The Ten Best of the MAMI Fest

Film Impressions

October 12, 2011 18:24:34 IST

By Vikram Phukan

As another edition of Mumbai's premiere film festival gets underway on 13 October (tomorrow), here's our selection of some of the films that may tickle your senses over the coming week, in all the right ways.

Melancholia (Denmark/2011/Col./130')

A devastating turn from Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia. Image courtesy: Film Impressions

It's a shame that the cinematic achievement that is Lars Von Trier's Melancholia has been all but obscured by his pro-Nazi comments uttered in jest at a Cannes press conference. The director was declared persona non grata by the festival directors, while actress Kirsten Dunst's appalled countenance as she reacts to Von Trier’s public unraveling, became one of the defining images from the festival.

Dunst's searing performance as one of two sisters (the other is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) caught up in a far-fetched but unnervingly immediate pre-apocalyptic scenario (a planet on a collision course with Earth) is a beguiling tour-de-force, light years removed from the franchise movies she usually traipses around in, and won her the Best Actress award at the festival.

Pina (Germany-France-UK /2010/Col./100')

A dance film that is a rare triumph. Photograph by Donata Wenders. Image courtesy: Film Impressions

Shot in breathtaking 3D, Wim Wender's Pina was conceived when its subject, Pina Bausch, who is considered one of modern dance's most innovative performers and choreographers, was still alive (Bausch died in 2009). Sophisticated digital technology and state-of-the-art camera techniques deliver to us a rare never-before perspective of Basuch’s dance pieces on film, performed by artists in her own Tanztheater style. While an overriding sense of loss permeates the film, the dance passages are forceful and alive and visceral, all in one fell sweep.

The Artist (France/2011/Col./100')

Heavy-duty wordlessness: Dujardin in The Artist. Image courtesy: Film Impressions

Nothing prepares you for Jean Dujardin’s intensely simmering turn as a silent film star slowly being edged into cinematic oblivion by the advent of talkie cinema in Michel Hazanavicius’ charming (but never quaint) silent film The Artist. Dujardin deservedly picked up the Best Actor award at Cannes and with the film having been picked up by the same distribution company that propelled The King's Speech to mainstream acclaim last year, it seems set to be a 'sleeper' success at the international box-office.

Abu, Son of Adam (Adaminte Makan Abu) (India (Malayalam)/2011/101')

Great acting is the mainstay of the Adaminte Makan Abu. Image courtesy: Film Impressions.

The small-budget Malayalam film, Adaminte Makan Abu, from director Salim Ahamed, is India's official entry to the Oscars after sweeping four National Awards earlier in the year, including Best Film and Best Actor. It is a deeply affecting tale of an attar seller, Abu, whose attempts at undergoing the Hajj pilgrimage are repeatedly thwarted. 70s star Zarina Wahab co-stars with actor Salim Kumar as Abu, with both turning in what should be career-defining turns marked with the kind of understatement and a guilelessness not usually seen on the Indian screen.

Yelling to the Sky (USA/2011/ Col./ 94')

Another breakout star: Zoë Kravitz in Yelling To The Sky. Image courtesy: Film Impressions.

Yelling To The Sky is the impassioned tale of 17-year-old Sweetness (played by Zoë Kravitz) who's left to fend for herself in one of New York's roughest neighbourhoods. While Victoria Mahoney's film allows us to follow the career graph of Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe (for whom career obituaries had been written even in her breakout year as the star of Precious-based on the novel Push by Sapphire), it also inks another chapter in what can be described as the new Black cinema that seems to be drawing away from the angst-riddled guerilla films of Spike Lee and the trashy pap associated with Eddie Murphy. Instead we have authentic human interest stories with a distinctly feminist slant and coloured with the lives of real characters, not archetypes.

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Cairo Exit: (Egypt/2010/Col/ 100')

Escape from the city: A scene from Cairo exit.

Escape from the city: A scene from Cairo exit. Image courtesy: Film Impressions

In an impressive roster of smaller international films showcased at MAMI, Cairo Exit stands out because of its lucid treatment of an inter-religious love story by director Hesham Issawi. A contemporary Cairo, before the 2011 uprising (much of the film was shot in the streets of Egypt without a permit), is prised upon to reveal the pulsating heart of a city in the throes of upheaval, where everyone has a reason to pack up and leave, most of all the denizens who are part of its heaving-at-its-seams working-class population.

Deool (TEMPLE) (India/Marathi/2011/137’)

Deool. Image courtesy: Film Impressions

Umesh Kulkarni's 2010 film Vihir was a human document of heart-breaking beauty that was never really delivered to the audience it deserved. Which is probably why his latest film Deool is a big-budget venture replete with item numbers and oral bombast, and with powerhouse performers like Naseeruddin Shah and Nana Patekar in attendance. But it returns to the same locale as Vihir – Phaltan. Kulkarni leaves behind his themes of alienation to instead give us a tale of assimilation as a village grapples with modernisation, but with his eye for both small-country satire and the visual sweep of inner Maharashtra locales, still very much in place.

Miss Sundari (India (Marathi)/2011/74’)

Divya Jagdale in a still from the play, Miss Beautiful. Image courtesy: Film Impressions.

Stage auteur Makrand Deshpande's last foray into cinema was his little tale of shanty town whimsy, Shahrukh Bola Khubsoorat Hai Tu, which couldn't quite translate the stylised urgency of his prose to the big screen. Now, his compelling 2010 play, Miss Beautiful— in which a theatre director meditates upon the imminent death of his parents — is the play within a movie in his new film, Miss Sundari, in which the thin line between truth and fiction is often blurred. The well-heeled cast of the play reprise their roles in the film but as actors who are ultimately overwhelmed by the characters they take on.

FAUST (Russia/2011/ 134")

Selling his soul to the devil: Johannes Zeiler in Faust. Image courtesy: Film Impressions.

Aleksandr Sokurov's interpretation of the Faust legend won him the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (an honor that has previously gone to films like Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain). This is a decidedly high-brow undertaking dealing with dark interior themes of human psychology but nonetheless it is cinema of great unvarnished power, and is a weighty addition to the selection of films showcased at MAMI, a perfect counterpoint to the fluff that we're usually accustomed to.

Moneyball (USA/2011/Col./133')

Brad Pitt focuses hard in Moneyball. Image courtesy: Film Impressions.

Finally, the top draw at the festival will predictably be the Brad Pitt starrer Moneyball, which is fortunately not so much powered by its charismatic lead's star power as it is with a screenplay that is a relentless on-the-ball drama set in the world of competitive baseball, with the usual Chariots of Fire (also to be screened at MAMI) feel-good elements cleverly grafted in without compromising the film's objective retelling of a significant chapter in recent baseball history that deals with the business of the game as much as the beauty of the sport.

The writer runs the theatre appreciation website Stage Impressions.

Updated Date: Oct 12, 2011 18:33 PM