The 10th CIFF

‘I’m back.’

It’s been a full month since I’ve posted on this blog, but I’m not going to push it any longer. Some of you may be jumping up and down, clapping your hands in utter glee, or you’re just shaking your head that this online travesty will still exist. Either way, I don’t really care. I need to get back to my writing routine, and what better way than to irritate the followers who are still with me.

This last week, I pushed my love for cinema to a whole new extreme. I went to the 10th Chennai International Film Festival, my first proper (debatable) film festival. I had wanted to attend for a number of years, but December was always that time of the year when teachers tighten their exam sticks and whip students harder than usual. Such meaningless clasps and irons did not hold me down this year; I watched an average of three movies a day for the whole week and saw a total of 20 movies. Not bad if you ask me.

The festival was peppered with a variety of films, including this year’s award-winning best like Holy Motors (Leos Carax), Amour (Michael Haneke) and Pieta (Kim-ki Duk), retrospectives on Claude Chabrol and Michael Cacoyannis, a celebration of 100 years of Indian cinema with screenings of classic films like Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray), Karnan (B.R. Panthulu) and Guide (Vijay Anand), an Indian panorama that assembled this year’s independent Indian standouts like OASS: The Dew Drop (Abhinav Shiv Tiwari) and Delhi in a Day (Prashant Nair) as well as a focus on films from Colombia, Israel and Hungary. The films were screened across the city at Woodlands Theatre, Inox, Sathyam Cinemas, Casino Theatre and Rani Seethai Hall. As it is actually impossible to watch all the films that are screened at any film festival, let me highlight the ones that I enjoyed.

Here are the best films that I walked into without knowing anything, and which haven’t won many awards:

Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now?

Why should boys have all the fun?

Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now? was clearly the most fun film of the fest, even though it was set within the backdrop of a Muslim-Christian communal conflict in a Lebanese village. Maybe I was just bogged down with too much drama, but this film has a lot of heart in depicting women trying to save their community through peace, not guns.

Michel Franco's After Lucia

Ouch.

Michel Franco’s After Lucia is a very clinical film that explores social interactions between teenagers brilliantly. It’s a slow burn that walks a fine line between drama and horror. I found a certain scene involving a cake the most disturbing thing I have ever seen on film, and I’m usually unfazed by extreme graphic violence in other movies.

Radu Jude's Everybody In Our Family

I’ve got 3 days left with her for this year…

Radu Jude’s Everybody in Our Family blew me off my feet. It’s a movie that shifts fluidly between dark comedy, drama, socially acceptable and unacceptable behavior. I don’t want to reveal anything about this movie, but I will say that duct tape rules all.

And here are the obvious awesome films in the fest that everyone around the world loves:

  • Rust and Bone: Jacques Audiard’s fist pumping movie about pain and disability slices through melodrama and convention with standout performances from Marion Cotillard and Mathias Schoenaerts.
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin: I was a little late to get to see this one, but it is even more relevant against the background of the Newtown tragedy and the world’s problems with gun control. With superb editing and visual metaphors, Lynne Ramsay accurately depicts the life of the mother of a serial killer.
  • Melancholia: This is the second Lars Von Trier I’ve seen, and it is both simply magnificent and utterly disappointing. The character study that it tries to be amidst the apocalyptic scenario fails to be as compelling as it could have been, while the spectacle of both the beginning and the end still lingers in my head.

The festival was organized by the Indo-Cine Appreciation Foundation (ICAF), and I went to their headquarters in Chennai to register myself for the festival. I was quite surprised by the state of disarray it was in as well as its secluded location that might as well double for an Mi6 dead drop. Imagine a dark room filled with books, newspapers, magazines and general bric-a-brac, within which two people are nestled. That’s the ICAF I saw, and it wasn’t pretty.

I had some problems with the festival in terms of its organization. Now you might think I’m throwing rocks at it just because I have nothing better to do, but hear me out:

  • The volunteers were a bunch of college kids from a college no one had heard of (at least my friends and I hadn’t) and they never actually volunteered to help us through the festival. They kept moping around as if they were forced to do it.
  • Some of the screenings I went to were either canceled or postponed, thanks to the unreliability of digital projection. Now, that problem is unavoidable, but what was irritating was that these cancellations were announced minutes before I got to the theatre. They were announced in the daily newsletter that was given to festival delegates, but this newsletter was also provided seconds before the first screening. Ridiculous.
  • At Woodlands theatre, there was a sign stuck on the door that said ‘People will not be admitted 15 min after the screening has started’, but this statement was meaningless because people kept walking in and out of each screening. I thought that the film going public for international films would be a little more cultured by keeping their cell phones switched off or on silent mode, but I was disappointed. Every screening had its share of inconsiderate idiots.

But hey, what can you do, right? This festival also gave me the opportunity to watch two Claude Chabrol films, a filmmaker who I had only heard about before, and on the big screen too! The actual films themselves weren’t great, but now I can claim to have seen Claude Chabrol in a theatre. I wish I could say the same about Pather Panchali, which I started watching (and it was amazing. It’s quite astonishing how awesome Sony Pictures Classics restored the 35mm print after all these years) when my phone rang and I realized that I had forgotten about my Model United Nations class in my excitement to watch the movie. I was out of there faster than a bullet, and sped half way across the city. It’s the one film I regret not seeing in the fest.

This was also the first time I watched films at Woodlands, which is normally the place to go if you want shitty seats, decaying walls, and a bad audience to watch crappy films with. Now, those qualities had an air of vintage and antiquity along with the novelty of watching exclusive films that will never be released in our country.

The 10th Chennai International Film Festival was certainly a great experience. I don’t think I’ll be watching any more films until the New Year…maybe.

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