Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DIFF 8 – Day 5 Roundup

12th December 2011 (Day #5)

Day 5 peaked in a way I could not have expected. It featured not one, but two stellar movies, one of which is easily the best movie I have seen all year as well as one of the most profound I have ever seen.

Eric Khoo | Singapore | 2011
97 min

Billed as the biography of famed Japanese manga artist Yohihiro Tatsumi, the movie instead is an animated retelling of his works, book-ended with parts of the artist's life. While this may seem an interesting enough concept, all it does is reproduce the books as they are on-screen (with voice-overs). While there may be a small segment of the audience that does not prefer reading the books instead of watching them on-screen, the movie is a gross injustice to the artist's works. The stories are interesting enough, but do little to explain why Tatsumi is a celebrated artist. Therefore, on a fundamental level, the movie fails.

Under Snow (Unter Schnee)
Ulrike Ottinger | Germany | 2011
103 min

Under Snow is a movie made with a mix of two forms of cinema. The first is a documentary that shows the lifestyle of the people of Echigo, a mountainous region of Japan that experiences snow for six months in a year. The director does well to capture the life of the people who have learned to live with the extreme weather condition. But the director misses the better side of it: examining their basic lifestyle, or how they perform the simplest of tasks that are affected by the cold. Instead, we see New Year rituals, how they make crepe fabric, etc. This is interspersed with a fable that originates from the same place. Enacted by traditional Kabuki performers in their trademark exaggerated style, it tells the tale of a man who marries a fox (in the form of a human girl), their wanderings, their death and their son. This part of the story is completely amiss, as it has little relevance to the Echigo people, and in fact, even shifts the focus away to a remote gold-mining island. It would have worked better if this movie was purely a documentary focused on one aspect only, the lives of the Echigo people, much like Our Daily Bread, a documentary that played at DIFF in 2006.

This Is Not A Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb | Iran | 2011
75 min

Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested some time back. When released on bail, he was barred from writing or directing films. What does a supremely talented and creative director do? He makes This Is Not A Film. Smuggled out of Iran on a USB flash-drive hidden inside a cake, the movie received a special screening at Cannes, and now at DIFF. With the cinema house-full, and the audience reaction to the movie, it is no surprise that Panahi has made another ground-breaking movie. This Is Not A Film is a documentary shot in Panahi's apartment focused on the man himself. Many a times talking directly to the audience, and some just capturing the conversations of the moment, the movie depicts the director's plight, and through it, becomes a subtle jab at the state of Iran. This Is Not A Film is a must watch for anybody who loves cinema and/or believes in the freedom of expression. For those unaware, it would do good to be aware of the background of the director first.

Magic Valley
Jaffe Zinn | U.S.A. | 2011
80 min

Set in the small town of Idaho, director Jaffe Zinn's debut feature Magic Valley is a soulful film about how everyday life goes on until something out-of-the-ordinary happens. Beautifully shot with vivid natural colors, the movie takes place during the course of one day. Two children find a dead body, a mother is distraught at her missing daughter, a fish-farmer finds most of his fish belly-up and a young man is distraught. Magic Valley is about the distractions and pass-times people indulge in when faced with an everyday mundane life. It also shows how each generation has its own innocent and naive fascination with violence. This film is a very confident and promising debut by the director.

I cannot expect the last two days of DIFF to be anywhere as good as today’s, as that is expecting too much. Although I would be satisfied if I don’t see any more exemplary movies this festival, I do expect Day 6 to have some punch, owing to two acclaimed movies in my schedule. More tomorrow.

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