Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival weekend highlights: Jafar Panahi's 3 Faces, Adina Pintilie's Touch Me Not, spotting Sriram Raghavan

Pradeep Menon

October 29, 2018 13:21:24 IST

For a cinephile, few experiences come close to MAMI. (My own tryst with this joyous celebration of cinema is now in its 10th year, since nobody asked).

This year's lineup has made fans salivate as always — the latest films by big ticket names such as Alfonso Cuarón, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jafar Panahi, Gaspar Noé, The Coen Brothers, and so on; not to mention the divisive 2018 Berlinale Golden Bear winner Touch Me Not by Adina Pintilie; Jim Cummings' Thunder Road - a crowd-funded indie American feature inspired from a Sundance-winning short; and so many more masterful works of cinema, each with their own story on and off camera.

The MAMI weekend in particular is always a bittersweet headrush because of the dedication and perseverance it takes to make it into the screening of your choice. Many of those who were unlucky with the online pre-booking for films queued up for hours in the standby line, despite there being only the slimmest chance of them making it in. (If you did manage to make it after the wait, then the experience is always worth it, irrespective of the film itself.)

Standing in line to watch a film at MAMI is a part of the festival experience. Image courtesy: Pradeep Menon.

By the third day of Jio MAMI 2018, Twitter was abuzz with ‘sightings’ of Sriram Raghavan. The Andhadhun director was spotted over the weekend, standing in line with 'mere mortals’, waiting to catch his choice of film at the 20th edition of the Mumbai Film Festival.

My film choices for the MAMI weekend were a mix of hits and misses, the latter being a feature of day one in particular.

Dutch director Michiel Van Erp's Open Seas, the first film I watched at MAMI 2018, is a coming-of-age drama around a bunch of college boys in Amsterdam. The world has had too many stories of white men attempting to find themselves, so this one seems like an indulgence for the most. The secure sexuality you see between grown men and women is perhaps the most striking aspect of the film, though there are moments when you'd rather close your eyes. (There's a scene in the film where one of the boys bets his mates that he can hold 23 beer nuts inside his - wait for it - foreskin. I won't even attempt to describe how that scene pans out.)

Thankfully, the excess immature testosterone of Open Seas was negated by the next film: a sedate Icelandic story of a single mother and a refugee. Debutant director Ísold Uggadótir’s meditative And Breathe Normally is a drama that unfolds against sparse landscapes that act as a counterweight to the deep personal emotions the film delves into. Though it's shaky from the plot perspective, it works as a character study because of many topical issues it touches upon - immigration, racism, LGBTQ+ struggles, and so on.

Day one closed on a zany note for me, with the opening film of the festival, Vasan Bala's sophomore effort after the still-unreleased Peddlers, which itself found popularity at MAMI a few years ago. Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota is up and down, silly and chaotic, but it's also unlike anything we've seen in Hindi cinema. An ode to the movies and a tribute to childhood itself, the film deserves a proper theatrical release at the very least.

A still from Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota/Image from YouTube.

A still from Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota/Image from YouTube.

Day two (with online ticket bookings now fully functional and on the money) saw me escape having to stand in a humongous line because I managed to pre-book my seat for Jafar Panahi's 3 Faces.

If ever one needed a role model in cinema to look up to, look no further than Jafar Panahi. Currently undergoing a 20-year ban on making films in his own country, he continues making films on the sly. 3 Faces is an arresting story of a film director and an actress driving through the Iranian countryside in search of a girl who sent them a video suicide note, claiming she's taking her life because no one in her village understands or supports her dream of becoming an actress.

The film is gentle and frantic all at once, showing you how repressive rural life can be, particularly for a woman who claims even a modicum of independence. Starring Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari as themselves, the film is greatly aided by the urgency in Behnaz's portrayal.

3 Faces was followed by the crowd-funded American indie Thunder Road, directed by Jim Cummings. Written, directed and edited by Cummings, he also plays the lead in this film, which was adapted from his Sundance winning short film of the same name. It's hard to describe just how incredibly moving this tragicomedy is, led triumphantly by a marvellous performance from Cummings.

Rationally speaking, nothing in this film should make you smile, because what you see is a man's life fall spectacularly apart. The humour is derived from how the lead character, a cop in smalltown America, reacts to the storm of faeces engulfing his existence, starting from the eulogy he offers at his mother's funeral.

Of course, the great start to MAMI Saturday then hit a roadblock of the kind that only Gaspar Noé can create.

The Irreversible director's latest film Climax, is a drug-and-alcohol fuelled spiral into the depths of human depravity. It mercilessly breaks down the mirage of cinematic craft to take you on a ride with 20-odd dancers together in one night of - I want to say - revelry? Who knows, because the film is meant to provoke, if nothing else. You may or may not be able to sit through it, and there's no promise of a point to all of it either, but it's an experience to behold one way or the other.

In the MAMI context, though, Climax did well to prime me for my last film of the day - Adina Pintilie's searing exploration of intimacy and touch, aptly titled Touch Me Not. The craft at play in this film may be experimental, but it's also exemplary, as it fluidly moves from being fiction to nonfiction, the director inserting herself into the narrative at various points; perhaps attempting to show how much a filmmaker can get immersed into their subject.

It isn't an easy film to watch (it had by far the most walkouts during any film I've watched in a while), but the film is compelling. It shatters notions about sex and sexual insecurities, showing you the inner workings of humankind's sexual existence that are grotesque and fascinating at once. (It could also be triggering, so this is the sort of film one must handle with care - continue watching if it makes you squirm, but stop if it begins to scar, perhaps with a goal of returning some day, armed with more resolve.)

John David Washington and Laura Harrier in BlacKkKlansman. Image via Twitter

John David Washington and Laura Harrier in BlacKkKlansman. Image via Twitter

The intensity of MAMI Saturday was knocked out by the disappointment of MAMI Sunday, as long queues meant I missed out on films that I was keenly anticipating - Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters and Sairat director Nagraj Manjule's short An Essay of the Rain, among others.

But, I managed to make the day count primarily because of Spike Lee's smashing '70s cop drama inspired by true events, the outrageously on-point BlacKKKlansman. The film's one liner - Colorado Springs Police Department's first African American cop attempts to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan - is enough to goad anyone into watching the film once.

But it’s the prescient satire of the film that amounts to something for the ages. Aided by some razor sharp writing that's as relevant to the America of today as it is to the America of the 70s, when the assertion of Black Power gained serious momentum, and shot on 35 mm film stock to boot, BlacKKKlansman is an outright pleasure for those interested in race, politics and cinema all at once.

In sharp contrast but just as relevant thematically, was Syrian director Soudade Kaadan's debut feature The Day I Lost My Shadow. Set in and near Syrian capital Damascus at the start of the horrific conflict in 2012, the film sets itself up well, showing a single mother and her little son struggling amid strife. From there, it takes a turn towards the fantastic - people actually begin to lose their shadows due to the conflict. The allegory is interesting, and its topicality makes the film worth a watch, but in the end it fails to make a genuine, lasting impact.

With a diverse range of films watched already, the weekend was essentially ‘peak MAMI’; and with four days of MAMI.20 still to go, there's still plenty more to catch (I'm looking at you, Roma). Weekdays at a film festival usually mean shorter queues; but then at MAMI, movies are usually worth their wait in gold anyway.

**

(Through the next five days, Firstpost will round-up the major highlights, fly-on-the-wall conversations, and our top picks of events & films from Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival.)

 

Updated Date: Oct 29, 2018 13:21 PM