The recent Mumbai film festival showcased some exceptional films
Hollywood may be scraping the bottom of the barrel but once in a while it comes out with some exceptional films, like for example Christina, directed by Larry Brand, which was easily the best of the 130-odd Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image (MAMI) film festival which concluded recently.
Christina is set in Germany towards the end of World War II with the action centred on a German Fraulein (Nicki Aycox), who lives in a luxurious apartment and with the best of food and comforts unknown to war-ravaged Berlin. When the American GI Billy (Jordan Belfi) lands there, dance music is playing but the windows are blackened to keep the aura of a decrepit city well outside bounds.
But what this secretive girl is trying to hide will gradually be unfurled after Inspector Reinhardt (Stephen Lang) arrives halfway through the film but easily steals the show. There are only three characters (shades of Sleuth staring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine) and all the action is shot inside that vast apartment.
Billy has made plans to take her to the United States, but there’s a catch. That the girl has had a sleazy past gradually comes to light. What’s more? There is a child involved. Whatever happened to it? That is Reinhardt’s mission. It is 90 minutes of taut, suspenseful drama with the three characters glowing and dimming with rare intensity. It is a brilliant screenplay and all three players get under the skin of their roles. Brilliant cinema. Look for it when it is released shortly.
Alireza Dawoodnegad’s Marham (Salve) is another excellent film in the best tradition of Iranian cinema dealing with the drug addiction with the new generation. Tanaz Tabatabei plays the young woman beaten up by her father and her encounters with the drug mafia are graphically put across. There is drama, suspense and action in good measure but there are also some well-etched cameos, like the two grandmas in contrasting styles. One, self-centred and the other selfless.
In fact, the film opens with a fetching monologue with one of them saying "Oh God, you give us eyes, you give us ears, you give us teeth and when we know how to use it, you take them away, one by one." It sets the tempo. And what a very riveting drama it is.
There is humour, too, and apt slices of it at the right moments. When questioned too much by her grandson, she quips, "Is it 20 questions by Johnny Dollar?" The two families meet by chance but not before much muck as been dug up. Stark realism.
Golden Palm-winner Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon is set in a small German village in the year leading to World War I and deals with a sort of secret society that played havoc with the ruling Baron, who, along with his priest manager, was able to rule with the threat of fear.
That it is based on a true story gives it more credibility and in his usual style, Haneke infuses it with suspense and horror. But in the second half, the action tends to recede to the backburner. It is the German character that takes centrestage. It is the regimentation, class-consciousness, intrigue that are so succinctly dealt with. There is the lecherous, hypocritical doctor and the pliant midwife, who feeds the gossip mills. The children (and they are plentiful) are another facet that he exposes. It is they who form the secret society. But there are also some very human touches, like the child being told the mystery of death. It is not the best of Haneke and may be because he shifts channels.
Golden Bear-winner Bal
(Honey) by Semih Kaplanoglu is a Turkish film set in the Caucasian
mountains and deals with the lives of a struggling family. Yusuf
(Boras Altas) is six years old, whose dad Husseini is a
honey-gatherer. His mother Zehra works hard at home. The boy is very
close to his dad and it is a dreary existence. And just when one
thinks nothing will happen, tragedy strikes and it is all narrated
stoically. That it won the Golden Bear is a tad surprising. May be, it
is a tribute to the country that also produced Nobel Prize-winner
Orhan Parmuk or a belated recognition to a nationality that has for
long achieved only second-class citizenship in Germany.