Friday, December 11, 2009

DIFF 6 – Day 1 Roundup

10th December 2009
As the sixth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) starts, the buzzing noise of gossip and conundrum surrounding it settles for a more meaningful reverberation – the active and vivacious discussion of movies. But, this is just the beginning. DIFF is about seven unremitting days of back-to-back movies. With it, here starts my annual day-by-day account of movies that are good, bad and the ones that are simple weird.

Gulf Voices
This collection of five short movies by Arab film-makers is as mixed bag as it comes. Fortunately, two of the shorts were better than average, and that made the assortment worth the bad ones.

Amal’s Cloud
Rawia Abdullah | United Arab Emirates | 2009
9 mins

It starts with Amal’s Cloud, an over-thought under-shot movie that probably made sense to a few from the crew only. The movie has such arbitrary shots, threaded together in some unintelligible way that it is akin to reading 4 random pages from a 40-page book. It does have the advantage of being a short though.

The Half Heart (Nesf Galb)
Bilal Abdullah | United Arab Emirates | 2009
9 mins

Following it is the “daring” movie The Half Heart that attempts to present the prohibited topic of ex-marital pregnancy. The movie though is not as groundbreaking as the director probably intended it to be. He puts his toe in a taboo pool expecting a splash of questions and discussions.

Naked Human (Mujarad Ensan)
Omar Al-Masab | Kuwait | 2009
12 mins

Next is Naked Human, a sketch-animation of a high-concept that is interestingly visualized.  It does provoke questions though. Fortunately, it ends with a note that it is a prologue to a trilogy – like a lengthy trailer to what seems an interesting movie.

Banana (Mouz)
Meqdad Al Kouf | Kuwait | 2009
25 mins

This is followed by the best of the lot: Banana.  This crazy movie by Kuwaiti director Meqdad Al Kouf is an eccentric telling of one man’s fetish with land and his floating thoughts that are populated with equally absurd versions of events that take place around him. A truly daring movie that was banned in its home country, Banana does not shy away from blatant but symbolic display of the principal’s sexual obsession or random meaningless ciphers that admittedly stand for nothing but effect. A true Lynchian effort, Banana is perfectly at home at indie festival circuits.

The Good Omen (Al-Bashara)
Mohammed R. Bu-Ali | Bahrain | 2009
26 mins

The last of the collection was the Bahraini movie The Good Omen. A slow moving piece about the older generation that worked on the construction of an important bridge in the city, it overstays its welcome even for its short runtime of 26 minutes.

All-in-all, a less than stellar effort for the wonderful opportunity three of these directors were given. It’s only Naked Human, and the wonderful Banana that makes this collection worth the watch.

North (Nord)
Rune Denstad Langlo | Norway | 2009
78 mins

After months of depression in a far-off ski-slope, an ex-athelete takes a road-trip across miles of snow to meet his son & estranged wife. The director takes this simple idea and does what most good road-trip movies do right – he makes the character of the protagonist interesting and his experiences immersive. Beautifully shot in the all-white backdrop of northern Norway and blended with a nice mix of humor to the narrative, North also imaginatively borrows from the western genre, replacing the horse with a snow-mobile and sand for snow. Realistic dialogues and good performaces add to this wonderful movie, making it a pleasant start to this festival’s feature-length movies.

Cedar Boys
Serhat Caradee | Australia | 2009
102 mins

Cedar Boys is a look into the life of angst-ridden second-generation middle-class Lebanese-Australians. They find an easy path into the world of crime, specifically drug-dealing, the lure of easy money replacing moral dilemmas. This myopic look at life is what makes them oblivious to the eventual implosion they heads towards. Serhat Caradee took six years to complete this movie, attributing a big chunk of that to the writing process. This shows in the final movie. The movie, after it finishes, seems long for its runtime. Not because it is slow, but because the world of these characters is so well fleshed-out, that the length of the movie seems like a journey into the real lives of these people. A lot is established and accomplished within its 102 minutes. Cedar Boys also features favourabily underplayed performances. An exciting debut by this Australian director.

The first day was good. Two good feature-length movies makes it probably the best first day I have ever experienced at DIFF in these past six years. Day 2 has three movies lined up, all of them with relatively larger productions. But if Day 1 is any indication of the next six days, then those of us attending the festival are going to be very happy people. 

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