Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pune International Film Festival, 2008

Rather late entry, I know. But I'm a hardworking professional, and I can only work these things in as time permits. The Pune International Film Festival (PIFF, in short) was held this year between the 10th and the 17th of January. For all intents and purposes - at least for all my intents and purposes - it started on the 11th, as there was just an opening ceremony on the 10th, and the screening of the films started the next day.

Those regulars of PIFF, who have attended the 5 editions of years gone by, say this one was not very good, and that the quality has taken a turn for the worse since its opening editions. I wouldn't know. This was the first time I've attended any film festival, ever. To be sure, there were last-minute changes in schedule, and a couple of foreign-language films (that I know of) were shown without subtitles. But, boy, were those seven days I spent at Inox (with a few hours at the NFAI also thrown in) - sitting in a dark, comfy theatre, letting movie after movie wash over me - glorious! I don't know whether you bought that "hardworking professional" hooey in the first paragraph, but suffice it to say that I watched 19 movies in those 7 days, 5 of which were working days. I had to flex my office timings a bit, sacrifice sleep more than a little, but what the hell. PIFF comes but once a year. Sleeping and going to office, I do practically every day. It's a question of prioritising, you see.

I guess my most abiding memory of PIFF will be Pedro Almodovar. About a month back, had you mentioned his name, I would've recognised it, but it wouldn't have meant any more. But now, he's a magician, a movie maker supreme. He has almost everything I go to the movies for. Sex. Violence. Humour. Weirdness. Unforgettable characters. Striking images. Great dialogue. The ability to provoke. The occasional interesting thought. Style. Passion. Pathos. (In no particular order, except the sex and violence. :)) I wouldn't have put melodrama in that list a while back, but I've come to realise that I don't mind melodrama at all. Because if you don't like melodrama, you wouldn't like Almodovar. The directors of a few Hindi and Malayalam films I've seen would probably turn to their screen writers and say, "Isn't this stretching things a bit?" on reading the plot summary of an Almodovar film. But there it is, and I love his films none the less.

The sad thing is, now that I've discovered him, I'll probably have to wait for the next edition of PIFF, or some other festival to see his films on the big screen. I live in a democracy that has freedom of expression as a fundamental right. But there are, of course, caveats. Which means a small group of intellectually superior people can, in their infinite wisdom, decide what a nation of a billion people can watch or read (maybe even think?), without being lead down the road of cultural ruin. Anything with a hint of political dissension to nudity and sex, or that can be construed as even slightly offensive to any religion is dealt with a snip. Which also means any Almodovar film is likely to end up as a 40-minute silent film, after those noble guardians of our culture are done with their Father Adelfio impressions.

Not that our moral guardians are without their share of support from movie lovers, too. "Hardcore pornographic content" and "offends Indian sensibilities" were some of the comments used to describe Almodovar's films. However, given the overwhelming response to his movies (people were sometimes sitting on the aisles due to lack of seats), it seems "Indian sensibilities" is not a term that can be used to cover every Indian's sensibilities. Where is the logic in circulating petitions asking that other people be not allowed to watch the movies you find offensive? Something offends you, you leave the hall, and resolve not to watch it again. Simple as that. I once saw an interview of John Cleese where he said that there is something sick about society being run by its touchiest members - because you're taking as the general standard the standard of those who have the greatest difficulty controlling their emotions.

Just one more paragraph on this, and I'm done. Why does a filmmaker need to "justify" his decision to include a sex scene in a movie? Does he need any justification other than "I wanted to provoke" or "Come on, wouldn't you pay to see Cecilia Roth or Antonio Banderas in the nude" or "I just felt like it"? Why do some kinds of scenes (sex, violence, profanity) require justification, while, say, an attempt at humour doesn't? Sure, you don't need to show sex or violence or profanity on the screen. But the same can be said of anything else. Antonioni didn't need to go to all that trouble of getting those beautiful shots of a city with hardly any people in any of them, at the end of L'eclisse. He could've just inserted a scroll before the credits, "Listen, there's supposed to be a 5-minute montage here showing the eclipsing of mankind. But there, I've saved you time with that summary. I know you're here just to watch Monica Vitti, anyway."

We could take it a step further and ban the making of all films altogether. All that money wasted. Not to forget the irrevocable damage to the environment. There is no actual need to show anything on the screen. To borrow from a Chuck Norris joke I read somewhere, you could just have a placard hanging before the silver screen saying, "Two midgets and a green thingy destroy a piece of jewelery after much trials and tribulations, by throwing it into a volcano. P.S. - Green thingy also falls into the volcano. P.P.S. - Evil eye, who couldn't spare two sentries from his vast armies of darkness to guard entrance to said volcano, also destroyed along with said jewelery. Serves him right." That's something like 3 movies and 10 hours saved right there - and this is discounting extended editions.

Ok, that was 2 paragraphs then, but moving right along...

Of the 19 films I watched, 10 were Almodovars. "Talk to Her", "All About My Mother", "Live Flesh" and "Bad Education" were exceptional. In non-Almodovars, there was this wonderful little Polish film "Tricks", about this little boy trying to learn from his elder sister how to make the universe conspire in his favour. Then there was this Pakistani movie "In the Name of God" that was a look at fanaticism (both in Islam and in how Muslims are treated around the world - actually, the US; but then, if you believe Bush, the US is the world, so... :)). Anyway, there was a lot of hype about the movie, and while I didn't find it that great ("message" movies generally tend towards the ham handed, I feel), it was a nice watch. A strange Hungarian film "Temptations". A Michelangelo Antonioni named "Red Desert". Well, this last did seem to grind time down to a halt on occasions, and Monica Vitti's character was very irritating. But since I'd enjoyed so much a couple of other Antonionis a few weeks prior, and the fact that the audience was very restless (this is one of the many advantages of watching movies alone at home; plus, no idiots on cell phones yakking away, and no couples in the process of "discovering" each other in the seat next to you - as happened while watching "Talk to Her"), I guess I owe Mr Antonioni some allowances... And then there was a hilarious, wacky comedy starring a young Giancarlo Giannini called "The Seduction of Mimi". These were my favourites.

The best thing about it all was that it cost me only 500 bucks to watch the entire thing. That works out to about 25 bucks per movie. Considering that I normally have to spend close to 150 bucks to watch just one movie, and that some of the films I watched were light years ahead in terms to quality compared to the normal fare at multiplexes, you don't need a degree in economics (or is it maths?) to figure out that this was a good deal, whatever quibbles the long-standing viewers of PIFF may have had about this edition. Above all, for anyone who likes movies, isn't there something about being allowed to lounge about a theatre all day, dropping in and out to watch movies to your heart's content? Of course, unused as I am to seeing so many movies in one go, apart from fatigue, there was also a kind of "jumbling" effect on occasions, that the passage of a few days helped diminish. But still, I'm going to have to try and find some of those movies again, just to see whether they are as good (or as bad) as I thought.

And finally, there were these wonderful movie buffs I met at the PIFF. It was refreshing to finally meet some people in the "real world" who wouldn't ask me to shut up, or stare at me like I was one of those slimy creatures from outer space, or say, "Now, where was I before you started driveling?" the moment I started on a topic even remotely connected with movies. Here at last were people with whom I could walk around MG Road for hours discussing movies, then sit down at Olympia for an hour having kathi kababs, and then make our way back, still on movies.

So, roll on, PIFF 2009!