Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pune International Film Festival, 2013 - A compilation of reviews

A Fitting Prologue (Epilogue, Israel)

The 11th Pune International Film Festival (PIFF) started off on a perfect note with a brilliantly crafted film from Israel. Amir Manor's Epilogue, takes a microscopic look at the lives of an octogenarian couple, Hayuta and Berl, who are finding it harder by the day to adjust in today's Israel. After years of struggle, the two refuse to give up their communal dreams and revolutionary plans to build a welfare state in Israel. The film looks at the final segment of their life -- a night of disillusionment when the two decide to leave their home for the ultimate journey.

Although culture-specific, the film deals with the universal concept of alienation, that is felt by most elderly members of any society. In its intricately constructed scenes of long duration, the audience ends up becoming some sort of an insider-outsider, where they are not only witnessing the lives of the protagonists, but are feeling their angst and pain too.

Amir Manor constructs a realm of the two characters, played achingly well by Yosef Carmon and Rivka Gur, with such a command over cinematic grammar that you feel involved in the narrative all throughout the film. Guy Raz's cinematography of a thoughtful screenplay depicts certain mundane activities like we have never seen before. The haunting isolation felt, when Hayuta is sitting in an empty cinema hall long after the movie is over, or when Berl is passed out on the kitchen floor with the lights out, give you the chills.

Building steadily on a visual pattern that it sets, Epilogue is a fresh film that is thoughtful, sensitive, well-crafted and carefully presented. This film from Israel was just the prologue that this year's PIFF needed.



A Haunting Memory (Roza, Poland)

Sometimes, you walk into a film, watch it, and then walk out of the film. But there are some special films that you walk into, but when the time to walk out is upon you, you only walk out of the cinema hall, with the movie still running inside you. Roza, from Poland, is just one of those movies that begin as a film, but as it progresses, makes you an inseparable part of it. It is a movie that will live inside your mind and your soul, if you believe in such a thing, until the very end.

The film begins in the summer of 1945 when Tadeusz, a Polish soldier, arrives in Masuria, a German territory that was granted to Poland after the war. There he meets Roza, the widow of a German soldier whose death Tadeusz had witnessed.

A cold reception and some indifferent exchanges later, Roza realises, however reluctant to admit it, that she needs Tadeusz to protect her from the looters and rapists that are rampant in the region. Slowly, Tadeusz gets used to a life in Masuria and gradually finds out the causes of Roza's solitude. In a world devastated by the war, the two find love in each other -- setting the stage for a final battle between hope and despair.

The screenplay is honest and within the first few minutes of the film, you forget it's a film. The feeling that can come closest to it is putting your head into a pen-sieve and experiencing a really strong and true memory -- preserved in all integrity by the one who is narrating it. The cinematography, which is a strong point of contemporary Polish films, is out of this world. The imagery of Van Gogh's Potato Eaters in every frame emphasizes the point the film tries to make. Add to that the superior production quality which recreates the period with authenticity and outstanding performances by both the leads played by Marcin Dorocinski and Agatha Kulesza. Marcin, who plays Tadeusz, has a morose yet sharp face and has the looks that resemble Lamberto Maggiorani (Antonio Ricci from The Bicycle Thieves).

Scoring full marks on all the parameters, Roza is a celebration of the spirit of cinema. It makes you forget your life and existence and makes you live the life of its characters. You smile with them, cry with them, get tortured and humiliated like them and just like them, you live in hope that there will be a happy ending.



Hurray Revolution! (White Lions, Serbia)

Foreign films are a projection of a window on the silver-screen, a window which gives an insight on the scenario in the country in which it is made. Lazar Ristovski’s White Lions does just that in case of Serbia. A dark socio-political satire that chronicles the life of a family that has been living in the driveway of a shutdown factory for six years without pay, White Lions portrays grief, anxiety and oppression with a deep sense of humor.

“What did you have for breakfast?” a voice asks Dile, who is our protagonist – an unemployed worker and union leader. His reply, “Sunny side up, on a sky blue plate.” This is just one of the several instances in the film which keeps on pulling witty punches at capitalism and all the evils it feeds. Dile’s son Gruia is an unemployed filmmaker and stripteases to earn some money. His wife-to-be, an opera singer also tries to earn an income in these hard times.

The film is about broken factories and morose workers who are disappointed that there is no one who can lead them to a better and fairer life. Lazar Ristovski, in his role as Dile, puts up a tremendous show and almost single-handedly guides the narrative, both as the protagonist as well as the director. With satirical content that flows freely in the characters’ conversations, the film also uses the closed factory setting to great use, creating an imagery of a fallen system.

With amazing use of folk songs and an insane rap number in the end, White Lions is rooted in the working class’s aspirations and struggles. And through its lighthearted take on a severe problem, at its heart, it only has one message – rich, poor, capitalist or communist, we all end up in the same place.



Of Death and Life (The Last Step, Iran)

A country that is consistently making its presence felt at film festivals and award functions, it is now almost habitual to watch a Persian film from Iran at every film festival. This year’s entry into the competition section is Ali Mosaffa’s The Last Step.

The film begins when a popular film actress, Leila, finds herself unable to control her laughter before the camera, soon after her husband’s death and no one could figure out the reason behind this hysteria. Leila Hatami, a popular actress plays the role of Leila while Ali Mosaffa himself plays the role of her dead husband.

Narrated in a non-linear pattern, The Last Step is a long and intriguing jigsaw which only unveils one random piece at a time, but by the end, you have the big picture and it is beautiful. However, the film sticks too much to the typical treatment that dominates modern Iranian cinema. For such an intriguing plot, where you wonder what must have happened, and how certain events must have taken place, the simplistic storytelling style feels a little inadequate.

All in all, The Last Step is a story of love, loss, life, death and its implications. A universal theme, yet again, which is so rooted in culture, the film is a great experience.



Turtles Live Long (Kurmavatara, India)

Of all the films that are either based on the life and struggles of Mahatma Gandhi or his ideologies and the Gandhian philosophy, Girish Kasaravalli’s Kurmavatara is perhaps one of the most relevant stories of the contemporary era. The film narrates the story of Anand Rao, a Government employee who lives by the book and has no regard for anything other than his work, not even his family.

But destiny puts forth an opportunity before him to rid his family of all their financial problems, thanks to his resemblance to the Mahatma. He is cast in the role of Gandhi in a biographical TV series, which changes his life forever. It leads him onto a journey where he runs into the dichotomy of fame – the assignment brings him prosperity but it comes at a cost of his morality. The film, calmly chronicles the character’s predicament and how he strives to make things right until the very end.

A crisply written screenplay sometimes tends to be a little incongruous within itself and the overall film is little too long for the subject. Apart from that, the sequence of events that occur in the narrative are very well blended while drawing parallels between the life of the protagonist and the life of Gandhi. The title of the film, Kurmavatara, is not only a metaphor of Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as the turtle during the samudra manthan and the connotations of the stress and responsibility; it is also a physical motif that appears and then reappears in the film at distinct points.

Kasaravalli’s film has the content but its treatment is too mellow and effortless. When compared to the other competing films, it also lacks the production value that comes with big budgets. To sum up, Kurmavatara makes you judge the protagonist but not feel his dilemma and therefore fails to transport you into its realm.



Better late than never (La Demora, Uruguay)

Everyone around you is going through a struggle to make some ends meet, everyone is suffering and everyone has a story to tell. Rodrigo Pla’s The Delay tells one such story of a middle-aged single mother who is overworked, underpaid and is the sole bread winner and caretaker of her three children and a senile father.

The film opens on a well choreographed scene where Maria, played by Roxana Blanco, is helping her father shower and then dress himself up, sets the tone for the film and speaks volumes of the director’s command over the medium. The film then, scene by scene, builds up the frustration of living such an unappreciated and stressed out life. Maria decides to give up and wants to admit her father into a home. But unfortunately, she is not rich enough to afford the service and at the same time, her income suggests that she isn’t poor enough to qualify for benefits. Angry and defeated, Maria abandons her father at a complex and returns home, only to realise her responsibility and then sets out to search for him.

The neo-realist treatment given to the narrative makes you feel Maria’s angst. This, combined with outstanding performances by both Roxana Blanco and Carlos Vallarino amount to a superior level of realisation of the meaning. Maria’s secret smoking habit, Augustin’s senile responses that make him so adorable yet burdensome, the children fighting among themselves and complaining to their mother – all are a part of a screenplay that shows you life at eye level without any pretence.

The film, doesn’t patronize its characters and neither does it judge them in any way. The main theme of family responsibility is just portrayed in its natural state of existence without making any remarks on its morality. To add to that, the universally appealing theme of helplessness, abandonment and love for family add up to a brilliantly crafted film.



Published in DNA After Hrs (Pune) between January 11 and 15, 2013

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