Sunday, December 13, 2009

DIFF 6 – Day 3 Roundup

12th December 2009 (Day #3)

I did not end up watching four movies on the third day of DIFF ‘09. But the quality of the three that I did watch more than made up for it. This year is indeed turning out to be a welcome surprise. Seems like where Hollywood lacked in 2009, the Independent film circuit has made up for.

Well Done, Abba
Shyam Benegal | India | 2009
135 mins

Shyam Benegal, a celebrated director of the revolutionary “parallel cinema” movement of 70s India, moves a step-down with his latest feature, Well Done Abba, a satire based on the corruption that permeates India’s government schemes for the poor. Even so, this mediocre effort by Benegal’s standards leaves its mark. Abba (an over-acting Boman Iran getting his Hyderabadi accent way off-mark) faces corrupt officials at every step of the way when he tries to avail of a government scheme that finances the building of wells in a village. Each man wants his cut, eventually leaving Abba with no money, no well and documents saying all was done. Not to be victimized, Abba and his daughter (Minissha Lamba) decide to play the system instead. They file a report at the police station for a stolen well, presenting all documents to prove they officially had one. As departments collide, pandemonium ensues. Well Done Abba was made with one purpose in mind: to use the mass-media of cinema to make a statement on the socio-economic condition of present-day India. Within that context, the movie does and will serve its purpose. But to present it to an audience not meant for it or to appraise it purely on cinematic terms not only diminishes the necessity of the movie, but also brings the tag of mediocrity to Benegal. The director may not be too bothered though, he is probably deep into composing his next socio-political statement.

The Message (Feng Sheng)
Kuofu Chen & Qunshu Gao | China | 2009
120 mins

A conspiracy is hatched to overthrow an oppressive regime. This takes the form of an underground revolution, with spies infiltrating every department of the regime. One regime officer takes it upon himself to find an important mole that causes them most damage. The Message, as another bit of evidence of China being world players in commercial cinema, is a well-crafted big-budget production that is a staple of summer in Hollywood. Stylization, size, sophistication and actors that look like actors – this movie has it all. Although it takes a few liberties with intelligence when finally explaining who the mole is, the suspense holds well through-out in a mark of good story-telling. The Message will remind you of numerous movies of the spy-thriller genre, but it stays gripping enough from start to finish, assuring it a positive score.

Cherien Dabis | U.S.A./Canada/Kuwait | 2009
97 mins

Cherien Dabis’ makes a fabulous debut feature film in Amreeka. It tells the story of Muna, a single-mother, and her teenage son who migrate to U.S.A. in 2003. From Palestine. The movie explores what they go through in trying to settle-in and the prejudice they face. A simply enough premise, but what makes the movie the best of the festival so far (yes, you read that right!), is a water-tight script by the director herself and an astonishingly good yet poetically simple performance by Nisreen Faour as Muna. Nisreen embodies her character as a simple and nice person (akin to Amy Adams’ Ashley from Junebug). She portrays the character with such fierce honesty, that Muna becomes an amiable person, like everyone’s favourite cousin. With her son, she lives through experiences that resonate with authenticity, reacting as we expect living breathing people to. This depth of character, the familiarity it brings, makes her easy to identify with and becomes the director’s master-stroke in this winning script. Competently surrounded by a host of wonderful performances, especially Hiam Abbass as Muna’s assertive sister Raghda, Amreeka grows to become one of the most personal and warm-hearted movies of not just this festival, but the entire year.

Tomorrow includes South Korea’s Mother, from the director of The Host (played at DIFF ’06). Tomorrow also includes Moon, the sci-fi thriller/drama starring Sam Rockwell. I see it as a mini-competition between the two for my vote of the best movie on the 4th day at DIFF ’09.

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