Wednesday, March 5, 2008

An objective review of my experience at an international film festival

This morning a friend of mine woke me at the unearthly hour of seven to go watch an art film at a women’s film festival. First of all, who are these people who get up at seven to catch a movie at eight, and why are they still alive?

Secondly, from a series of sleep-addled grunts I seemed to have given the mistaken impression that I'd enjoy a morning of watching Yvenska the Norwegian bisexual forge an unlikely friendship with Olga the 37 year old alcoholic who is dying a slow and painful death of ovarian cancer.

Thankfully, the gods seemed to have taken pity on me, and I was spared Yvenska and her award-winningly heartbreaking story. We caught an Iranian film instead aptly titled “Rush, it’s gone” to highlight its glacial pace.

A note about the film festival: it started five days ago and was being jointly shown at Sathyam cineplex and the South Indian film chamber. The women-centric films were a collaborative initiative of the Indo-Korean Chamber (Inko), in association with the National Film Development Corporation Ltd (NFDC), National Film Archive of India (NFAI) and the Association of Serbian Socialists.

The Iranian movie wasn't bad, and I rather enjoyed the story-telling. The highlight of the morning however was the South Indian film chamber where the film was being screened.

This gem of a building is tucked away in a narrow by lane off mount road. It’s the sort of place the classifieds would term 'charming' and 'quaint'. The walls were coated with a luxurious layer of centuries-old grime. Beneath which, it is rumored, are a series of drawings by Neanderthals depicting their courageous battle against a woolly mammoth. They seem to have perished sadly, along with the woolly mammoth who suffered a brain hemorrhage from watching a Ukrainian art film and ultimately went extinct.

On the wall by my seat I spied a rather artistically-rendered appeal. One lone cockroach, after years of desperate confinement amidst film critics and art films, had taught itself the English language, ripped its head open, dipped its feelers into its own blood and wrote on a small portion of the wall, a tiny 'help' - with perfectly rendered Korean subtitles below.

I hear that they have since converted the brave cockroach's ordeal into an art film starring John Malkovich as le cockroach, and Nicole Kidman as le love interest, an anorexic albeit ethereal dung-beetle. Tickets available at the South Indian film chamber.

The Iranian movie seemed to be quite popular as evinced by the number of Kanchipuram sari-clad women who kept sauntering in well after it had started. The sari-clad women, who were all seated in a row behind us, enriched our movie watching experience greatly with their insights – in case any of us required clarifications on the motives behind the characters’ actions. A rather stunningly beautiful woman arrived just in time for the end-credits and wept softly at the quiet beauty of the typography on screen. It was, like, very moving.

By the time the movie was over, a couple of enthusiastic kids at the stall gave us a list of films being screened as part of the festival, along with a brief synopsis. I was disappointed to see Yvenska's tale was woefully absent. Nevertheless, a rather intriguing Hungarian movie caught our eye.

The synopsis of the 1968 film “The Girl" by Hungarian director Martha Meszaros enticingly read:

This film is about a tempestuous love quadrangle in Paris. All of the exposed skin is supposed to pass for drama, but instead has the dreary one-track banality of a feature-length version of an episode of the ‘Red Shoe Diaries’, Showtime’s late-night series for people who like soft porn but are too lazy to leave the house.

I figured watching such a greatly-applauded art film as this would elevate my standing among my artistically-inclined peers. Also, I'll finally have something to talk about when my artsy friends conglomerate and start deconstructing the latest obscure art flick they caught. So now when they talk about Yvenska and the poignancy of her struggle, I can say ah yes, but it’s no comparison to Kovacs’s search for meaning in a dangerously borderless world. Or when they talk about the gentle play of light and shadows in Monet’s Water Lilies, I can say ah yes, but it’s no comparison to Kovacs’s search for meaning in a dangerously borderless world. Or when they ask me the way to the bathroom I can say ah yes, but it’s no comparison to Kovacs’s search for meaning in a dangerously borderless world.

And so compelled by the integrity of my desire, we headed to Sathyam Cineplex to catch the film. Having an hour to kill before the show, my friend and I headed to a coffee pub nearby. I ordered a masala tea and custard biscuits which I then proceeded to dip in the tea. I had not fully taken into account the viscosity of the liquid in question, with the result that of the 4 biscuits I dipped, I was roughly left with .37 when they emerged. I then proceeded to drink the quicksand mixture so as not to offend the waiter and left in time for the show. The significance of this paragraph by the way has nothing to do with anything. But no post is ever complete without some mention of my experience at a beverage establishment, or a polka-dotted one-eyed cow.

At this point, on account of my guilt-ridden conscience, a final attempt at veracity requires me to reveal that contrary to all protestations of noble intentions, my sole motive behind watching this film involved the words 'exposed skin' and 'soft porn'. Tragically, I was confronted with neither. I will now proceed to give an objective review of the film, ‘The Girl’.

There is a girl. She works in a factory and lives in an orphanage. Wanting to find out about her real parents, she traces her mother and leaves to her village to meet her. On the train she meets a man who wants to talk to her but doesn't because maybe if he plays hard to get then she will talk to him. Or maybe the girl is suffering from an acute case of laryngitis just then and wants to save her voice for when she meets her mother so she may sing out her greeting in seven octaves. I am assuming this is the custom in Hungary whenever an orphaned child meets her biological parent for the first time.

At the village she meets her mother who introduces the girl as her niece and then they all watch tv. The father seems to be some sort of private detective as I gleaned from the following subtitled-conversations at the dinner table:

Father: you must eat.
Girl: yes.
Father: food is important.
Girl: yes.
Father: you are from Budapest.
Girl: yes.
Father: I can tell from your clothes and behavior. This proves you are from Budapest.
Girl: … (I am assuming she is speechless at his powers of deduction)
Father: I work hard and eat a lot. You must eat. Food is important.

From this insightful interaction between father and child, layered with concealment and pain, I gleaned that food is important. Also, Hungarians believe there is much virtue in redundancy.

The girl then goes to church where a boy asks her if she's from Budapest but she doesn't reply and another boy asks her and she agrees to go to the dance with him that evening but not before taking a dip in the pond where she is spied by some of the villagers whose identities are not revealed when told of the fact by her mother later that day before the dance.

The girl goes back to the orphanage the next day. But not before dancing with her father and telling her mother that she - the mother - is very afraid, and would she always be afraid. I think the director is trying to say that the mother is afraid, and this is symbolic of a larger sense of paranoia in an increasingly cloistered world. Or maybe she means that the mother is afraid and this undercurrent of fear is reflected throughout the movie and in the girl’s own psyche as evinced by her clumsy, almost detached, interactions with men. Or maybe she means that the mother is afraid because the souls of countless rodents in art houses everywhere will die and go to heaven where they will haunt the netherworlds with their restless spirits. I was loudly speculating on the protagonist's intent to my neighbor when hit on the head by a flying brick. I miss the commentary of the sari-clad women.

So anyway, the girl goes back to the orphanage where she kisses her friend’s boyfriend while a 16-year old who is in love with her and jumped off a bridge to prove it and was subsequently released by the police after the girl paid a fine for illegal bathing in a Hungarian water body, attempts to capture her attention by gyrating to a high-pitched song by hippie Scandinavians high on helium. The end.

In the course of the movie, the girl meets a person on the road from Paris who proceeds to speak in French and is therefore not subtitled. Although I think he was saying, my toast is not buttered. Or this table has four legs. I cannot be sure because of the slight difference in accents in various regions of France.

She also meets a smooth-talking man claiming to be a tailor who knew her father, a handsome rogue who slept with her mother, who died of sorrow, and then the smooth-talking man drinks four cognacs that he asks the girl to pay for. The girl then deduces from this interaction that the man is, without a doubt, her father. She also sleeps with two people - not explicitly shown since this was the 60s - or perhaps it was one and not two people, or maybe they were twins and therefore had similar eyebrows. Or perhaps it was the chin.

Somewhere in the middle of this, the girl’s roommate has a deep philosophical discussion with the girl on the virtues of sun-tan lotion or perhaps it was the economic rate of growth in Poland, while standing topless for all of four seconds. Unfortunately, I missed those four glorious grainy black-and-white seconds as I was busy reading the subtitles.

To summarize my experience, I would like to say the film festival offered many rare and poignant insights into the psyche of women through their richly textured and expertly-chosen international films. To whoever wrote the synopsis for the 'The Girl', I extend my heartfelt gratitude and two custard biscuits and strongly recommend she watch 'Yvenska and her polka-dotted one-eyed cow', a tragic and poignant tale of love in the time of ovarian cancer, artistically interspersed with full frontal nudity and senseless sex scenes.

Don’t forget the sun-tan lotion.


Kaushik said...

It's rumoured, not rumored, and gleaned, not gleamed.
Speaking of Hungarian Women's Films, I particularly like Pink Velvet: A Lesbian Odyssey. Don't know if they screened that one at this festival. The undercurrent of strained relationships and emancipation aroused strong feelings in me.


sankechita said...

Went to the esteemed South Indian Film Chamber. Watched a Helke Sanders movie on Mother, Mother beast. Women talk to a chimp about being mothers. Loved it. :)

Lizzie Borden said...

Ah, the Cow and a womens film festival, I love your sympathy for the cockroaches and the restless rodent spirits... the last time I watched an art film, the people just walked and kept saying, ah endless solitude... icing on the cake, it was in my own mother tongue... art house cinema is truly a delight to the senses, such a rich tapestry of experience we glean from it...
hi5 to such insights from you L phtoo, you should have worn your patent leathers to the movies!!!!

compos mentis said...


yes, your royal semanticness, I have altered the aforementioned sources of grammatical inaccuracy. I hope the narrative clarity is now elevated to a standard more suited to your sensitive orbs.


HOW could you watch a woman talking to chimps in that godforsaken place?! That said... some of the films were quite nice *grin*


as rajni would've said it... thankuthankuthanku. And today I'm wearing the red silk peep-toes to the fest. Muahahaha. die roaches die! Fear the wratch of the 6-inch heel.


Maddy said...

I laughed so hard reading this post. I totally missed hearing your comments first hand. maybe you should write one about our experience watching 1-2-3 :D