Monday, December 15, 2008

DIFF 5 – Day 3 Roundup

14th December 2008

When I sat to make my schedule of what I would watch during this year's festival, I filled in Day#3 last - only because most of my preferred movies fit in with times and locations so well on the other days. This meant Day#3 was for mostly experimenting with movies I hadn't put on my "must-watch" list, which would lead to either a great discovery, or a huge disappointment. But unfortunately, it ended up being more of the latter. Luckily, I had the next 4 days to look forward too, which guarantee at least a gem a day. I did I end up watching five movies though! Read on for mostly miss-able movies and one great discovery.

The Blade (Dao)
Hark Tsui | Hong Kong | 1995
101 mins

Dao is not a movie from this year, it is a "cult" Hong Kong action movie from 1995. To really like this movie, you need to be a fan of the genre or appreciate the key standard character types and plot points of such movies. Else it ends up being the funniest, campiest movies you could watch this festival. Being aware of the genre, I enjoyed this movie - mainly in the action and "training" sequences. Strictly for genre lovers or those academically interested.

Lance Hammer | U.S.A. | 2008
96 mins

One man, One woman, One child, One dog. One suicide, One attempted suicide. One store, two houses, two cars. That's Ballast. There's not much else I can write about this movie, not because it is a Shyamalan-esque thriller, but because there is not much of anything happening in the movie. Not in terms of events, and not in terms of characters. There's simply nothing happening! We do see the kid trying to hold-up his uncle for money, we do see the mother distressing at making ends meet, and we DO see the uncle mourn his twin-brother's suicide. But honestly, nothing really happens. Watching this movie was just as much fun as being stuck in a traffic Jam. In Sharjah. After a day of rains. And no phone.

Private File (Malaf Khas)
Saad Hendawy | Egypt | 2008
61 mins

Most conservative societies have a highly-biased take on honour in connection to women. Egyptian society (as in the case of this movie) is as conservative as it gets - from holding loss of virginity (outside marriage) as the highest dishonor, to punishing the victim in case of rape. Malaf Khas is a documentary recorded as interviews and conversations with Egyptian common folk as well as experts (doctors, lawyers, clerics, etc) on this 'taboo' subject. Although it starts of pretty well showing the depth of the plight of women, it loses interest 15 minutes into by not further delving into the subject. We hear the same issues from different people with slight variations through-out the one-hour running time of the movie. It could have been more interesting with case-studies discussing with the oppressed and oppressor, but maybe Egypt is too conservative to allow such a movie to be made/released.

Idiots & Angels
Bill Plympton | U.S.A. | 2008
78 mins

Have you seen the quirky animations on MTV that bring up the "MTV" sign in weird surreal ways? Imagine a complete movie done the same way. That is what Idiots & Angels is. It's a completely hand-drawn animated feature that follows one Idiot's transformation to an Angel because he sprouts wings, done in a Lynch-ian dream-like way. Why does he sprout wings? He just does (not of his own will though). Like those MTV animations, the movie is extremely quirky and very eye-catching. For the first few minutes. The novelty then wears off and you start looking for the characters and stories which end up being an age-old tale of evil defeating good before Good arising again to finally defeat Evil (Biblical reference there?). Sparing some really cool sequences, most of the movie is a let-down. I guess there is a reason that our dreams (as good, bad or twisted they may be) don't last more than a few minutes.

A Climate for Crime (Oru Pennum Randaanum)
Adoor Gopalakrishnan | India | 2008
115 mins

Quite intentionally side-stepping "Sin", Oru Pennum Randaanum deals with crime - whether it is stealing, illegal abortions or even love. The director, highly-acclaimed and multi-National Award winning Adoor Gopalakrishnan, comes from the Satyajit Ray school of film-making. Although I have not seen his movies before (he belongs to India's regional cinema, Malayalam movies), I have enough exposure to the film-making style via Shyam Benegal and the late Bimal Roy. And this knowledge only helps raise the experience this movie turned out to be. Told in four stand-alone short-stories and directed with minimal action, the director chooses a narrative style that relies mostly on conversations between characters. So it happens that many-a-times some major events between the major characters of a story are only discovered by the audience when two minor characters are discussing it. Set in the grass-root society of rural Kerala during WWII (and therefore, colonized India), Goplakarishnan uses his simple short-films to imprint the timelessness of crimes that so easily touch the everyday man. A great experience of a movie, and a great introduction to a legendary film-maker whose movies I had been bereft of.

Day#4 comprises three highly-acclaimed movies, including the 4+ hour epic Steven Soderbergh directed Che Guevara biopic. It's going to be a good day. Trust me, wait till you read about it!

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