Films that left an impact from MAMI 2019
The film festival which entered its 21st year in 2019 endorsed a wide range of cinema just like the years before.
It’s been almost two weeks since MAMI ended, and I still can’t seem to get over some of its titles. Be it the 26-year old Russian filmmaker creating a heartbreaking ode to the post-war era or a 22-year old Indian filmmaker channelizing everything that he’s experienced in a soulfully poignant film about his family, MAMI had so much to offer. These titles didn’t merely exist as the unanimously-praised pieces, but offered me a little something to better understand my own self. While the India Gold section was filled with some charming titles, the International cinema section did not disappoint either.
The film festival which entered its 21st year in 2019 endorsed a wide range of cinema just like the years before. There were several festival-favourites in MAMI that attracted a large number of people to the screens. Last year, if the films like Climax or Roma did that, then this year the longest queues were for Scorsese’s much awaited crime-saga ‘The Irishman’ and the black-and-white psychological horror- ‘The Lighthouse’. People were waiting for these films as if it’s the last film they will ever see. That’s how crazy the scene was at the festival.
And despite the inclusion of such titles, the line-up wasn’t as strong as the years before. People had to decide, choose and regret for the ones that they couldn’t get to watch in previous years. The constant chatter about some films used to make it even more difficult to miss anything from the line-up. But sadly, that wasn’t the case this year. If not for the last-minute rescue from its distributors and the A24 studios, the delegates wouldn’t have gotten the chance to watch The Lighthouse either.
But these minor inconveniences are immaterial while you’re devouring the joy of getting some of the best works to have been made in the year. The works that go beyond the mere verdicts of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the works that would possibly leave a significant mark in the coming years and the works that were stylistically individualistic - those were the ones that perhaps caught my attention like many others. From the bundle of films that I was able to catch during the festival, these are the ones from the foreign lands, which made me fall in love with cinema as an amalgamation of several forms of art-
It is absolutely astonishing for me how a 26-year old filmmaker can create such a devastating piece. The director Kantemir Balagov’s previous film – ‘Closeness’ clearly shows his prowess of creating a tense drama with the help of stretched scenes while bringing out justifying intense performances. ‘Beanpole’ goes much further to be a rare marvellous achievement where you have so much to talk not just about the themes from its script but the way he handles everything cinematically. The understanding of tonal depth by the way the light is used clearly shows the knowledge of how paintings were conceived in the early days. The colour-palette reminded me of the French film- Amelie while harbouring a much more sombre approach. Every purposeful stretch is well-conceived to the point it aces the similarly executed - uninterrupted sequences from Children of Men.
And amidst all of this, he somehow manages to go beyond the genre tropes related to Post-war narratives. While taking us through the horror from female perspectives, it never tries to victimize them. Rather the efforts are clearly seen to present an unadulterated reality with the struggles about loss, hope and survival.
Two men on a remote island trying to keep their sanity intact is intriguing as a concept itself. But what Robert Eggers builds into it with his understanding of cinema history and the use of monochrome makes it impossible to imagine this universe in any other way. It takes several cues from the Avant-garde films, surrealism and the silent films while placing it in a style that he can rightfully claim as his own. After the marvellous world-building that his previous feature (The VVitch) showcased, ‘The Lighthouse’ clearly cements him as someone getting over the stylistic clichés attached to the genre.
The medieval milieu from his films sets the narratives apart, almost in an outwardly-alien atmosphere. And within that, the amusing absurdity is not the only thing that he brings. The film remains faithful to the boiling nature of its drama and doesn’t use strangeness as an excuse to the narrative progression. Which is why, be it Dafoe’s Shakespearean monologues or Pattinson’s hypnotic masturbation (!) scenes, the elements never feel out of place in the film’s universe. Everything makes perfect sense within this allegorical, surreal tale.
Synonyms might just be the angriest film I’ve seen in a while. And that may sound strange for a film which is essentially a comedy-drama. With the way it pokes fun at several aspects, it almost becomes like a potent bomb that triggers every judgemental nerve about its immigrant protagonist. If you feel exhausted in the end by his continuous banter, that is exactly how pointed a narrative like this needs to be.
The spatial sense it shows with its framing and also the sense of humour which derives from its sharp transitions goes further into establishing how well-realised the narrative. It shows an empathy and understanding towards his nner conflict. So it doesn’t remain to be just about an immigrant. It becomes just as much about this person who’s constantly examining whether his anger is justified or not. And by ‘anger’, I do not mean violence. Its protagonist (played gracefully by Tom Mercier) evokes every emotion while the ridicule doesn’t serve solely a comic purpose. Nadav Lapid’s direction hardly lets you take a breath while the camera cleverly captures all there is to understand about the character’s state of mind.
Noah Baumbach has always been dear to me for how his characters always hindered around some universal idiosyncrasies. This oxymoron, although admirable, wasn’t enough to cover up his limitations in the cinematic language, which he paid minimum attention to in his previous works. ‘Marriage Story’ doesn’t necessarily revolutionize that. It’s not as French New Wave-y shot either like Frances Ha. But here, Baumbach relies just on his strengths - executing highly dramatic scenes reminiscent of a theatrical play.
Of course in terms of staging (blocking) or transitions, it isn’t particularly inventive. But he sucks the life out of his two lead actors who are usually known for more joyous, hip roles. And Adam Driver- Scarlet Johansson pairing works incredibly well in bringing out the rawness of the tragedy of a marriage falling apart. The drifting here is just as much about clinging to whatever emotional baggage there is. The push-and-pull, the absolute bitch that the love-hate relationship is, it is so organic and a little too real to take it all in, in one go.
Pain and Glory
As something that has often been said about Pedro Almodovar is how all his movies are somehow about his mother. Pain and Glory isn’t an exception. This time, Penelope Cruz graces the screen to take viewers through the narrative of one of the women from protagonist’s life. A veteran filmmaker looking back at his whole life through all the ‘Pain and Glory’ he experience is achieved with a sublime approach that never lets the intricate details leave without its essence.
Antonio Banderas is astonishing as this idiosyncratic and often gloomy (old age) director whose slightest mannerisms are highly evocative. The melodrama with Almodovar’s significant- vibrant colour tones offer this genuine-intangible softness to the whole drama that only he can pull off with the surreal undercurrents.
“It’s not better to be an actor who cries, but who fights to hold back tears,” says Banderas’s character in one of the scenes. You know it comes from a place within when you see the film embodying this sentimentality.
Shia Lebouf’s antics haven’t always been my thing. They have occasionally left me with an image of a pretentious method actor. But with Honey boy, he presents a narrative so intimate and passionate that I couldn’t help but lean into its warmth. A film where he plays his father isn’t some strange marketing strategy. It’s his opportunity to look at all the toxicity and the eventual growth while separating oneself and looking at it from a third person perspective. It is probably the most empathetic film of the year which resists every urge to portray any character in blacks and white.
The reconciliation after all, happens only when one is transparent about one’s reality. The trauma never comes off one-note as a result of that. With the instinctive, nuanced and sweet performances, the director Alma Har’el creates this heart-wrenching tale so intimate to touch anyone who has been through such pernicious relationships. The highly evocative narration understands how growth is a process. It works upon the emotional shifts with the required understanding.
The one thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about ‘Zombi Child’ is its incredibly rich soundscape, which has its highs & lows so extreme, that it would be impossible to not get sucked into it. The director Bertland Bonello isn’t interested in giving the detailed pieces of history to make a statement. He rather seems more inclined towards giving an experience so intimately piercing because of which the institutionalized slavery (film’s central theme) becomes even more impactful.
While we love to ponder over how supernatural, unknown elements evoke horror, it is the reality that is much more terrifying for its relevance. Bonello is one of those who understand that. He uses every other music track, every single frame to dive into his kind of stylistic ecstasy where privileged white students are always reminded how their place in the school is a result of the contribution of their ancestors – the same ancestors that possessed anyone under them with a nightmarish reality. Absurdity is an absolute virtue here that just goes on how unaware we can be of our own privilege.
The Wild Goose Lake
I still cannot wrap up my head around a so-called objective analysis for this film. It hardly matters if the narrative is too thin to make a lasting impact by itself with the work on its themes. Still, ‘The Wild Goose Lake’ feels like a surreal journey through a tunnel that you get sucked into right away. It never compromises nor does it oversimplify.
I can endow this film every single cliché-critique that you can use for a Nicolas Winding Refn film and that wouldn’t be enough to justify the overwhelming experience that I had. The neon-lighting here is successful to bring the ethos of the country. With minimal cuts and a largely moving camera coupled with elaborately composed frames, the film is indeed the spark that becomes just as much about the universal fears through its hush-hush nature about the trivialities in the particular country’s underworld.