Jio MAMI 2016 Day 6: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle delves into a deep exploration of feminism

Watching Paul Verhoeven’s Elle at Jio MAMI 2016 is a stunning experience, but it really makes you think about how we’re still stuck with films like Pink whose feminist high point is ‘no means no’.

Mihir Fadnavis October 27, 2016 12:25:45 IST
Jio MAMI 2016 Day 6: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle delves into a deep exploration of feminism

By the 6th day of any film festival three things are guaranteed to happen.

1) Your mind is filled with enough inspiration to go out and do something positive for the world.

2) You’re already sad that the fun of a movie marathon is about to end soon.

3) Your digestive system goes for a toss on account of the lack of sleep, and unhealthy food between screenings. And if you’re attending a film festival in Bombay your urine slowly becomes tri-colored.

It’s not hard to decode what that last bit meant. In Bombay — since it’s presumably the city inculcating the most nationalist pride in the world — it is a mandatory rule to play the national anthem before a film begins. So if you have the good fortune to attend JIO MAMI 2016 and watch five films a day, you’ll be forced to stand up for the national anthem five times a day.

Now, talking about the absurdity of this situation is futile. Because anyone who makes any coherent and well articulated point that showcases the ludicrousness of this rule will be met with volatile, acidic jingoistic backlash, and the person making the point will be deemed an anti-national, and in some cases, will be asked to go "back to Pakistan".

Jio MAMI 2016 Day 6 Paul Verhoevens Elle delves into a deep exploration of feminism

A still from Paul Verhoeven’s Elle. Image courtesy: Facebook

A 70-year-old man from Ukraine who sat next to me for The Wailing asked me why we play the national anthem before every screening. I told him I don’t really know and that perhaps the government believes its citizens would become more patriotic if they are subjected to patriotic elements before being exposed to an entertainment art form that could make them question a system function in this country.

The man told me that during the Korean War the soldiers on the North side of the border were subjected to a similar exercise and clearly it seems to have stuck with them. He then told me Bhel Puri is actually a better alternative that could bring patriotism, peace and unity among all Indians.

Luckily, the onslaught of forced ‘national anthemisation’ is followed by good cinema. Watching Paul Verhoeven’s Elle was a stunning experience. The film is a hilarious dark comedy thriller with the satirical bite and weird sex as seen in most of his work. We’re introduced to a rich video game company CEO (played by the terrific Isabelle Huppert) who is raped by an unknown assailant and is left to deal with unseen consequences.

Your attention is immediately grabbed when you see she treats the rape like an accident than something that has completely destroyed her life, and gets back to running her business. What happens later is best left unspoiled but it’s safe to say Verhoeven has really taken exploration of feminism through cinema at such darkly high levels it made me depressed that we’re still stuck with films like Pink whose shocking feminist high point is ‘no means no’.

Donald Cried, written, directed by and starring Kris Avedisian, was the surprise of the day. A micro budget film starring just two main characters, the film is a hilarious and also heartbreaking examination of small town arrested development, estranged friendship and lovelorn bromance.

Peter (Jesse Wakeman) a man from New York comes back to his remote town in a run down snowy location after twenty years when his grandmother passes away, and meets his childhood friend Donald (Avedisian) who seems to have not advanced both physically and mentally since he had left. Avedisian’s portrayal of the Donald character, with a constantly smiling face and a crappy haircut, is fascinating, often teetering on the fine line between goofball dumbness and psychopathic behavior – both of which wring out consistent laughs and also a layer of sadness because of his position in life in contrast to Peter’s in the big city.

The film also icily explores how condescending a person can be to people in his small town after making it big elsewhere. The heart of the film belongs to the bromantic moment between Donald and Peter who throw snowballs at each other at the place where they used to ‘hang out’ and smoke weed when they were young. Like most of the film it’s a simultaneously funny and sad moment that is reminiscent of warm-hearted stupidity of Dumb and Dumber.

After two really good films When two Worlds Collide emerged as a bit of a letdown. A documentary on the ongoing crisis of deforestation, land reallocation and urbanisation in Peru, the film makes points which are relevant and important but presents them in an all too clichéd manner. More than an emotional film that would make people head out to Peru to make a change, the film plays out more like a news report on the problem there.

On the flipside the crisis of urbanisation at the cost of deforestation and destruction of natural habitats showcased in the film is also relevant to India, and in many ways the situation is much worse here. A better produced documentary would have been a far more potent agent of awareness.

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