NOV 26, 2009 – ACCORDING TO MIKA KAURISMÄKI’S The House of Branching Love, the best form of therapy to save a dead marriage is to make fierce love in the grave dug by the husband to commemorate the death of that very marriage. Or something like that. There is a lot of lovemaking in this comedy of domestic horrors (think The War of the Roses, with a schlubby Danny DeVito subbing for Michael Douglas) that’s repeatedly intercut with the mechanics of a mob-embezzlement thriller. The result teeters uncomfortably between screwball farce and a pastiche-Coen Bros. dramedy, but at least the laughs keep coming, especially when the husband and wife rope in improbably gorgeous paramours in order to incite jealousy. Hell, truly, hath no fury as a couple scorned.
ALONG WITH COURSES IN EDITING and Sound and Direction, the film academies in China surely have a specialisation in Visual Ravishment. How else to explain the stunning look-and-feel of not just the can’t-miss shots – say, the sun-dappled golden acres of crop in Ping He’s Wheat – but also the close-ups, framed in ever-so-interesting ways, against the billowing bottom of a curtain here, a lantern-lit corner of a shed there. This is the film that opened the festival, an extremely old-fashioned story even to us – as two roguish, roustabout, Jai-Veeru types, in attempting to dupe a village filled with women (the men are off to war), discover an innate honour. Less the Zhang Yimou-style pageantry that’s come to identify recent productions from the country, more a throwback to the stately, sweeping, Golden-Age-Hollywood mega-production, Wheat is likely to leave the cynics sniggering that it should really be called Corn – but I was entranced.
THERE ARE FILMS THAT NEED A SLIGHT SUSPENSION of disbelief, and then there’s God Lives in the Himalayas – Sanjay Srinivas’s jaw-dropper of a tale (in Nepali) that dares you to defy your upbringing at the lap of indulgent grandparents who fed you bedtime tales of never-say-die children like Dhruva and Nachiketa (and never mind the current state of your religious beliefs). As the too-cute story about a boy and his friends began to play out, I was partly indulgent, partly restless. The production values could have been better, I inner-whined, the filmmaking more fastidious, the cast better directed. But then the kicker came – the one that justifies the title – and I was hooked. The film dredged up a feeling of faith-fuelled innocence even I didn’t realise I’d lost. I may have to see it again to confirm if my reaction was due to my addled-with-too-many-movies brain playing tricks, or if there was a genuine micro-epiphany – but I’m beginning to suspect it was the latter.
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