Notes From Pune International Film Festival 2015

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Brothers. The Final Confession (Victoria Trofimenko, Ukraine, 2013)
Victoria Trofimenko’s Brothers tells of a woman who happens to stay over at an over eighty year old man’s place. The man is suffering from cancer; and his estranged brother, who stays at a separate house nearby, has a heart problem. The film builds at a glacial pace slowly collecting details about the life in the desolate, snow-clad region, as the woman digs into the past of the two brothers trying to find out the cause of the rift between the brothers. But the final reveal, so to speak, turns out to be a disappointingly lame one. It also doesn’t help that the director uses a generic, schematic visual palette to convey things: the pale, cold, snowy scheme to highlight the doom of the present day; the warm, yellow tinted frames to highlight the better days from the past.

Rent A Cat (Naoko Ogigami, Japan, 2011)
Reminiscent of the films of Wes Anderson, Rent A Cat is a quirky comedy about a young woman who runs the unusual business of renting out cats to lonely people. Like a hawker, she wanders the streets daily, shouting out “rent a cat!” and develops unusual bonds with people who decide to take her offer. The film is a bit too twee for its own good and several of its eccentricities don’t build up to much, but Ogigami nevertheless has some fun with the film’s repetitive structure.

Juliets (Yu-Hsun Chen, Chi-jan Hou & Ko-shang Shen; Taiwan, 2010)
Juliets is an anthology of 3 short segments by 3 different filmmakers from Taiwan, each of which reinterprets the female character from the iconic Shakespeare play to separate scenarios, each carrying strong feminist undertones. There’s little in common between the film and the play, barring the use of the colour red as the central motif. The film brims with imaginative ideas and while it’s very much noble in intentions regarding its stance about its gender politics, the drama is often under-realized, and the film doesn’t carry an effective payoff.

Fish & Cat (Shahram Mokri, Iran, 2013)
The film runs for over 140 minutes, and is made up entirely of a single take. While several such films have been made before (Sukorov’s Russian Ark or Inarittu’s Birdman) what sets Fish & Cat apart is that it bends time without an edit cut. Time, by its very nature, is something that moves forward singleheadedly, and to make it loop back on itself, movies use editing. Consider Nolan’s Memento, a famous example of a film featuring a non-linear narrative. What helps Nolan break and rearrange chronology is the edit cut. So when in Fish & Cat, time keeps bending back on itself without the help of an edit cut, the effect is pretty exhilarating. The film tells of a group of youngsters who have gathered at a desolate spot for a kite festival, and two men who run a restaurant in the area are known to be cannibalist. Mokri films interactions between the characters repeatedly, each time shooting the action from a different angle or from a different character’s point-of-view. It’s a surreal piece of filmmaking with a positive air of eeriness about it.

The Princess Of France (Matias Pineiro, Argentina, 2014)
The third of the director’s Shakespeare adaptations, The Princess Of France is a delectable tale of a young theatre troupe in present day Buenos Aires working staging Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. The titular princess in the film is a young man (in keeping with the director’s interesting approach to gender) who has had an affair with all of the actresses of the troupe. The lives of these youngsters follow and even affect the happenings of the play they are enacting. Pineiro, a filmmaker with a unique, interesting voice, conjures up excellent compositions in his individual scenes – be it the opening passage which films from above a wonderfully surreal nighttime football match or the scene involving recording of stock sounds. The film has a characteristic lightness of touch and runs just over an hour; The Princess Of France is one of the most singular works I’ve seen at this year’s fest.

The Owners (Adilkhan Yerzhanov, Kazakhstan, 2014)
Featuring a similar premise as Yerzhanov’s earlier film Constructors, The Owners also concerns a family of two brothers and their little sister facing difficulty with their house. Whereas Constructors was a straightforward satire on the erratic bureaucracy, the director pushes the narrative further towards complete absurdism in his latest. 

Cure: The Life of Another (Andrea Staka, Switzerland, 2014)
A psychological horror about a young woman dealing with the death of her only friend (which she might be responsible for,) Cure charts the journey of its protagonist into madness, much like Aronofsky’s Black Swan. But instead of the overly sketchy black-white palette of that film, Staka uses subtle details such as hairdos and tops to convey slowburn transformation.

The Lesson (Kristina Grozeva & Petar Valchanov, Bulgaria, 2014)
Much like its spiritual predecessor Bicycle Thieves, the title of The Lesson also assumes another meaning by the time the film ends. Beginning with the theft of a girl’s purse in the classroom, the film tells of an upright teacher who vows to find out who stole the purse and in the meanwhile asks every child to pay up a small amount as compensation to the girl, thereby acting as a mini-justice system within the microcosm of the classroom. At home, her husband is unemployed, and her mortgaged house is under threat of being auctioned lest she arranges a large sum to pay off a loan. Whereas in the beginning she aims to teach the purse-thief a lesson, it’s she who ends up learning one as the events of the film unfold.

One For The Road (Jack Zagha Kababie, Mexico, 2014)
While there’s nothing particularly revolting about the film; One For The Road, which is about a group of three old men who embark on a journey to fulfill their fourth friend’s last wish, is far too typical a road movie where the characters learn a few important life lessons along the way. It goes past smoothly, but there’s nothing particularly profound about it either, making it, albeit competently made, a perfectly watchable but hollow movie.

Now or Never (Serge Frydman, France, 2013)
Much like The Lesson, now or never also features as the protagonist a woman who must repay a loan or lose her house. She decides to team up with a small-time thief who had snatched her handbag to loot an ATM booth, thereby kicking off a plot that should have grown increasingly dense as the film progresses, with the relationships entwining to give the film a dramatic conflict, but never does. This modern noir is disappointingly devoid of any meat, laboriously trudging through a narrative that, while although constantly moving forward, doesn’t offer much intrigue. Lushly shot, though.

Court (Chaitanya Tamhane, India, 2014)
Narayan Kamble is an over-60-years-old left-leaning poet and folk singer. He is accused of inciting a man to commit suicide by way of one of his provocative songs. Court works very well for most part. The courtroom scenes are meticulously shot, soaking in the details to build a deeper narrative, but the best portions of the film are those where the film takes us through the personal lives of each of the parties involved, namely the two advocates, prosecution and defendant. It is, then, slightly disappointing that Tamhane goes for cheap jabs at the system (example, a cop who distorts facts revealing his own unprofessionalism) or the coda which continues after what seems like a magnificent ending note. But the minor quibbles aside, Court is an impressive debut.

The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Tala Hadid, Iran, 2014)
Concerning three principal characters namely a man who is on a lookout for his brother who may have become a Moroccan terrorist, a little girl who has been sold off to a cruel trafficker and the man’s Francophone ex-girlfriend; The Narrow Frame Of Midnight features mostly cardboard archetypes as its characters and has an often weak narrative, but Hadid still does a commendable job with the little grace notes in the film.

Roseville (Martin Makariev, Bulgaria, 2013)
I’ve seen a lot of terrible movies at the several film festivals I’ve attended, but none of them were as terrible to the point of being infuriating as Roseville. It’s a pathetic, thoroughly unimaginative horror movie, the type that are often made and released commercially (remember Alone which released only last week? This belongs to the same category.) But who in their right mind would select a film this bad for a film festival? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against horror films – quite the opposite, actually – I think genres like horror and action deserve the same  respect and status of great art as some of the other, more “serious” genres; but it’s precisely films like Roseville that give horror a bad name. Sickening stuff.

Killa/The Fort (Avinash Arun, India, 2014)
An assured debut by Avinash Arun, Killa centres around a widowed mother and her 12 year old son who have recently transferred from Pune to a village in the coastal area of Konkan, in a tale that tracks the repercussions adult issues have on the lives of children. The best moments in the film are those where our protagonist is with his friends, whether at school or otherwise, and Arun has an eye for detail that makes these scenes instantly likable. The film, also featuring a great performance by Amruta Subhash, expertly captures the young boy’s plight without milking it for unearned sentimentality, as he must again shift to a new settlement leaving all his attachments behind.

N – The Madness Of Reason (Peter Krüger, Netherlands/Belgium/Germany, 2014)
The film borrows its structure from the films of Alain Resnais, building a free-flowing montage through fleeting images, but it’s Jean-Luc Godard, whose musings on the nature of knowledge, language and expression informs the thematic core of Peter Kruger’s superb film. The protagonist is an encyclopedist who dies without completing his encyclopedia. His soul communicates with an interpreter, and thus begins the film’s exploration of and the protagonist’s life in Africa and musings on philosophical and political fronts. Strongly recommended.

Stations of the Cross (Dietrich Brüggemann, Germany, 2014)
It’s perhaps ironic that Stations Of The Cross, the most formally austere film I saw at the fest, is also the funniest of the lot. The protagonist is an adolescent Maria, the film’s Christ-figure, and the film traces her journey to a sacrificial act triggered by hyper-conservative religious beliefs. The film has 14 chapters, the titular Stations, each composed of long single takes which, barring 3 occasions, are static. This, coupled with the largely desaturated greenish grey palette of the film lends it a certain air of graveness, but the film largely works in the comic register (which also explains the caricaturish portrayal of the mother character.) One could argue that the film is building its satire on easy targets, but it must be noted that it does so with a remarkably assured display of filmmaking.