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October 30, 2016

14 Films Worth Watching From MAMI 2016

Text by Tanisha Choudhury

These were the gems cinema-lovers should bookmark

As another edition of the Mumbai Film Festival wrapped up, we realised that this past week we were entertained by much more than just the movies and panellists. There was the man whose snoring added a particularly interesting layer to the background score of an otherwise quiet film. There were the vigilantes who would miraculously show up to fight everyone’s battles for them (against the festival volunteers, of course) and sometimes even tried to rouse mini-rebellions in the queues that lasted up to two hours. There was also the man who thought the beginning of a film was an appropriate time to do pranayam in which he vigorously rubbed his palms together and then soothed his eyes with them. Then there was the lady who took it upon herself to befriend the puzzled-looking usher in the hopes of securing a seat in the reserved row. What was even more baffling was that her attempts that lasted half an hour included informing the usher of her detailed opinion on each of the panellists.

As entertaining as these colourful attendees were, below we have highlighted the true gems among all the films we watched. The rest may not have been perfect, but they were definitely worth a watch.

Hits

The Cinema Travellers

This documentary about the last few travelling cinemas in India was researched and shot by Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham over eight years. It follows three characters — two showmen with lorries and a maverick projector mechanic — and their reactions to the digital revolution. The film which is an ode to the magic of cinema is itself shot beautifully with stunningly poetic visuals. It reminds us how far-reaching the impact of cinema is and that however much nostalgia may be associated with film, the format, it doesn’t herald the death of film, the medium. The true power of cinema lies in storytelling. It is a young medium that may still undergo many revolutions, however the wonder of movies will continue to set our imaginations on fire.

My Life as a Courgette

This French claymation film is about a nine year old boy called Courgette. After the death of his mother, he is befriended by a police officer and taken to his new foster home, where he struggles to settle in. While this tale of an orphan finding new friends is hardly an original one, this heartwarming film tells it in the most loving and delightful way. It also helps that it looks gorgeous. The reason the film draws you into its world is because of the little details that creep in, from each child’s personality and quirks, to Courgette’s beautiful drawings. This is another film that will teach children the poignant lesson that life is happy and sad, and that joy and family can be found in the most unexpected of places.

The Wailing

This South Korean horror film has been creating waves in the arthouse circuit around the world. A stranger arrives in a little village, and soon after a mysterious disease begins to spread, leading to brutal murders. This premise may not sound promising, but the well-paced film is a two and a half hour nightmare, in the best way possible. Foregoing standard jumpscares, the film’s horror is far more visceral, where anything can and will happen next. What elevates the experience of watching the film however is the thread of black humour worked throughout. Another strength of the movie is the nerve-wrecking atmosphere and the sense of isolation and devastation foregrounded by the torrential monsoon in this lush, sleepy village. The central mystery of the film will keep you guessing till the very end.

Manchester by the Sea

This drama by Kenneth Lonergan and starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler, is about a man who is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the death of his brother. Set in the stunning but bleak town called Manchester by the Sea, the film creates richly detailed characters that together orchestrate a fine sense of people and place. The device of flashbacks adds layers to these characters, and colours in their motivations and lives till you feel like you know them. Casey Affleck turns in an exquisitely tragic performance. The film’s maintains a fine balance between humour and pathos and draws you in for both. Hauntingly beautiful and staggeringly devastating, the film that still manages to inspire hope and stays with you long after the credits roll.

Under The Shadow

This arthouse Iranian horror movie is the UK’s entry for the Best Foreign Language film award at next year’s Oscars. The film is about a mother and daughter whose relationship unravels as a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home. This tense horror trope is set against the background of the equally horrific aftermath of the Cultural Revolution in Iran. War-torn Tehran of the 1980s creates context and adds a layer of depth to this film that would otherwise have been ordinary genre fare. However, the constant bomb-raids and alarms build a fantastic atmosphere of dread that keeps one engaged and unnerved throughout. What let the film create an impression is the mother’s potent fears and insecurities that are very much based in the real world and only amplified by the supernatural.

After The Storm

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s drama is about a deadbeat, has-been author who attempts to reconnect with his ageing mother, ex-wife and young son, following the death of his father. The actors do a fine job of creating endearing characters whose motivations are painstakingly etched out in this drama about the beauty and frailty of human relationships. Kirin Kiki, who plays Ryota’s hilarious mother is a scene-stealer. Special mention must be made of the spectacular (and spectacularly ordinary) set-piece that is her apartment. Cramped, tiny and decidedly middle class as it is, it is also warm and sufficient, and stuffed with the memories of a full life. This beautiful slice-of-life film is a gentle contemplation on life’s disappointments and the futility of our tendency to lose the present, while chasing an unreal future and an irreversible past.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

This Werner Herzog documentary is about the past, present and future of the internet and the digital world, and its repercussions on society — good and bad. The films is divided into clean and convenient chapters that make unknown ideas easy to understand. From a cyber-security analyst to internet pioneers to an astronomer, Herzog gets experts to weigh in and analyse the increasing inter-connectedness of our lives. In spite of the sombre and informative subject of the documentary, the film manages to maintain a playful tone that matches some of the absurdity and unbelievable-ness of the interviewees remarks. The documentary and the ideas it introduces are mind-expanding and thought provoking, awe-inspiring and unsettling at the same time.

Personal Shopper

After watching Personal Shopper, which marks the second collaboration between director Olivier Assayas and actress Kristen Stewart, it is apparent why it was one of the most divisive films to come out of Cannes this year. Part character study, part psychological drama and part spooky horror, the film manages to juggle tonal shifts that could have been jarring, but somehow work. Stewart gives a fine performance as a lost soul, working as a personal shopper to a celebrity to pay her bills while moonlighting as a medium. Without revealing too much, the film’s plot takes more than a few unexpected turns that are decidedly weird and parts of which are deliberately left unexplained. Whether or not you find the film to be a thrilling experience, the different interpretations you’ll encounter after will make watching it worthwhile.

Neruda

The film follows a determined police officer’s hunt for the Chilean politician Pablo Neruda after he goes into hiding in 1948. This beautifully shot film is about the intersections between Neruda the poet and Neruda the politician. Neruda’s childlike obstinacy, larger-than-life zeal and his undeniable genius as a writer and poet ensure that the roles of the hunter and the hunted are blurred at a certain point in the film. While a little of the film was lost in translation due to a lack of proper historical and cultural context, the final sequence of the film which is the most affecting and poetic in terms of visuals and its meditation on poetry, art, history and the role of a writer, will leave a lasting impact.

Worth a watch

Lovers and the Despot

This documentary by Ross Adam and Robert Cannan is about the hard to believe but true story of South Korean actor, Choi Eun-hee and her husband Shin Sang-ok who were both separately kidnapped by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, and reunited years later. The couple who were held against their will, kept planning their escape but not before making 17 feature films using the dictator’s resources. The format of the documentary, including the recreation of certain scenes from their lives, wasn’t particularly exciting or innovative. However, the film is engaging almost purely for their extraordinary story, that also gives an important insight into a country the world knows so little about.

The Red Turtle

This is a simple story of a shipwrecked man and how he starts a family and establishes a life on an island otherwise inhabited only by animals. Partly produced by Studio Ghibli, this film may be stylistically different from their usual fare, but it’s still visually stunning. However, considering it’s overly simplistic story and leisurely pace, the film lacked depth and layers. While some viewers were able to read between the lines, or were happy to just bask in the beauty of each frame, we were left wanting more from the narrative.

Aquarius

This is the story of a retired music-critic and breast cancer survivor who finds herself as the last tenant of her two-story building, the rest of which has been acquired by developers. She decides to stay in her beloved apartment till her death and faces off against the developers. The film shines in the parts that are a character study of this vivacious woman, stubborn, feisty and full of life. Sonia Braga gives a powerhouse performance in the lead role, carrying the film almost singularly on her shoulders. The film also contemplates the relationship between a person’s identity and their home, illustrated by her beautiful, breezy, sea-facing apartment that really feels lived-in and holds the memories of not just one lifetime, but rather of generations of a family.

The Unknown Girl

On the surface this film is about a doctor’s quest to find a patient’s identity after she refuses her treatment and the patient is found dead. However, this central mystery, as it were, is hardly the point of it. The small, assuming character portraits of the patients she meets and treats are the true gems of the film. Her moral compass and determination to find the truth also elevate the wonderfully ordinary character of the protagonist. However, even though it is a moving drama in its own right, the film doesn’t live up to the Dardenne brothers’ other works.

Hounds of Love

This Australian film by debut director Ben Young is a serial killer thriller. After a young girl is abducted by a couple in a suburban neighbourhood, she realises she must manipulate the two and drive a wedge between them in order to have a chance at escape. While the film is a nervous, edgy and brutal experience, we thought the gruesome subject matter was too stylised in a few parts. We were also left wanting more background on the demented central couple.

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