Roundup of the recently concluded 12th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival
The twelfth edition of the Mumbai Film Festival concluded last Thursday in Mumbai after it had kicked off a week prior to that with David Fincherâ€™s critically acclaimed drama about the birth of the social networking site Facebook, The Social Network. Fincherâ€™s film was just one of over two hundred films that was showcased at the festival. The emphasis this year was on Japanese cinema, with a separate section entitled â€˜Celebration of Japanese Cinemaâ€™ that featured over forty of the best Japanese classics and contemporary films. There were eight other sections that the lineup of movies were divided into; the International Competition section with its Rs. 50,00,000 cash prize generating the maximum interest.
The jury to decide upon the best of the fest this year was uniquely an all-woman one. Only the second woman ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, New Zealand born Jane Campion (The Piano) headed this jury that also included internationally acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf (The Apple), celebrated South Korean actress Yoon Jeong Hee (Sorrowful Youth), Head of the UK Film Councilâ€™s Film Fund & producer of the Harry Potter films Tanya Seghatchian and National Award winning Tamil actress, writer, director, stylist and better half of filmmaker Mani Ratnam, Suhasini (Sindhu Bhairavi).
Like the last edition, the organizing body of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image had planned the Mumbai Young Critics initiative which scouts for 32 young critics from the colleges of Mumbai who get to see the films at the festival and decide upon their favourite. This year, there were also additional attractions like the Master Classes on Direction and Acting, conducted by Jane Campion. With Reliance Big Entertainment backing the festival this year as well, the week long festival looked cinematically promising.
The unexpected sudden showers at the end of the inaugural day of the 12th Mumbai Film Festival underlined exactly what the Opening Night had turned out to be- a damp squib. Organizing bodies Mumbai Academy of Moving Image and Reliance Big Entertainment mustâ€™ve expected the event to kick off in great fashion. But things didnâ€™t go right from the get-go. Firstly, the various Bollywood celebrities and invitees didnâ€™t disappoint when they customarily arrived an hour late for what was supposed to begin at seven in the evening. All along shutterbugs kept clicking away pictures of impeccably dressed actors and actresses as they sashayed down the red carpet. This, while the media was clumsily barricaded behind a railingâ€¦ and later disallowed entry to the Opening Function and the screening of the Opening Film.
For the lucky few who got in, thanks to well-meaning volunteers and large-hearted guests; the night got progressively worse. The event as such began ninety minutes later than scheduled, and when it finally did, anchors Minissha Lamba and Prachi Desai delivered a welcome note that was fake and accentuated with an even faker accent. If that werenâ€™t enough, they even engaged in humorous banter that was anything but funny and looked more like one of those home shopping network exchanges. Whatâ€™s more, while introducing the all-woman jury for the festival, they forgot to mention Suhasini Maniratnam who had to remind them of her presence.
The audience had patiently kept silent all along, but couldnâ€™t help but make their displeasure heard when the dance-drama skit that was presented to set the festival in motion was appallingly poor. Even a Rotary Club wouldâ€™ve presented a better act. The audience rightfully booed the performance!
Just when it seemed like the night had been completely ruined; the Opening Film in the form of David Fincherâ€™s The Social Network came to the rescue. Preceded by a video-recorded presentation by the filmâ€™s writer Aaron Sorkin, Fincherâ€™s film about the birth of the social networking site Facebook had everyone in attendance riveted for its entire running time and elicited thunderous applause when it ended. The film boasts of a terrific leading performance by young Jesse Eisenberg as the 20 something computer nerd Mark Zuckerberg who comes up with the conceptual idea of Facebook as a means to get back at his girlfriend for having broken up with him. Slowly as Facebook becomes a global rage, making Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire; we also see how the site has actually come to define our relationships and is fed by our collective detachedness and lack of social interaction skills. Laced with some of the best dialogues heard in recent memory, The Social Network literally saved MAMI the blushes on the Opening Night.
On an aside, what is with lighting diyas at a film festival, played to the tune of a Ganesh aarti no less! Do films and its festivals also have religious identities now? It was uncomfortable watching Shyam Benegal inaugurate the festival by lighting the ceremonial lamp with an aarti blaring in the background.
Friday & Saturday
The Mumbai Film Festival opened to general public viewing on Friday with the Japanese family drama About Her Brother. Directed by Yoji Yamada, this tearjerker about an alcoholic uncle turning up at the wedding reception of his niece much to the dislike of the entire family drew favourable response from the festival audience. This film was also the opening film of the Celebration of Japanese Cinema section at MAMI this year.
The Indian Frame section opened with Bijuâ€™s Prithviraj starring Malayalam film Veettilekkulla Vazhi (The Way Home). The film deals with a doctorâ€™s journey to return to a terrorist his surviving son when the kidâ€™s mother succumbs to her wounds on the doctorâ€™s table after partaking in a suicide bombing mission.
Lee Chang Dongâ€™s Poetry, which had won an award at Cannes, was received with some excitement as it featured one of the festivalâ€™s jury members Yoon Jeong Hee in a leading role. The film also marks the Korean actressâ€™ return to films after nearly two decades.
Friday also saw the Indian theatrical premiere of Vinay Shuklaâ€™s Mirch. Having already won the audience award at the I-View Festival in New York, this film about four different stories dealing with infidelity and the struggle of a filmmaker to get his film made was positively received.
The film that still drew the maximum crowd on Friday was the Opening Film of the festival, David Fincherâ€™s The Social Network, which had a repeat screening. The only other film to match the mad rush of The Social Network was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrituâ€™s Biutiful which screened on Saturday evening. This Javier Bardem starring Mexican film from the poster-boy for non-linear narratives had people lining up an hour before the show, and sitting on the aisles as well.
Saturday also boasted of other powerhouse screenings like Michael Hanekeâ€™s World War German drama Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), and the Hollywood flick The Company Men which deals with lay-offs in the time of recession. The event much sought on Saturday was jury chairperson Jane Campionâ€™s Master Class on Direction, which followed the screening of her John Keats biopic Bright Star. The organizerâ€™s foolishly, and rather puzzlingly, chose to allow only filmmakers to attend the class, causing many complaining voicesâ€¦ until Campion herself intervened and asked for all interested to be let in. Among those in attendance were Peepli Live director Anusha Rizvi, film critic Mayank Shekhar and writer-director Anurag Kashyap who looked every bit an excited film geek and had no qualms admitting that he was overawed!
The International Competition (IC) category screened two very interesting films on Saturday. R, a Danish prison drama by director-duo Michael Noer and Tobias Lindholm, met with a mixed response from an audience that wasnâ€™t shy to express its criticisms. Noer, who was present, tried his best to answer the questions but unwisely lost his composure. Among those present at the screening was also director Shimit Amin of Chak De India fame. The other IC film was the Singaporean Sandcastle. Directed by 27 year old Boo Junfeng, the film, a family drama, is a beautifully poetic telling of a coming of age story of both- its 18 year old protagonist who learns of his fatherâ€™s involvement in the student agitations of the 50s from his Alzheimer stricken grandmother, and the nation of Singapore which itself has almost forgotten its history.
Apart from Sandcastle, the Friday night screened 2006 Japanese film Sway, directed by Miwa Nishikawa, about two very different brothers and the psychological drama between them when the girl that they both loved mysteriously dies, wowed audiences emotionally.
Sunday at the 12th Mumbai Film Festival was a surprisingly tentative day. Unlike the last year, when Sunday drew the maximum crowdsâ€¦ this year Mumbai responded lazily to MAMI on a Sunday. Mathieu Amalricâ€™s French film TournÃ©e (On Tour), about a French manâ€™s troupe of burlesque dancers touring across America, had the select few morning audiences singing praises of it.
Even the Academy Award winning Japanese film Departures, which one wouldâ€™ve expected people to make a beeline for, had a sizable but none too overwhelming turnout. The film, by director Yojiro Takita, does the impossible by fashioning a sweet and poignant tale around the profession of encoffinment. It is difficult to accept death, and it is admirable how the film succeeds at finding humour in mortality without cheapening the somber reality.
By afternoon, the crowds were getting scattered between different screenings. So you had some choosing to watch the Matt Damon narrated documentary Inside Job dealing with the reasons behind the global economic meltdown of 2008, while some chose the Argentinean Rompecabezas (Puzzle) – a charming story of a housewife who finds her inner calling in solving puzzles when her husband and grown up kids have no time or use for her.
There was mixed opinion about the Japanese film The Professor And His Beloved Equation and the Thai film featured in the International Competition category, Mundane History. The former, by Takashi Koizumi, is about a professor who cannot remember anything beyond 80 minutes; while the latter, by Anocha Suwichakornpong, is a slow account of a young boy relegated to a wheelchair after an accident and the tempering of his bitter attitude by a same-aged male nurse. Mundane History, though not understood by many, was one of the most assured debuts and in its innovatively used non-linear narrative style presented itself as a solid contender for some recognition at the festival.
The evening saw some activity, with Takeshi Kitanoâ€™s Outrage and the Dimensions Mumbai presentation of 24 short films by young filmmakers from or of Mumbai drawing considerably vocal crowds. Sander Franckenâ€™s triptych Bardsongs about the role that songs (folk) play in communities was also well received.
The day closed with two films titled after its young protagonists. The Swedish Sebbe, directed by Babak Najafi, brought to mind Gus Van Santâ€™s Elephant in its non-judgmental view of a young teenager grappling with his life to the point where he almost suddenly decides to do something violent. The film boasts of a strong performance from its young lead Sebastian Hiort, and dazzling camerawork. The same can be said of the other film, the Georgian Susa which too had a strong act from its young lead Avtandil Tetradze as a boy scavenging glass bottles to help his mother, as they await for the man in their life to return and hope for a change of fortunes. Where the Rusudan Pirveli film differed from the Najafi film is in its treatment. Pirveliâ€™s is a style and touch definitely inspired from the Italian school of neo-realism.
The day was marred earlier in the afternoon when Sajid Khan arrogantly and obnoxiously proclaimed himself the best filmmaker in India at a screenwriting seminar, and laughed off scripts as a redundant requirement for filmmaking in the age of stars. Khan was about to be lynched by the audience present when Zoya Akhtar diffused the situation by suggesting that Khan was having a hormonal day like her.
Marathi cinema made its presence felt at the 12th Mumbai Film Festival on Monday with the screenings of Hitendra Upasaniâ€™s Burzwagaman- Biography Of A Farmer, and Gauri Sarawateâ€™s Mani Mangalsutra. Both the directors hail from Pune; Upasani has been assisting Amol Palekar since 2000 while Sarawate assisted filmmaker Pankuj Parashar. Upasaniâ€™s is an interesting debut as his film doesnâ€™t deal with farmer suicides as one would expect, but is instead about a landlord held hostage by the demands of his hired labourers and workers. Sarawateâ€™s film meanwhile, currently also in theatrical release, is about the trials of a woman who is forced to defend her right to the property of the man she lived-in for over 30 years after he dies.
Mondayâ€™s theme seemed to be about average people and their dreams and the actions they take (or donâ€™t take) towards that end. The South African film Themba- A Boy Called Hope was a lovely uplifting tale from director Stefanie Sycholt about a 12 year old boy from an AIDS ravaged district of South Africa and his simple desire to play football like Zinedine Zidane. The French film Lâ€™Enfance Du Mal (Sweet Evil) on the other hand presented a young runaway girl who creates an outer shell to shield her from the ruthlessness of the world that surrounds her, and yet uses her looks and sob-stories to manipulate an older judge in a Lolita-esque fashion. Directed by Oliver Coussemacq, Lâ€™Enfance Du Mal divided audiencesâ€¦ some who loved it, and some who felt they werenâ€™t allowed to sympathize with the protagonist.
A similar division of opinion affected the Turkish film Majority. Directed by Seren Yuce, who began his career assisting the celebrated filmmaker Fatih Akin, Majority is on the surface just a tale of a 20 something Turkish boy from an affluent family and his inability to stand up to his domineering father and profess his love for an Armenian gypsy. But beneath the surface, the film is about the divide between the Turkish majority and the immigrant Armenian minorityâ€¦ and the equation between these two groups and the stations they hold in everyday Turkish life.
The audience was unanimous in its praise of Dan Rushâ€™s Everything Must Go though. Starring (surprise! surprise!) Will Ferrell as a recovering alcoholic who loses his job and his wife on the same day, the movie is a well written account of a manâ€™s struggle to hang on when everything in his life seems to have been futile. Ferrellâ€™s Nick is left with no option but to live on his front lawn, drinking beers until a new pregnant neighbour and a black kid become his unlikely counselors.
Monday was a day of classics with Yasujiro Ozuâ€™s The End Of Summer, Mikio Naruseâ€™s When A Woman Ascends The Stairs and Mrinal Senâ€™s Khandhar being shown as well. The night closed with the second installment of Masaki Kobayashiâ€™s mammoth trilogy The Human Condition, the first part of which was shown on Sunday night. The trilogy concluded on Tuesday night, all three films totaling a running time of 11 hours!
Tuesday & Wednesday
The penultimate couple of days at the 12th Mumbai Film Festival were saved for the big names and the films that arrived with global festival mileage behind them. The heavyweight among them all was Abbas Kiarostamiâ€™s Juliette Binoche starrer Copie Conforme (Certified Copy). This film from the Iranian filmmaker follows a couple whoâ€™ve just met but pretend to be married for fifteen years, until they begin to get along so well that you question whether theyâ€™re merely acting being married or are indeed a married couple acting that theyâ€™ve just met!
Then there was Julie Bertuccelliâ€™s The Tree, which was the closing film at the Cannes earlier this year. A fantasy, The Tree explores the relationship between an eight year old girl and a fig tree that the girl believes her deceased father resides in. The little girl talks to the tree and thinks that the rustle of its leaves is her father whispering to her. It is all fine and poignant, until the tree actually begins to manifest certain supernatural qualities and comes in the way of the girlâ€™s mother dating again.
Yet another export from Cannes was Xavier Beauvoisâ€™ Des Hommes Et Des Dieux (Of Gods And Men). This pensive tale of a group of Christian monks faced with the dilemma of fleeing or staying back after their brothers have been massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group in Algeria had won the top honours at the Cannes this year. The film quite naturally had a massive turnout.
As did actor-turned-director Aamir Bashirâ€™s Harud (Autumn). Written in collaboration with Peepli Live writer Mahmood Farooqi and shot by the Peepli Live cinematographer Shanker Raman, Bashirâ€™s is a stunning debut that humanizes the Kashmiri militant as a youth confused by his feelings of pain, loss, betrayal and false hope. The protagonistsâ€™ refuge in photography, while a tad convenient, is also a fantastic reminder to the power of the captured image. Featured in the International Competition category, one wouldnâ€™t have been surprised if Harud had taken home the top prize.
Harud was going to find stiff competition from the Spanish Estigmas (Stigmata) and the Mexican A Tiro De Piedra (A Stone Throw Away). The former by Adan Aliaga is an impressionistic work of art of a hulk of a man who finds acceptance in a travelling circus as a freak when the appearance of stigmata on his body makes him wonder if heâ€™ll ever have a normal life again. The Mexican film, from 24 year old Sebastian Hiriart, is also about a man in search of a â€˜lifeâ€™. Jacinto is a young gullible shepherd in Mexico who, upon finding a key chain that belongs to a club in the Oregon state of the US, decides to go to Oregon thinking it a divine sign. The people he encounters along the way (including a prostitute) and the experiences he has with them is what this charming road film is about. The lead performance from Gabino Rodriguez was undoubtedly the best male performance of the festival.
Tuesday and Wednesday also saw overwhelming attendance for quite a few films. Given that Sajid Khan had quite arrogantly remarked on Sunday that hardly a fraction of the world saw festival circuit films, it was especially heartening to see cinema halls requiring to be closed shut so that more people couldnâ€™t get in. Among the popular fares were Aparna Senâ€™s Iti Mrinalini, Pernille Fischer Christensenâ€™s A Family, Sofia Coppolaâ€™s Somewhere, Mike Leighâ€™s Another Year and Selvaraghavanâ€™s Aayirathil Oruvan.
The curtains fell on the 12th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on Thursday night. On a night when the whoâ€™s who of Bollywood was in attendance, hotshot Hollywood director Oliver Stone was felicitated with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, Stone thanked the organizing body and commented on how something always inspired him whenever he came down to India. Stone, known for his investigative brand of filmmaking with films like Wall Street, JFK and Nixon among others, spoke of the importance of scripts and advised young filmmakers to never go ahead unless they had something interesting to say. Sajid Khan should take note! Veteran Bollywood actor Manoj Kumar also was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The star of films like Upkar and Kranti shared a touching anecdote about Prithviraj Kapoor noticing the father of Indian cinema Dadasaheb Phalke unnoticeably standing in a crowd at the silver jubilee celebration of the Hindi film industry. Kapoor had got Phalke on stage, and Phalke said that he didnâ€™t mind not being recognizedâ€¦ all that he wished was for his baby to be taken good care of. Manoj Kumar, observing the heartwarming turnout that this festival has seen, remarked that Phalke neednâ€™t worry- cinema is well and thriving among its practitioners and followers.
Earlier in the day, three films had the people talking. The first was the Danish film Oldboys from Nikolaj Steen, brother of last yearâ€™s MAMI Best Actress winner Paprika Steen. The film is essentially a road movie that cleverly jumps between serious and comedic tones as it follows an old man with a young temperamental offender as they track down the old buddies of the old protagonist who left him behind at a petrol station en route to a senior football game. The lead performance from Kristian Halken was one of the talked about male performances of the festival.
Of the few documentaries that made an impact this year, unlike last year when quite a few non-fiction narratives had drawn acclaim, Zeina Daccacheâ€™s 12 Angry Lebanese stood tall. Shot with a non-judgmental view of someone intending to simply document, Daccacheâ€™s film is nothing but a series of interviews of 12 death row inmates at a Lebanese prison. Each one of them is guilty of some horrific act, and Daccache doesnâ€™t try to humanize evil, but instead makes us get to know them as people only to make us ponder if we are any better to want them killed.
The film that had the audiences spellbound on Thursday though was the trippy and disturbingly hallucinatory Turkish film from Reha Erdem, Kosmos. Shouldered by a strong and terrific leading performance from Sermet Yesil, the film follows him through the snow-laden Turkish wilderness from one bizarre and metaphysical sequence to another. The film marries the best of Lynch with Tarkovskyâ€¦ and surprisingly, makes it work.
The top prize of the festival, the Golden Gateway of India award for the Best Film, went to the Turkish film Cogunluk (Majority). Directed by Seren Yuce, formerly Fatih Akinâ€™s assistant director, the film also won its lead actor Bartu Kucukcaglayan the Best Actor award for his portrayal of an aimless 20 something Turkish youth and his inability to profess his love for an Armenian gypsy to the prejudiced Turkish society around him. The Best Actress award was picked up by Marie Helene Bellavance for Sophie Deraspeâ€™s Les Signes Vitaux (Vital Signs) in which she plays the role of a girl who forms relationships with people who are about to die- thereby giving them intimacy during their final stages of life and also revealing her insecurity where she feels comfortable in relationships that will expire soon!
The Best Director award went to Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong for her debut feature Jao Nok Krajok (Mundane History). By innovative use of a non-linear narrative structure, Anocha tells a meditative tale of a life cut short when a young wannabe filmmaker loses his ability to walk after an accident. Danish prison drama R, from director duo Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer, was awarded the Grand Jury prize for embodying the spirit of modern filmmaking given that its makers shot over 100 hours of footage on RED (a digital film camera) and then edited it down to a 90 minute feature.
The Young Critics choice for the Best Film was the Peruvian feature from the Vidal Brothers (Daniel & Diego) Octubre (October) about the quest of moneylender to find the mother of a child that is born out of his relationship with a prostitute. After turning up in mind-boggling numbers for its screening, the Audience Award was rightfully picked up by Alejandro Gonzales Inarrituâ€™s Mexican drama Biutiful. Javier Bardem stars in this tragic tale of a man on the road to redemption.
The Closing Night, unfortunately in a repeat of the Opening Night, was badly organized and poorly executed. Hosts Fardeen Khan and Raima Sen stumbled their way through the event which had started on the wrong foot when it began three hours later than scheduled. Suhasini Maniratnam hit a false note when she suggested that the festival should work in the coming years to target more foreigners, and therefore showcase more Indian films. As it stands, MAMI is unofficially dubbed the film festival of film festivalsâ€¦ bringing to Mumbai the best of international films and giving its cinema-hungry populace a chance at experiencing world cinema. Suhasiniâ€™s statement thus was met with some boos. Also, unlike the superb The Social Network which salvaged the Opening Nightâ€¦ the Closing Night had Robert Schwentkeâ€™s Red which is a decent Hollywood action comedy about a group of old CIA veterans, but nowhere near a classic. Hereâ€™s hoping the next year MAMI bookends itself with greater aplomb and style.
Here are my personal favourites of the festival.
Top Ten Films:
02)Â The Social Network
03)Â Mundane History
04)Â Certified Copy
10)Â A Stone Throw Away
Top Three Directors:
01)Â Anocha Suwichakornpong (Mundane History)
02)Â David Fincher (The Social Network)
03)Â Boo Junfeng (Sandcastle)
Top Five Performances (Male):
01)Â Gabino Rodriguez (A Stone Throw Away)
02)Â Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
03)Â Sermet Yesil (Kosmos)
04)Â Tsutumo Yamazaki (Departures)
05)Â Kristian Halken (Oldboys)
Top Five Performances (Female)
01)Â Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)
02)Â Anais Demoustier (Sweet Evil)
03)Â Eva Melander (Sebbe)
04)Â Ryoko Hirosue (Departures)
05)Â Rebecca Hall (Everything Must Go)
Best Story- Certified Copy
Best Screenplay- Departures
Best Dialogues- The Social Network
Best Cinematography- Sebbe
Best Editing- Mundane History
Best Art Direction- Black Field
Best Sound Design- Harud
Best Background Score- The Social Network