Sunday, October 27, 2013

The best of Mumbai Film Festival 2013

Thanks to the 15th Mumbai Film Festival, I got to watch 28 films in 7 days, 20 of which were very good, and 17 of them were truly outstanding. It’s difficult to rank them in any way because they’re all great films, so here’s a lowdown of the best of the fest.

Abdellatif Kechiche’s French film Blue is the Warmest Color was one of the most talked-about titles of the festival circuit this year, and it more than lives up to the hype. The pang of first heartbreak has seldom been captured so well in cinema and stars Adele Exarchapolous and Lea Seydoux are extraordinary in the lead roles. Hat tip to Mr Narayanan, the director of MFF who organized an extra screening of the film on public demand.

Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin is a bleak and powerful film that sheds light on the ferociously dehumanized state of modern China. The scene in which the protagonist uses three cigarettes as incense sticks to pray is easily the most hilarious and scathing shot of the year.

Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa’s Katiyabaaz was a funny, insightful documentary on the power crisis in Kanpur. It’s more a film of the Dibakar Banerjee genre than a documentary. The film won the Golden Gateway award for Best Film in the India Gold Category at the fest.

What stopped the moving, heartwarming Short Term 12 from being the opening film of the fest remains a mystery, because it has generated great buzz since its SXSW screening. Destin Daniel Cretton’s debut is by far the best American film of the year and it’ll be remembered as the arrival of Brie Larson.

The pitch dark Dutch comedy Matterhorn poses an interesting scenario: what would you do if you became a foster parent of the guy who accidentally killed your wife? Director Diederik Ebbinge beautifully establishes the themes of acceptance and forgiveness even though the film treads into Bollywood territory in the climax.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is a saucy Scandinavian cocktail of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Oldboy and it’s a perfectly serviceable thriller. The film has the trademark Norway-Sweden-Denmark snowy aesthetics and it’s been positioned as the first in a trilogy.

The Armstrong Lie made by Alex Gibney, the modern master of documentaries does an incredible job of making you simultaneously loathe and sympathise with Lance Armstrong. The research is colossal, the footage is provocative and the candid interviews really make you wonder if Armstrong beating the drug tests was a legal or a moral offense.

Jadoo is a fun little British-Indian film about two sibling chefs in London who face off each other in a cookery contest when the daughter of one plans to get married. The biggest surprise is Harish Patel, yesteryear’s bad guy (Ibu Hatela from Gunda) in the performance of his career. His grasp of comedy and drama is so spectacular one wonders where he’d been hiding all these years.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s film-within-a-film, The Act of Killing, doesn’t give us a history lesson, but instead taps into the psyche of people who were proud of committing genocide. It’s a terrifying watch because instead of the victims, Oppenheimer makes the film about the murderers.

The South Korean horror movie Killer Toon is fun, escapist entertainment that is tailor-made for horror film buffs, with enough laughs, jolts and filmi twists to warrant a place on your DVD shelf.

Blackfish, a scathing takedown of a marine park, makes one feel guilty about going to the zoo and keeping fish in aquariums at home. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film plays out like a razor sharp thriller on large smarmy entertainment corporations who abuse ethical boundaries and shoot animal rights to hell.

The Coen brothers have never done depressing dramas and their first attempt Inside Llewyn Davis is a glorious ode to creatives and artists struggling to get their big break. Apart from being gorgeously shot, written and acted, the film will also make you want to adopt a ginger cat or two.

Kim Mordaunts’ The Rocket is an unapologetically crowd-pleasing film about a kid in Laos trying to build a rocket to win a competition and earn enough cash to start a new life. The Aussie production is sure to find a place in the foreign language Oscar category later this year.

Ilo Ilo is a great first film from director Anthony Chen who won the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Chen tells the story of a family in Singapore that is struggling to deal with the country’s brutal financial crisis. The film commands exceptional acting and nuanced detailing and signals a major talent's arrival.

Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost is a terrific feature from Anup Singh who bagged the Silver Gateway Award in the India Gold category. The film is a bold, eerie drama featuring some barn-burning performances from Irrfan Khan, Tillotama Shome and Rasika Dugal.

The Great Beauty has been named so because that’s exactly what it is. Italian director Paolo Sorrentino channels his inner Fellini for a ridiculously fun, hallucinatory, amusingly acerbic comedy-drama starring Toni Servillo as a famous writer. It’s a film made for people who love films and especially for those who make films. There are enough one liners in the movie to entertain you for a lifetime.

The French film Tonnerre does what Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo failed to – making you feel for the characters. Guillaume Brac’s film is an exquisite, relatable modern drama of doomed romance that has shades of Blue Valentine and it’s fodder for anyone who has gone through heartbreak. Lead Vincent Macaigne won the Best Actor award for his performance in the film.

(First published in Firstpost)

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