It could've been better
"Red and Blue" (Germany/Rudlof Thome)
IN SHEER size and attendance, the Kolkata Film Festival is hard to beat, with nearly 7,000 people watching films at six big theatres and a couple of smaller ones throughout the day for seven days at a stretch; and a substantial section of them knowledgeable and mad about movies and able to discriminate.
The quiet discipline that marked the long queues at the start of every show with viewers compelled by the stern rules to leave the hall by a side entrance at the end of every screening, and stand in a queue again, sometimes to enter the same auditorium, was evidence of a dedication to the wonder and magic of cinema. The central Festival site, the Nandan-Rabindra Sadan-Sisir Mancha-Bangla Akademi complex, has a culture quite different from what is in evidence in everyday Kolkata.
Tempers were cool, manners were warm and gentle, and strangers freely shared information and responses except perhaps at the Media Centre, where a particularly unfriendly and unhelpful band of assistants displayed their short-lived power and authority to the hilt.
"Kira's reason A Love Story"(Denmark/Christian Madsen)
At the end of such a sumptuous festival, arranged around a few focussed packages and an enormous, undifferentiated mixed bag, one is left with one's individual selection of the most significant or the best from a random viewing, with only a few definite choices.
The festival programme, a little too colourfully designed, had inadequate information and substandard synopses for most films, and was of little use inhelping choose thefilms to watch.
Without its briefing, one of course knew that one would not like to miss safe bets like Alain Resnais' "Melo", or Kiarostami's "The Wind will Carry Us", which proved to be works of style. One is in a highly self-conscious theatrical mode, with the master's unmistakable panache for dramatising space. The other is in a gentle comedic manner, where the old woman in a remote village, whose death and consequent ceremonials the city photographer descends to document, starts getting better, aborting the media's endeavour to reveal the exotic antiquity.
But the pride of place in the festival selection would go to the Dogme 95 double Lars von Trier's "The Idiots" and Jesper Jargil's "The Humiliated," a film on the making of "The Idiots." The double reveals the unusual method that goes into the making of a Dogme film and this group's commitment to authenticity, exploration of human relationships, and spontaneity.
"Salome" (Spain/Carlos Saura)
Spread over the two films, a group of actors playing their "inner idiots" in a commune, and coming out to provoke/challenge the community outside, discover the emptiness at the core of the adventurous project. The sheer quality of performance, the continuing inner critiquing, and the way it is created, extend the potentials of cinema far beyond the more familiar conventions.
It was sad to see the utter decline of the European cinema, in the banal narrative of a completely exhausted Zanussi's "The Supplement," or the poor romantic historicity of Novak's "Sobri" from Hungary.
There was authenticity and freshness in the Iranian and Lebanese films, particularly in "Paradise is Somewhere Else" by Abdolrasul Golbon and "In The Shadows of the City" by Jean K. Chamoun, where the experience of war assumes a different character altogether from the Hollywood or European models.
Two films that stood out were "Interview" from the Netherlands, directed by Theo Van Gogh, great-great grandson of the more illustrious Theo, Vincent's brother, and the Cuban "Nothing", directed by Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti.
In "Interview", an encounter between a journalist and a young film star builds up to a powerful exposure of the immorality of investigative media.
"The Sea"(Iceland/Baltasar Kormakur)
The gripping drama draws and drives the viewer from the centre again and again.
"Nothing," a first film, has all the fun and abandon of one, and a critique of socialist bureaucracy in the spirit of Alea's classic "Death of a Bureaucrat," but revamped radically in terms of later technology, with a splurge of colourful graphics, maybe an assurance that Cuba may still survive as a socialist democracy!
One missed Carlos Saura's "Salome" at the inaugural, but caught up with it at 3.30 a.m. at the close of the festival.
Yet another Saura play with dance, film and music, and space in the manner that he has made uniquely his own, "Salome" somehow blows away a little too soon, and leaves one a little frustrated.
"Utopia Blues" (Switzerland/Stefan Haupt)
Two other masters on view were Chabrol, with his "The Story of Women," and Aki Kaurismaki with his "The Man Without A Past."
Both narratives were dense with morality. The former loaded with guilt in history, the latter with gentle humanism.
For a film buff it was joy and release, at the end of it all. But Kolkata deserves a better festival, with a little more of information and ideas, a more responsible selection of films, better interaction with visiting directors, actors and critics, more intelligent literature, and a more friendly media crew.
Kolkata has enough talent and resources to provide it all, but it is a dull and insensitive bureaucracy and administration that remains so complacently indifferent.
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