Utpal Borpujari

May 26, 2009

Lee, Ghobadi rock Cannes with their music-themed films

By Utpal Borpujari in Cannes

It’s musical times here at Cannes, with two films, Oscar winning-director Ang Lee’s tribute to the spirit of the legendary Woodstock music festival and Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi’s rebellious work on the underground music scene in his country rocking the 62nd Cannes Film Festival.

Once again taking a genre jump, Lee, who has made thematically as diverse films as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Brokeback Mountain”, “Sense & Sensibility”, “The Hulk” and “Lust, Caution”, literally rocked the festival’s Competition section through his peek into the backdrop of the iconic 1969 music festival in New York state’s Greenwich village.

The film, with its comic tone, gave a much-needed lighter touch to the Competition section of the festival where violent and edgy films are a dominating factor this time.

Based on “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, A Concert, and a Life”, the memoirs of Elliot Tiber, the man who inadvertently played a big role in making the Woodstock festival a reality, the film is a great humane tale about relationships, struggles and innocence of youth with the festival forming an overwhelming backdrop.

For Lee, this is his tribute to the “innocence of a young generation”. As he told the media here after the screening, “It is the ‘can do’ innocence of that generation that is most important aspect of the story, though drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll of the Hippies is what we generally associate with the festival.”

“Hippy was just a small portion of the cultural phenomenon that Woodstock was. Its brilliant music and the philosophy of allowing everybody to live equally with love, and the respectful relationship with nature that it spoke about are more important aspects of the festival, and these are issues that are taken much seriously today,” he said.

As a tribute to Oscar-winning documentary feature on the festival by Michael Wadleigh, Lee has used split screens and hand held cameras and shot the film in 35, 16 and 70 mm to give it a look and feel of a documentary in parts. The film uses quite a few of the legendary numbers played at the festival, including Raga Manj Khamaj that was performed by Pandit Ravi Shankar.

Ghobadi’s “No One Knows the Persian Cats”, which opened the official Un Certain Regard section, is also about the power of music, but it is a complete contrast to Lee’s work in theme, treatment and scope.

It focuses on the underground music scene of Iran, and is the result of Ghobadi’s study of the music groups there after his earlier film “Half Moon” was banned by the Iranian censors.

“It is an underground film,” says Ghobadi, whose girlfriend Roxana Saberi, arrested by the Iranian authorities for trying to buy alcohol in Iran despite women being banned from doing so, has just been released from jail.

The film, through its brilliant music performed by real underground groups of Tehran, focuses on its two protagonists seeking to flee Iran in pursuit of artistic freedom, raising important questions like that of whether one should abandon one’s nation in pursuit of creative freedom.

Ghobadi is not sure if he should return to Iran after making these film without permission from the authorities and shot in an “underground” fashion. Lou Ye, the maker of competition film “Spring Fever” might also face a similar predicament after shooting his film secretly as he was banned by the authorities for bringing to Cannes “Summer Palace” in 2006, made without permission and with a backdrop of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 17-05-2009)



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