Finding My Film Fest

"..Every December these stories woke me from the boring world I live in and told me in a severe voice the mistakes in my view of the world."

It happens every year. One week in December, the film Gods descend on Kerala, on arguably the largest film festival in India. The International Film Festival of Kerala is less a festival of film Gods and film stars, and more a carnival of film lovers. With a clever design focused on stories from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the festival articulates the similarity of human condition in the oft forgotten southern hemispheres of mainstream cinema. Film lovers more often than not end up watching over twenty films in a week, depicting diverse narratives, some resonating, some shocking, and some totally out of the world. The film festival is a spectacle nonetheless, and at times deeply personal. Rakesh Ram, a regular at IFFK, shares the jottings from his film festival diary from the past years, calling out some of the movies he thinks you should definitely watch this week.

The year was 2003. One nice December afternoon, I walked up the stairs of Kairali theatre to watch a competition film at the 8th International Film Festival of Kerala(IFFK). Puppet lions fought on the screen and a mystical mist tried to break the serenity of a small African fishing village. I was dumbstruck. I didn't know that cinema could be this beautiful. And I was hooked. I kept coming back for more every year. With passing festivals I knew it was not just the beautifully crafted movies that were pulling me to Trivandrum every year.

The frozen images of urban landscapes from movies like "I don't want to sleep alone" stayed in your mind for weeks after you watch the movie. Poetic symbolism in movies like "The Bow" and the discussions such movies ignited among the viewers were heart warming. But what I cared for the most were the plots of many of these movies. They were stories that I never saw in the mainstream movies. They were stories from diverse cultures and geographies. They were stories I wished reached the widest audience. There were characters and emotions depicted on screen which were so far from the mundane and every December these stories woke me from the boring world I live in and told me in a severe voice the mistakes in my view of the world. These are some of the stories that left a mark.

(2003) Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

In this 201 minute long movie the camera follows the protagonist who is a widow with a single child through her strict and regimental daily routines for three days. The daily routines involve the most predictable house hold chores. But it also involves the daily pre-arranged visit of a man to whom Jeanne prostitutes. The arrangement of the visit and the organized steps involved in it makes it blend with the other chores and diminishes its shock value. Long shots convey the harsh punishment that the rigid routine imposes on Jeanne. The indifference of her son to a slightest deviation which could salvage her adds to the painful atmosphere. The movie goes on to show the slight changes in the routine on second and third days and a violent end.

A Movie Poster. Image credit: Wikipedia

(2004) Wayward Cloud

Acute water storage sets the mood for the movie. Bottled water is costlier than water melon and that makes water melons popular. The girl spends her time collecting bottled water and she meets the guy who makes a living by acting in porn movies. Loneliness has robbed them of their mating skills and we witness the weird to the point of dysfunctional relationship between them. This part was but the star attraction of the movie for me. The movie takes a dig at the porn industry and its possible role in more and more impaired relationship patterns in the society.

(2006) Sounds of Sand

The movie starts with the birth of a girl child in Rahne’s house. At a time when the growing desert threatens the existence of his village Rahne is advised by the elders of the village to kill his daughter. But Rahne couldn’t do that, and with time, the drought situation worsens and Rahne decides to leave with his family in search of a more liveable land. Harsh punishments are imposed on the family in the land tortured by lack of water. The joyful nature of his daughter becomes the only thing that keeps him going.

(2007) 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days

The movie tells the story of Utilia and Gabi who are university students in a Romanian city. Romania is under a Communist regime which has made abortion illegal. Gabi is pregnant and Utilia is helping her in arranging an illegal abortion. Restrictions on personal freedom obstruct them in each step and at the end they had to barter everything they have for the procedure. The scenes where Utilia roams the streets lit with shadows and splinter sized beams of light in search of a place to dispose the foetus created surreal tension on screen. My most favourite scene in the movie follows this sequence when Utilia finds herself at a dinner party full of middle class people talking about the most silly issues in their life and keeping absolutely mum about the real issues in the country.

(2008) My Marlon and Brando

The movie is adapted from the real life story of Ayca, a turkish actress who falls in love with Hama Ali, an Iraq actor visiting turkey. The love story progresses after Hama returns to Iraq through video messages recorded and sent by Hama. The war is casting a dark shadow over Hama and Ayca is not able to rest in her peaceful home knowing about Hama’s situation. They both decide to meet at Iraqi border. The power of love pushes Ayca through many difficult borders and situations but as she gets closer to Iraq the chances of a meeting become more and more bleak. The portrayal of the burning love between Ayca and Hama was amazingly well done in the movie.

(2011) Kinatay

A Movie Poster. Image credit: Wikipedia

Kinatay shows a whole day in the life of a Manila police trainee. The day starts off with his wedding to his long time girlfriend. A long sequence of shots show the crowded but well functioning city that takes them from their slum dwellings to the registration office. When the day ends another long sequence of shots shows his journey from the crowded city illuminated by neon lights to a quiet and stark neighbourhood where he would be forced to collaborate in a brutal crime. When the next day start we see him back in the city but without knowing what impact the night made on his life. I found the movie’s act of removing all hope from the viewer’s mind very apt for the situation.

Each year the film festival witness more participation by younger generation. They add a lot of colour to the festival. The only place they make a negative impact is when they decide to see one of those slow movies. If someone does not like the movie the traditional response is a walkout. But many a time young people skip this option and decide to add some fun to the movie with their voices thereby disturbing the people who are enjoying the movie. One example that stayed in memory was the screening of the movie “Parque Via”. The screening of this beautiful movie with its intimate portrayal of a socially challenged man in a large house was marred with catcalls from part of the audience. The movie went on to win the “Suvarna Chakoram” award at the festival.

Every edition of the festival witnesses a few movies that are crowd pullers. Some of these movies will be by directors who are popular with the audience. Some of them become a crowd puller just because of the plot suggest a good dose of erotic scenes. Many cases it will be the second screening of a film and delegates who saw it before has spread words about its quality. For all these films it’s a general sight to see delegates covering every inch of available space and the with the doors barely closing behind the delegates who decide to stand and watch the movie. One negative tendency I saw this year is an increase in the number of movies which ran such full houses with lot of other movies at the same slot running almost empty. I worry that this trend could be because of an increasing influence of mainstream movie watching etiquette at the festival. I see more delegates trying to use advice from others who has already seen the movie to avoid the risk of seeing a bad movie. This collective thinking tends to reduce your chances of finding movies that appeal to your heart. It might help you in seeing some great movies but you will most probably miss out on diverse topics and stories.