BIOSCOPE: United colours of CINEMA

I walk out of the screening, not bothering to check out the closing ceremony. I have seen the best of what I had come for 

Sonali Ghosh Sen Kolkata 

DAY 1

The hoopla over Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan and the celebrity satellites that hover around them attending the inauguration is over. Nandan is now ready to welcome the serious film-lovers. It’s decked up in lights and there is a festive air around the complex to underline the word ‘Festival’. Kolkata being Kolkata, films and food have to be taken seriously and long queues have formed before the Bijoli Grill counter as well as the box office.

I queue up for Takashi Miike’s Ai to Makato (For Love’s Sake), having seen only one of his earlier movies, Sukiyaki Western Django. This prolific Japanese director has made quite a few movies—13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, Audition—and since he genre hops with every movie one doesn’t know what to expect. Well, For Love’s Sake is a movie that is ostensibly High School Musical meets West Side Story, and is about a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks who has many a good girl falling in love with him, but not all of them are…err… what they seem.

It’s quirky, entertaining, whacky, macabre, ultra violent and yet shows a sense of tenderness and romance that bland Zac Efron or Vanessa Hudgens could never bring to a musical. Oh, yes, there is song and dance, every song choreographed to showcase the director’s technical virtuosity and dark humour. Once you are out of the theatre, you are shaken and stirred and left wanting more. As one delegate turns to another and says, awestruck, “Ki paaglami! (What brilliance!)” 

DAY 2

This movie was carefully marked out days in advance, because it’s been garnering such varied opinions. I watch Holy Motors with a girl from Chandigarh who is writing a thesis on ‘Film Culture in India’ and will be doing the rounds of all the film festivals in India—Mumbai, Kolkata, Goa et al. We discuss Kolkata and movies in the way that only movie buffs are known to do, even if they never meet again.

But nothing prepares us for the ride that Holy Motors has to offer —baffling, anarchic, open to interpretation and refusing to be pigeonholed into any genre. It keeps you glued to your seat just like the protagonist in his white stretch limousine which doubles up as an actor’s vanity van. As we move through his day, he enacts different roles or appointments for his unknown clients—a beggar, a madman, a killer, a victim—the episodic narratives unconnected except for the shape-shifting genius of director Leos Carax and leading man Dennis Lavant.

The dehumanisation of relationships, the mechanisation of identity, when illusion becomes the truth, are some of the topics explored but this is a movie that is better watched than explained and even the beautiful visage of an Eva Mendes or Kylie Minogue cannot distract you from the storytelling that will thrill, awe, horrify, bemuse and entertain  in equal measure. 

DAY 3

Another white limousine drives into the Kolkata Film Festival, this time steered to carefully cultivated anarchy on the star power of Robert Pattinson (yes, Twihards, you got that right) in the not too distant future in Cosmopolis. It is about a day in the life of a billionaire financial visionary driving across town to get a haircut—a ride that will have a far-reaching effect on his life and the world, but we know little of that from Pattinson’s deadpan acting which doesn’t change even when rioting mobs almost overturn his car, when he gets pie splotched on his face, or even when he shoots himself.

If Holy Motors was avant garde, this one tries very hard to be. There is too much talk about life, love, time, technology, currency markets and everything, but after a while we don’t understand and don’t care, even as Pattinson propels to disaster and an imminent assassination. This movie is too cerebral, too detached, too cold to really feel for, and if this is the future, we are in for a long, tiring ride. 

Day 4

Another big-billed feature begins my day with two phenomenal actors, Matthias Schoenaerts, on the way up after last year’s Oscar-nominated Bullhead, and Marion Cotillard of La vie en Rose fame in Rust and the Bone. This is a movie that leaves you with mixed feelings. It’s a movie you should love, you even want to love, as the romance between two people crippled by pain evolves—he emotionally detached and she an Orca (killer whale) trainer with no legs.

But somehow, you cannot embrace this movie wholeheartedly despite spirited performances by the lead actors and excellent VFX. It seems too prosaic when it reaches an emotional crescendo and too overblown in what should be taut, tender moments. The radical transformation of character, the tenuous bond that has its moments can’t really carry the movie through. In fact, the best moment onscreen comes not between Schoenaerts and Cotillard, but between Cotillard and an Orca that she goes to visit after her accident—the Orca responding to her hand signals with her silhouetted against a glass-walled tank. This five-minute scene shows the frailty of life, the agony of loss, the visceral raw power of love, more than the 115 minutes of the rest of the movie.

Day 5

As I stand in the long queue to watch this year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, Amour (Love) by Michael Haneke, I am dissatisfied. Friends talk over lemon cha (tea) about the Danish movie The Hunt and Ben Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, both of which I missed. My mood doesn’t improve when I see that the movie has already started while the festival crowd is still jostling for seats. However, every complaint fades before the power of Amour—a movie that is an unwavering look at ageing in the sepulchral interiors of a beautiful Parisian apartment, that unflinchingly tests the bonds of commitment and dignity. With long static takes and filmed almost entirely in the apartment of an elderly Parisian couple, it is an intimate look at the aftermath of a stroke and how the couple deals with this new indignity of ageing in their lives. As Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) inexorably and physically deteriorates before our eyes, it’s her husband, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who faces the more problematic task of life, death and loneliness. The audience is sealed into the four walls of the house and has to grapple with the changing face of compassion, kindness and, yes, of love. The audience sees what Georges’ caring yet detached daughter can’t—a man fighting desperately to hold on to what was, yet losing the battle to what will be. Michael Haneke and the veteran French actors breathe life into a premise that could have been maudlin, but instead turns into a movie that is rich, poignant, brave
and beautiful.

I walk out of the screening, not bothering to check out the closing ceremony. I have seen the best of what I had come for.    

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2012