Friday, November 27, 2015

Scenes from a film festival: MAMI 2015

Mami 2015 came to a close on 5 November and, with it, the 16-hour days, the hastily grabbed lunches and overpriced coffees, and the frenetic, combative, transportive movie-watching. The drama wasn’t always limited to the screen, which is why my list of memorable moments doesn’t just include scenes from films, but also events that involved those watching it.

A rose for the people of cinema in ‘Taxi’
In Taxi, his third film since he was banned from directing by the Iranian authorities, Jafar Panahi drives a cab around Tehran and records his conversations with a variety of passengers. As with This Is Not A Film and Closed Curtain, what appears to be a documentary is actually something much more complex and playful. Many of his passengers are in on the joke; they see the camera in front, laugh and tell him that they know he’s making a film but that he can’t acknowledge it. The most poignant moment comes when a lawyer friend of Panahi’s places one of the roses she’s holding in front of the camera and says, “This is for the people of cinema.” It’s a small thank you from Panahi to his movie-watching brethren the world over.

Christopher Doyle’s response
The Christopher Doyle masterclass would have been memorable for its sheer weirdness. Yet, when the veteran cinematographer (In The Mood For Love, Hero) wasn’t riffing on drugs or film school’s effects on one’s sex life, he had a lot of practical wisdom to impart. At one point, he explained the importance of reacting to the location instead of changing it. “People keep asking me about my style,” he said. “I don’t have a style. I have a response.”

The convoy in ‘Chauthi Koot’
In Chauthi Koot, director Gurvinder Singh and cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul combine as effectively as they did in Anhey Ghorey Da Daan. The stillness of the frame accentuates those moments when Nagpaul’s camera moves swiftly and decisively, always to a purpose. One of the most memorable examples of this is the scene with the convoy of tractors heading towards a village. Some of the men and women start singing a folk song; soon, everyone has joined in and the air is full of cries of Bole so nihaal. The camera, which had been among the singers, is now above them, panning forward rapidly until they’re a blur. The screen, largely bereft of sound and movement till now, is suddenly overflowing with it.

The line for ‘Lobster’
On the first day of Mami, the Juhu screening of The Lobster was cancelled. Though it was rescheduled for later that night, many people pinned their hopes on another screening in Juhu a couple of days later. Those hopes were rudely dashed. The unreserved line went all the way around the room, like a snake intent on eating its tail. Some stood for an hour and a half, and still didn’t make it in. Yorgos Lanthimos, known for his arthouse films Dogtooth and Alps, would have been most gratified to see this.

Walkouts in ‘The Forbidden Room’
The Forbidden Room was very likely the weirdest film of the festival. Directed by Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, this is an unholy melange of exploitation, schlock and silent cinema—though no amount of description can do justice to the sheer perversity of its oddness—and it was evidently too much for many. I could feel the old couple sitting next to me shifting uneasily in their seats as a beautiful amnesiac flower girl writhed sensually and sang the music of Aswang the vampire. I think they finally gave up when Udo Kier’s character opts for open brain surgery to cure him of his love of human behinds, while a lilting number called The Final Derriere plays in the background.

Jia Zhangke sings ‘Awara Hoon’
Those who found themselves watching Walter Salles’ Jia Zhangke: A Guy From Fenyang were in for a lovely surprise. In the film, Zhangke, one of the most highly regarded Chinese film-makers in the world, recalls that when he was growing up, many of friends turned to petty thievery because of the tough times, but also because they were inspired by a certain film that had released there, Raj Kapoor’s Awara. He then goes on to sing the chorus from Awara Hoon, getting the tune right and all the lyrics wrong.

The first glimpse of Sharmila Tagore in ‘Apur Sansar’
There were a few sentimental sighs from the Bengalis in the audience when Soumitra Chatterjee casually appears on screen right at the beginning of Apur Sansar, the third film in Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy. Later, you get a first glimpse of Sharmila Tagore (it was her first time in any film), decked up for her wedding. You could hear the collective intake of breath in the hall.

The entirety of ‘Victoria’
It’s 138 minutes long but it doesn’t have a single cut, so who is to say Victoria isn’t one very long moment—a film in a breath. That this experiment by Sebastian Schipper is a technical and organizational tour de force is hardly worth mentioning; what makes it truly compelling is how deeply one ends up feeling for its impulsive characters.

No comments: