Films & Feni: Star Gazing

Posted on November 28, 2009


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NOV 28, 2009 – A FILM FESTIVAL ISN’T EXACTLY THE PLACE you’d trawl for stars, so it was a refreshing change-of-pace to slip into Manoel de Oliveira’s I’m Going Home – part of a retrospective-tribute to the great (and apparently ageless) director — and lock eyes with Michel Piccoli, John Malkovich and, especially, Catherine Deneuve. (Speaking of retrospectives, though, one for Gurinder Chadha? Featuring The Mistress of Spices and Bride and Prejudice? Really?) But the real star in these films is, of course, the director, and he conjures up a beautiful portrait of a theatre thespian capable of memorising entire iambs of Shakespeare, but fumbling with mere scraps of dialogue during the shooting of a scene in a film version of Ulysses. Could it be the alien language of the movie, English? Or is it that the adaptability of an actor decreases with age, unable to cope with the language of action-cut and the lack of on-stage continuity? Or is it simply the effect of a deep personal tragedy? Piccoli infuses these meditations with profound melancholy and meaning.

AMERICAN CRITICS LOVE TO BEMOAN the death of romance in the movies (and the rom-com, in particular). I’d propose that love is still in the air – it’s just that the breeze has drifted eastwards, first towards India, and now towards Thailand, as represented in Yongyoot Thongkongtoon and his bittersweet Best of Times. What begins as a standard-issue nerd-babe-jock love triangle segues into the attraction between two elders and how the latter informs the former (yes, think Love Aaj Kal all over again). The director is quite shameless in his intentions to manipulate the audience – he’s not above inserting gratuitous shots of adorable dogs lolling their tongues for the benefit of the camera. But he also fleshes out characters you care deeply about, even after the film has long overstayed its welcome.

PRESENTING HIS LATEST ODE TO RELATIONSHIPS, Shob Charitro Kalponik, Rituparno Ghosh joked to the audience that he’s been accused so often of verbosity in his films that he finally decided to make a movie whose very protagonist is… language. Perhaps afraid that he’d painted too arty-farty a picture, he then admitted his film wasn’t all that esoteric – but it is. An extremely beautiful (but also extremely inadequate) Bipasha Basu plays a hardnosed wife whose involvement with her head-in-the-clouds poet-husband (Prasenjit Chatterjee) deepens, unexpectedly, after his demise, amidst Persona-like visuals of doppelgangers and yards of poetry recited aloud. I’m still a little unsure what to make of it all, but the last half-hour or so held me in a surreal sway that almost made up for the beleaguered beginnings.

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