Mumbai Film Festival, organised by MAMI, has become an annual ritual for all the films fanatics over the years. Attended by thousands of film lovers across the country, the line-up had over 170 titles this year. It was my fifth year at the fest which was in its 18th edition this year. I saw around 20 films – liked a few, loved a few, hated some, slept throughout one or two. Here’s a round-up of top 10 films I enjoyed at the fest:
1. Under The Shadow (Babak Anvari; UK): UK’s Oscar entry for this year is a Farsi language political horror set in Tehran, 1988 during the Iranian revolution. For her active participation in the protest, Shideh, an aspiring doctor, is asked to quit the course. Her doctor husband is supportive of her but is helpless as he is posted in another city. The relationship setup in the initial minutes is very Asghar Farhadi-ish. Peter Bradshaw, film critic of Guardian, has put it right for this film – it is Asghar Farhadi meets Roman Polanski. Horrors of political war kill dreams and ambitions of Shideh who, after her husband’s posting, is left alone with her daughter at their apartment. Their fears, insecurity (of her being an incompetent mother) and surrounding paranoia culminate into horrors of supernatural. Even though it has all the tropes of a regular horror film, it manages to surprise and shock you at right places.
2. The Untamed (Amate Escalante; Mexico): Escalante's follow-up film after Heli whose one bizarre violent scene is still etched in my mind since I watched it at the fest in 2013. He takes the bizarre-ness even further this time. A couple goes through shifts in their relationship after a meteorite has an effect over their village and due to the presence of a mysterious creature. A complex relationship drama in its first hour then opens like a thriller. It has deliciously wicked 'Tell, don't show' moments. Telling anything more would be a spoiler thanks to its anti-climactic storytelling.
3. The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi; Iran): Iran’s only Oscar winner filmmaker is in his elements… so much that you can call him a formula. But you know no one else can replicate this formula. Highly original, superlative human drama that unfolds like a thriller. A couple moves into a new apartment (there’s a shot referencing his own About Elly in this moving-in scene) whose previous tenant was apparently a promiscuous woman. Characters and their motivation reflect the political-religious conflict in the state of Iran. One tiny throwaway detail towards the end sums up the entire plot and moral conflict of the film. And, as usual, follow the use of glass in the film, you will see the story that Farhadi wants you to see. This film is Farhadi’s fourth film in last seven years to be Iran’s Oscar entry.
4. After The Storm (Hirokazu Koreeda; Japan): There’s barely anything to dislike in this warm relationship drama of a novelist-turned-detective and his separated wife. Set at a relaxed pace and in what looks like a middle, quieter town of Japan, the film’s charm will resonate with the Indian palettes who have grown on Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s films. One character of the lead’s mother is a show-stealer. Simple yet profound, watching this film is like reading your favourite novel.
5. Neruda (Pablo Larrain; Chile): A brilliant biopic of revolutionary poet Pablo Neruda that doesn’t follow the regular structure of a biopic. It is anti-biopic, in a way. Not a hagiography, it puts Neruda, the poet, and his communist ideals in question. He is chased by a cop, Oscar Peluchoneau (Gael Garcia Bernal) who is also narrating the story as if he is writing the script alongside. Digital lens flare is used to produce utmost beautiful frames; jump-cut in editing pattern is used innovatively. Smart, witty, hilarious, it turns its head and becomes poetic at the end with ease.
6. Chronicles Of Hari (Ananya Kasaravalli; India): Chronicles Of Hari is a solid examination of gender-queer in a culturally patriarchal and sexist society through the life and gender dichotomy of a Yakshagana artist who is a streepatradhari (man who plays the role of woman in this theatrical dance form). Two documentary filmmakers – a male and a female – are trying to find whereabouts of Hari, of which the female is convinced that Hari committed suicide. This is telling of female sympathy with Hari. The other sympathetic female in the film is Hari’s mother. Examining how modern society, where Sec 377 is prevalent, perceives an artist – and tries to oppress him – this is more than just a queer and intersectional feminist film. It is so brilliantly photographed that you freeze any frame, you’ll get a gobsmacking still.
7. Apprentice (Boo Junfeng; Singapore): Apprentice could very well have been a Gulzar or a Manto short story. But it cannot be a short film. The story needs a feature length to be told in visual medium, and Junfeng does it brilliantly. A former soldier has newly joined as a guard in a state prison. He is hiding something about his lost father and then he finds a father-figure in the prison's executioner. The plot is so predictable that you know right from the beginning what the last shot of the film will be. But it doesn't matter. You wait to see that. It's about "how" more than "what". Engrossing dramatic build-ups, searing emotional tension... everything photographed effectively by Benoit Soler who also shot Singapore's Oscar entry of 2013, Anthony Chen's brilliant Ilo Ilo. Chen and now Junfeng are the two young filmmakers from Singapore to watch out for.
8. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach; UK): It is this year’s Palme d’Or (Cannes) winner, and that makes it another year for a relatively mainstream content winning the top honour. Daniel Blake, a retired carpenter, in his struggle with the red tape, digital-by-default system to make way for his old-age funds, meets a single mother whom the system has failed equally. Light-hearted and funny initial minutes grow into heart-breaking and severely empathetic tale. Few cliché plot points and utterly predictable climax but one angsty scene wins everything over.
9. The Lovers And The Despot (Ross Adam, Robert Canna; US): The fact that something like this happened is so hilarious that I stopped minding its over dramatic treatment. A divorced South Korean film couple – director and actress – is kidnapped by the dictator of the neighbouring communist country for them to make films. It's a dream for any director to get to make films of his choice with all the country's money. In a Stockholm Syndrome kind of situation, he did give North Korea its first romantic film and made non-propaganda films... but now the filmmaking itself is a propaganda.
10. Cinema Travellers (Amit Madhesiya, Shirley Abraham; India): India’s only official Cannes selection this year is an outstanding documentary on touring talkies in Maharashtra. The documentary follows Mohammed, Bapu – both owners of touring talkies that takes films to villages and shows them in a tent – and Prakash, a projector-repairing engineer, whose story tells the larger theme of digital invasion in films. Beautifully shot, this docu is a relentless journey (it took eight years in making) of following a story which is told like a fiction.