A fiesta for film lovers
The Fifth Calcutta Film Festival concluded recently. ARUNDHATI GUPTA reviews some of the films screened at the Festival.
THE WEEK long Fifth Calcutta film festival (November10- 17) threw up a lot of surprises for cineastes. they got to view old hits alongside new productions. The package included a "memorable quintet" of five films made by Oshima, Felleni and Mizoguchi; a presentation of some of the best films of the century by the French production house Gaumont; Centenary tribute to Alfred Hitchcock with eleven of his films, a retrospective section on the postGubey Turkish cinema of six films by Ali Ozgenturk, including his latest work "The Letter" made in 1997; an encounter with Gabrial Garcia Marquez with films he has scripted, a Hollywood retrospective of 10 films by Frank Capra, Sydney Lumet, Howard Hawkes, Orson Welles and Steven Spielberg; and a retrospective of the Italian director Pontecorvo, a collection of anti- fascist films were also screened including "The Cranes are flying". "Hiroshima Hon Amour", "Two Women", "The Great Dictator", the unfinished venture "Passenger" and the Russian film "Come and See."
The Indian section may have been affected by the ongoing Panorama selection at Delhi, nevertheless it had a fairly good representation, with the most interesting collection in the Retrospective Section on cinematographer Subrata Mitra. Initially eighteen of his films were slotted, of which just a few were shown, among them being "Bombay Talkies", "Guru" and "New Delhi Times". The highlight of course, was the tête-à-tête with the press, where Subrata Mitra expressed his gratitude for giving prominence to a cinematographer's work, and at the same time lamented the poor condition of projection systems, for which reason a few films were not screened at the festival.
For the first time ever a cinematographer was honoured thus Besides Subrata Mitra’s film, one got to view new films as well. Some were directed by Indians but produced abroad, such as Manoj Night Shyamalan’s "The Sixth Sense" and Krutin Patel’s "ABCD" (American Born Confused Desi is what it stood for, as explained by Patel himself at the press meet) which were premiered at the festival. There was also a short film. "Just a Little Red Dot" by Mitra Sen and Murali Nair’s "Throne of Death."
"Throne of Death" or "Marana Simhasanam" was screened to a full house. The film which has already won a prestigious award Camera d’or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999, was very well appreciated. Revolving round a simple theft of coconuts by a villager, Krishnan, the story slowly develops into a sarcastic portrayal of political games. Set in the backdrop of Kerala, Mural Nair skilfully translates the slow pace of life, existing in rural Kerala, where the electric chair makes a hero out of a commoner, through manipulations by politicians. What is remarkable is his use of the local people as actors and actresses and the simple narrative form in which he tells his story. Though thematically different ‘Throne of Death’ reminds one of his earlier film, "Tragedy of an Indian Farmer", also containing a social message and set in rural Kerala.
Talking of social realities "ABCD" and "Just A Little Red Dot" made touching comments. The former was a hard-hitting portrayal of an Indian family settled in America, where the widowed mother, (Madhur Jaffrey makes a futile attempt to instil in her children the Indian values that she holds so true. The daughter Nina is a rebel while the son Roy’takes a soft path to rebellion struggling with dilemmas. The end shows Nina in a wedding gown promising her brother never to forget Raksha Bandhan. A poignant scene which re-establishes the fact that one can never forget one’s roots. A well-edited film ‘ABCD" had a remarkable performance by Sheetal Sheth in the role of Nina.
"Just A Little Red Dot," the 35minute film from Canada, directed by Mitra Sen, recounts a true story encountered by a school teacher.
The social reality it deals with has more to do with racial discrimination. When Parvathi, a newcomer from Sri Lanka enters the classroom wearing a little dot on her forehead she becomes the butt of racist attitudes. But then, everything changes when she gifts her teacher a packet of red bindis. The children too adorn themselves with the red dot, as realisation dawns that racial discrimination leads to a lot of pain. Together they set out on a mission to educate their peers. All the children are so natural in front of the camera. Technically it may not be an excellent film, but it very convincingly brings to light a problem which to us may seem alien. The film has won quite a few awards at Children’s film festivals across the world - the Most Popular film at the 10th Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, Best Short Film at the 10th International Film Festival for Children in India and many others.
Such a cinema forcefully makes one realise the inadequacies of our society, which we otherwise tend to shelve in our mind’s recesses. In this context one cannot but mention the film from Australia "Dance me to my Song" directed by Roif de Heer. Superlative performances and a powerful script (by Heather Rose) elevates the film from being a mere melodrama to a multi-layered drama unfolding human complexities. The story revolves round a spastic woman stuck to a wheelchair, who can't talk except using her voice machine and is often subjugated to inhuman torture at the hands of her caretaker. The humour and the pathos combine to make it an immensely interesting film and becomes all the more so when one realises that it has been scripted by Heather Rose, the protagonist herself and a spastic in real life. The use of music and superb editing give the film a brilliant touch. It ends on a positive note with a surprise visitor coming to her door to rescue her from torture. A man she had chanced to meet earlier.
The inaugural film from Iran, Tahmineh Milani’s "Two women is again a social comment on the existing status of women in that country. The story is about two women Roya and Fereshteh, both of whom are classmates in the University, but a four-year closure of the University takes them away from each other. Roya goes on to become a successful architect while Fereshteh. the more brilliant of the two, gets married to lead a claustrophobic life. Circumstances bring them together again but then the roles change, Fereshteh, who had been a pillar of courage in her student days, seeks out Roya as a pillar to lean on, after widowhood. A brilliantly told narrative, it highlights the plight of women in Iran where they do not have an identity of their own after marriage, as the husband's whims and fancies come to rule their lives, Even if a woman so desires, she cannot seek divorce. "Two Women" is Milani’s fifth film containing autobiographical elements, for Milani herself has a degree in architecture and she had a friend like Fereshteh in her college days.
The film festival, covered a wide range of themes and reached out to a variety of tastes, which is what a festival is all about. The festival got an added touch of glitter with the presence of such luminaries as Alt Ozengenturk, Fons Redemakers, Gilo Pontecorvo, Pada Se Sie, and Gus Van Sant. The focus this time was on The Netherlands from where came "Tate’s Voyage", The Assault", "Left of Luggage", "Based on a Novel", "Tropic of Emerald" and "The Polish Bride" to name a few.
Besides there were films from Cyprus, Ecuador, Spain, Brazil, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Hungary. From Hungary there was a surprise in store with "The Alchemist and The Virgin,’’ a love story steeped in mysticism and myths and technically interesting to watch. It was directed by Zoilan Komandi.
Over a hundred films were screened during the festival, across a dozen theatres in the city, making it humanly impossible to view all. One had to pick and choose even at the cost of leaving out some brilliant productions.