about Americans preferring French-Italian cinema, not caring to check out East European cinema with its own special quality. ath.html

Day7. Watched a Claude Chabrol thriller classic, L'enfer (Hell). Ok, nothing special, not bad, not great. It is all about a  jealous husband's descent into madness.

Followed this matinee with what we hoped would round off the day with the best from Europe, Cannes, the lot....since critics seem to be raving about Holy Motors, this year's supposedly zany  and intelligent  entertainer.

Well...  I absolutely hated this film...and  I am quite an easy going person, never one to completely dislike anything, a book or film into which considerable effort has gone. Maybe one needs to be primed up to watch this sort of film , know the subtext... but shouldn't art  have a quality that helps one appreciate to an extent, without the help of a context?

A pile of pretentious poop is how I would term it. Art should be uplifting and this film was not. It is dark film , metaphorically and figuratively. It takes place in darkness 98% of the time and is certainly hard on straining eyes. And though it is said to be wacky and entertaining in its own fashion--a section of the audience did laugh at points--I found it to be mostly soulless and definitely pretentious.And apparently this film is a sort of tribute to old style cinema-- but there have been so many better  films in this genre --  that wonderful silent film The Artist,  Bollywood blockbusters like OSO....well I will stop, since cinema snobs will be sure to laugh at my comment. I guess it is a film with references to past work from French masters. So, not exactly a universal film, hence my poor appreciation , perhaps.

Holy Motors has of course been loved and hated. Do check out the reviews from the two groups.

My spouse and I gave a miss to  the final day's  offerings, but my friend did watch two wonderful films. I wish I had too, rounded off my filmfest experience with another humdinger, instead of the unholy French flick of the earlier day.

Ah well, it was a good week for a film buff. It was enlightening  to watch   films outside of the regular Indian-Hollywood circuit. And now I do wish that my satellite tv provider would return with the World Cinema channel provided to us a couple of years back, then removed. Or maybe, we need to source our dose of world cinema through paid internet platforms.