Nightmares, dreams…lust, love…shock, provocation…epical, minute…human emotions of all hues have overtaken Goa. The backdrop is the 39th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), and the reason for outpouring of all this are a few outstanding films that have left viewers begging for more.
The festival, with a mixed bag of films that range from outstanding to so-so, has been made worthwhile by a few cinematic gems that have displayed creativity at its best through cinema from some veteran and some freshmen filmmakers from across the globe.
Waltz With Bashir is one such film. Autobiographical to a great extent, this animated film is not what would usually fall into the category of animation films we are accustomed to – the picture-perfect Disney images where happy characters inhabit. It’s not even like the recent Persepolis, a film with political overtones told through the story of a young girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Instead, Waltz With Bashir, a runaway hit at the IFFI this time – both its shows have gone packed – is about the horrors that wars bring upon people directly impacted by it. A film that has a rough edge to the animation matching with the story of the psychological impact of war on young soldiers, it is based on the personal experiences of director Ari Folman, who as a young Israeli soldier had taken part in the 1982 Lebanon war that included several massacres of innocent people, including a large number of children.
Israel’s entry for the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar, the film’s protagonist is Ari himself, trying to overcome a recurrent nightmare by recalling his lost memories about the war through conversations with his erstwhile comrades in the Army now scattered across continents. As he embarks on his journey, not only his but also his friends’ horror tales come alive – the horror they had witnessed during the war as young soldiers. The film’s full impact comes at the very end – as suddenly the animations become live images as Ari recalls the memories of the piled up bodies of civilians killed in the war in Lebanon. As against the unreal imagery that animation always conjures up, the sudden appearance of visuals of real, rotting dead bodies of children, old people, robust youth left such an impact on the viewers that one would heard a pin drop in the theatre as the film ended, so deafening was the silence from the visual impact of the film.
Another film that has left viewers shocked and awed is Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution (Se, Jie). A China-Taiwan-USA-Hong Kong coproduction, this is a film that has scorched the film festival scenario across the globe, winning the Golden Lion at Venice and getting huge critical acclaim all over. A film that has shocking scenes of violent sex that often seems disturbingly real – its makers have never really been clarified by the makers if these scenes spread over ten minutes, reportedly shot over 100 hours, were simulated or not – Lust, Caution is something that gives a completely different dimension to the cinema of Ang Lee, which viewers have known through films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, The Hulk or Sense and Sensibility. Set in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of China in 1942, on the surface, it is the story of one young revolutionary being planted at a vicious Japanese collaborator’s to get him assassinated. Marked by outstanding cinematography and powerful acting, it is, however, much beyond that – going to explore the deeper reaches of dark human emotions.
Blindness by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles of City of God fame is another director whose work has left viewers in a similar state of shock. The opening film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it is based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Nobel winning Portuguese author Jose Saramago about a society suffering from an epidemic of blindness. A hard-hitting film in English, starring the likes of Julianne Moore, Danny Glover and Mark Ruffalo, the film has made a major impact on the festival. Another definite highlight has been debutant director Sergey Dvortsevoy’s Tulpan, Kazakhstan’s official entry for the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. But unlike Waltz With Bashir or Lust, Caution, it is a story set in lighter tones, though it too focuses on the struggle for survival of those living in the Kazakh steppe. Quite simply, a gem of a film it is.
Quite a few of the Indian content at the festival too have left an impression on the festival delegates. Among them is Chaturanga, Bengali director Suman Chattopadhyay’s second feature film based on Rabindranath Tagore’s story Char Adhyay (Four Chapters). A deeply-contemplative film with some outstanding performance from Subrat Dutta, Joy Sengupta and Rituparno Sengupta, Chaturanga is set in a period about 100 years ago but has connotations for the current times as it raises questions like ideological failures, man-woman relationship, place of women in society and so on. Anjan Dutt’s Chaurasta – Crossroads of Love (English), part of the Film India Worldwide section, is another little gem that is an ode to the charm of, Darjeeling, through the story of a few individuals who find a new meaning to their lives in the Queen of the Hill Station. With Priyadarshan’s touching Kanchivaram (Tamil, in the competition section), Joseph Pulinthanath’s Yarwng (Roots – in Kokborok language of Tripura – which opened the Indian Panorama section) and Sooni Taraporevala’s endearing Little Zizou (English-Gujarati-Hindi), this is one film that has kept up the Indian flag flying high at the festival.