MFF 2012 - Ten Films That Made It Special

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MFF 2012 - Ten Films That Made It Special

For someone whose most intense personal relationships are the ones with the strangers who occupy the remainder of the seats in a darkened cinema hall, for someone who believes that life begins when the lights are dimmed, for someone who quite simply lives and breathes the movies, a film festival is like Christmas. On crack. The recently concluded 14th Mumbai Film Festival wasn't any different. In fact, just the thought of watching the cinema of masters like Loach, Kiarostami and Haneke on the big screen was exhilarating, to say the least. True, some highly anticipated films were underwhelming while some films sneaked up on you and made you fall in love with them. So, below, in no particular order, are 10 international films that were my personal favourites at MFF 2012. And in true wogma spirit, I've given nothing away!

Reality | Dir: Matteo Garrone | Lang: Italian | Dur: 115 mins A charming, entertaining fish seller in Naples is convinced by his family to audition for Big Brother. His life then takes a turn for the near-absurd when it begins affecting him in the strangest of ways. The film is a nice, little snapshot of Neapolitan life, not to mention the manner in which it highlights our obsession with fame and celebrity. Powered by an endearing performance by lead actor Aniello Arena, Reality makes for a fun, insightful watch.

Kauwboy | Dir: Boudewijn Koole | Lang: Dutch | Dur: 81 mins
One of the surprises for me at the fest, Kauwboy is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of a little 10 year old boy who lives with his father. His volatile relationship with his father and his loneliness cause him to make un unlikely friend - a jackdaw. The scenes involving the boy and the bird are so natural and well executed that it is hard to imagine that it was actually staged for a camera. The film also has some exquisite frames. Kauwboy is one of those films that reaffirm one's faith in simple, character-driven films.

No | Dir: Pablo LarraĆ­n | Lang: Spanish | Dur: 115 mins
The year is 1988 and Chile is under the rule of military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Under intense international pressure, he is forced to hold a Yes-No national plebiscite on whether his rule is to continue or whether Chile can finally be freed from the oppressive regime. Rene Saavedra, a young advertising filmmaker is hired by the 'No' group to help them devise a campaign that can convince the public that democracy is the way to go. The film is Chile's official entry to the Academy Awards this year and with good reason. The film's rugged, realistic shooting style, the Betacam-grainy look and the performance of Gael Garcia Bernal as Rene bring this chapter out of history, an oft-ignored country to life.

Antiviral | Dir: Brandon Cronenberg | Lang: English | Dur: 110 mins
In a future where celebrity obsession has reached unimaginable levels, Antiviral tells the story of a man who works at a clinic that, for a price, injects people with a live virus obtained from a celebrity, so that they can be one crazy step closer to their idols - by living their diseases as well. A dark thriller that isn't for those who go queasy at the sight of blood, Antiviral is often chilling, simply because one can easily foresee a future where people would want an actual piece of their favourite celebrity. Cronenberg Junior's vision of the future, though not the easiest to stomach, is guilty fun.

The Angels' Share | Dir: Ken Loach | Lang: English | Dur: 106 mins
Not your usual Ken Loach film by any stretch of imagination, I still thoroughly enjoyed The Angels' Share because it was one of the few films at the fest that made me smile almost throughout the duration of the film. Robbie, a young lad who's had more than his share of runs-in with the law, swears to reform when he holds his newborn son in his hand for the first time. He meets an eclectic group of people while on community service duty and that in turn leads to escapades involving some fine Scottish malt. The film has some issues with its screenplay, but that didn't stop me from enjoying a number of smile-inducing moments. Also, the whiskey romance in the film made me rue the fact that I don't drink.

The Hunt | Dir: Thomas Vinterberg | Lang: Danish | Dur: 111 mins
One of the most impactful films I've seen in a while, The Hunt tells the story of Lucas, a man dealing with a divorce and trying to build a relationship with his son. Working as a primary school teacher in a sleepy, close-knit Danish town, his life is thrown horribly out of gear when his reputation is put on the line in a manner that he would never have imagined. A gripping psychological study of children as well as adults, the film literally makes you feel the despair of all the characters involved. Mads Mikkelsen's award-winning performance as Lucas stands out - his despondency powers the film till the very end. The director quite literally loses the plot at the end, but this was still one of my favourites at the fest.

Outrage Beyond | Dir: Takeshi Kitano | Lang: Japanese | Dur: 110 mins
What are marathon movie sessions without some good, old-fashioned Yakuza clan wars thrown in? Cult Japanese director 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano's sequel to his 2010 hit Outrage, Outrage Beyond is a predictable-yet-absorbing story of deception and retribution that goes into the power struggle that is the Tokyo underworld. Stories of the subcultural politics that thrive in the underbellies of the world's great cities have always fascinated me and this film is no different. Screenplay flaws abound, but Kitano is clearly having fun, so there is no reason why we shouldn't!

Holy Motors | Dir: Leos Carax | Lang: French | Dur: 115 mins
I must admit that Holy Motors, maverick French director Leos Carax's first feature in 13 years, took me a while to figure out. While I could sporadically see the larger social themes the film spoke about, it took a good amount of reading post the film to really 'get' much of the film. And that is perhaps the best thing about it - it is so powerful that it compels you to stay with it long after the lights come back on. The film itself follows one Monsieur Oscar through a day in his life. How does he spend that day? By slipping into various characters one after the other with changes in get-up to boot. Abstract, intriguing, esoteric but never dull, Holy Motors is Carax using the power of the medium to entice you at different levels and layers of the images he places before you. Daniel Lavant's stupendous performance and some scintillating imagery made this film one of the highlights of the festival for me.

Beyond The Hills | Dir: Cristian Mungiu |Lang: Romanian | Dur: 150 mins
Absorbing, powerful and moving in equal measure, the film is about the relationship between two girls who grew up in the same orphanage, now living in two different worlds. One of them is now a nun in a strictly Orthodox convent, while the other returns from Germany with a dubious past and her own beliefs of right and wrong. Directed by the man who made the equally gripping 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, the film tests the subjectivity of such intricate concepts as faith, religious beliefs and friendship. With his sparse storytelling style - the film only ever cuts when there is a change in scene - Mungiu delivers a highly complex film that isn't the kind that appeals universally.

Amour | Dir: Michael Haneke | Lang: French | Dur: 127 mins
Undoubtedly the marquee film of the fest this year in terms of prior buzz, Amour drew in the largest crowd amongst all the films, perhaps because it won the top prize at Cannes earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, it was also perhaps the biggest anti-climax for most of the crowd - I could clearly tell the instant reaction of a major of them - an exasperated "what's the big deal?" Clearly, people were coming to terms with the fact that Haneke isn't for everyone. Amour (which means 'love') is the story of an aged couple - retired music teachers who lead contented lives in their Parisian apartment. One day, the wife suffers a stroke that leaves her paralyzed, an event that deeply impacts the manner in which the couple lead their lives, but only intensifies their love. I've heard people that say cinema is life with the uninteresting bits left out. Haneke, as usual, turns that on its head. There are long, studied silences; beautifully endless takes of the man performing the most menial of tasks and the most seemingly unimportant actions. But make no mistake, what you are watching is this couple's life. Every scene, every minute of unnerving silence, every single time I said 'cut' in my head only to watch the shot held far, far longer made me feel inadequate in my own choices in how I choose to tell a story. Amour isn't my favourite Haneke film; I'm still haunted by the equally unnerving but far more chilling silences of 'Benny's Video', the sheer emotional sweep of 'The Seventh Continent' or even the creeping horror of 'Funny Games'. But make no mistake, Amour was love. And I was moved.

This article is by guest author Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.

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