Films & Feni: Through the Eyes of a Child

Posted on December 2, 2008


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DEC 3, 2008 – THE CELLO PLAYS NEARLY NON-STOP in Petri Kotwica’s Finnish melodrama Black Ice, but perhaps the director should have commissioned a score from REM, considering that his theme is that, when love sours, everybody hurts. This is one of those ludicrously overripe love triangles that you’d laugh right off the screen, but once the wife sets out to confront the mistress and, instead, befriends her, it becomes impossible to tear your eyes away. What is it that renders ridiculous material so non-ridiculous? Is it the conviction of the filmmaker, or is it that of the cast? Or, perhaps it’s the dense psychological layers, piled on so thick, they completely obscure the flimsy base they rest on. Black Ice escalates ever-so-gradually into such a tensely knotted web of love and treachery and tragedy, it completely earns its over-the-top finale. Anything more subdued would have been disastrously inappropriate.

AT THE START OF ULRICH GROSSENBACHER & DAMARIS LUTHI’S Hippie Masala, a holy man takes a dip in a river. He has all the trappings of a Naga sadhu, the lines of age, the emaciation of body, the ash-matted hair – and then we learn his name. He’s Cesare, from Italy. The documentary subsequently charts through the stories of Robert from Holland and Hanspeter from Switzerland and Gloria from South Africa – all hippies, who came to India for various reasons and stayed on. Now, older and wiser (and some, not so much wiser), they reflect on what their quests have resulted in, how their lives have turned out. Reading the synopsis, I expected some sort of overall picture, a bird’s-eye journey through the hippie phenomenon, narrated with incessant sitar strains, but this day-in-the-life approach is far more effective in illuminating that ineffably sad halfway point between finding the self and losing oneself.

BARBET SCHROEDER’S INJU: THE BEAST IN THE SHADOW (what an irresistibly lurid title) commences with an act of narrative rug-pulling of stunning audacity – but while this opening stretch kicks things off in grand style, it also marks a high point that the rest of this thriller cannot hope to live up to. Inju is a cobbled-up B-movie that uses several noir tropes (the stranger in a strange land who gets sucked into a murder plot with possibly a femme fatale) to build a genuinely disturbing atmosphere – at points, I confess I was squinting at the screen – but it’s very hard to take the whole thing seriously, especially by the end, when the jigsaw pieces come together in an altogether underwhelming fashion. Chalk up another addition to the growing number of this festival’s features that are never less than watchable, but also never completely satisfying.

THROUGH-THE-INNOCENT-EYES-OF-A-CHILD FILMS aren’t the easiest of things to pull of – the mix of cuteness and fantasy and fabulist whimsy, especially, can blow up in your face if you’re not careful (or if you’re not Truffaut) – but Sooni Taraporevala (better known as Mira Nair’s screenwriter) finds a remarkably assured voice in her first feature, Little Zizou. The focus is the Parsi community, brought to loving life through a colourful bunch of eccentrics – and perhaps some are a bit too eccentric, characters more from a resourceful imagination than real life – and a standout ensemble cast (top-lined by the can-do-no-wrong Boman Irani) ensures that even when the screenplay begins to meander, our attention doesn’t. Side-splittingly funny at times, sweetly sentimental at others, it’s hard to see how this disarming slice of Mumbai life won’t bowl over multiplex audiences when it finally finds its way to theatres.

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