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A taste of Cannes in India

By Rajeev Srinivasan
January 25, 2011 15:50 IST
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Rajeev Srinivasan on one of the best film festivals in India.

This is the second year in a row that I have managed to make it to the International Film Festival of Kerala in Trivandrum from December 10 to 17. Unfortunately, I could only spend two days at the event. It was definitely my loss, as I missed out on what surely were extremely interesting films

I continue to be amazed at how well the IFFK is organised. It is a miracle that in Kerala, which is known for lackadaisical attitudes, this festival goes like clockwork. Literally -- the films actually start on the dot at the appointed time. Once again, I had no trouble with my registration -- the same courteous and helpful Walter D'Cruz (although he was nursing a bad cold) made sure it took me no more than five minutes to get my media pass, just as he had done in 2009.

The festival is a bargain for penurious cineastes, as you get, for some Rs 300, a pass that allows you to see all 210 films over the space of seven days. Of course, it would be physically impossible to see all of them, but if you wished, you could see five a day, if you rushed from one theater to another, and you had tremendous stamina.

The logistics of figuring out what to see when and where is quite formidable, but there is a very well laid-out screening schedule that spans the ten theaters and one open-air auditorium. You could reserve seats for a show one the Internet or via SMS -- but for no more than three films a day, which seems more than adequate. Three is about all I could manage on any given day, so that I did not overdose.

The festival handbook is also very well-produced, a study in economy: each film has a brief description in English and Malayalam, the names of the director/actors, and which festivals it was shown at, and which awards it garnered. Short, simple, and enough to give one an idea of whether the film should be worth seeing. The show daily, an 8 page bilingual colour production, is also quite informative, especially about last-minute additions.

The handbook is organised along the lines of the themes of the festival. Here are some selected films, a small subset of what was on offer (the full schedule can be found at

Lifetime Achievement Award: Werner Herzog

Annual G Aravindan Memorial Lecture (This is the 75th birth anniversary of the legendary G Aravindan, genius and mystic of cinema. This year's lecture was given by Aruna Vasudev of NETPAC on 'The Journey of Bringing Asian Cinema Centerstage'


In Competition

In a strong field, Optical Illusions (Chile), The Japanese Wife (India, Bengali/Japanese), T D Dasan Std VI B (India, Malayalam) stood out


Winners: Portraits in a Sea of Life (Columbia) Best Picture, The Last Summer of La Boyita (Argentina) Best Director Julia Solomonoff


FIPRESCI award: Buried Secrets (Tunisia)


NETPAC award: I am Afiya Megha Abhimanyu Omar (India, Hindi)


Malayalam Cinema Now: among others,

Yugapurushan, the story of the great saint, philosopher and humanist Sri Narayana Guru; Mist of Capricorn, Elektra, The Way Home


Indian Cinema Today: among others,

Kanasembo Kudureyaneri (Riding a Stallion of a Dream) (Kannada, by renowned director Girish Kasaravalli, Udaan (Hindi), Metropolis@Kolkata (Bengali)


World Cinema: among others,

Samson Delilah (Australia, English/Aborigine language), Dawson Island 10 (Chile), Apart Together (China), The House of Branching Love (Finland), Domaine (France), Two in the Wave (France) a documentary about Truffaut and Godard, Adrienn Pal (Hungary), The Human Resources Manager (Israel), Son of Babylon (Iraq), Northless (Mexico), Verano de Goliath (Mexico), Aurora (Romania), How I Ended This Summer (Russia), Silent Souls (Russia), London River (Algeria), Outrage (Japan), Biutiful (Spain), Certified Copy (France)


Retrospectives: Fassbinder, T V Chandran


Timeless Legends: Japanese cl-assic Films: among others, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Kenji Mizoguchi), Zegen (Shohei Imamura) Contemporary Masters in Focus: Assayas, Novaro, Weerasuthakal


Central Asia: among others,

The Daughter in Law (Kazakhstan), The Orator (Uzbekistan), The Adopted Son (Kyrgyzstan)


Spirit of Independence: Films by three black American directors, including the documentary Rosa Parks Story


Flamenco Films: Using the flamenco dance form from Spain, filmmakers tell stories: Blood Wedding, Carmen, El Amor Brujo, Camaron: When Flamenco Became Legend, Lola: The Film


Bicentennial Films: Latin America

Celebrating roughly 200 years of independence, films from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela, including: Los Olvidados, a classic from Mexico by Luis Bunuel, The Virgin that Forged a Country (Mexico), Machuca (set in Allende-era Chile)


Forget Africa (Instead of forgetting Africa, this section celebrates African films (last year, there was the excellent Jerusalema from South Africa). This year, there were many including Memories of a Burning Tree (Tanzania, Swahili), Rwanda -- Take 2, Slam Video Maputo (Mozambique), Unreal Forest (Zambia), Where are you taking me? (Uganda)


Women Films focusing on the works of several women directors, including Triumph of the Will, a seldom-seen Leni Riefenstahl film from 1935 documenting the Nuremberg meet of the Nazi party: she has been ostracized propagandist, despite the fact that she is a consummate craftsman; Cleo from 5 to 7 (Agnes Varda), All Screwed Up (Lina Wertmuller)

Japanese Manga: there was a whole section devoted to the wildly popular comic-book genre of anime. The first anime I ever saw full-length was the extraordinary Ramayana by Yugo Sako, although that was not on show here.


High Noon of Malayalam Films: It can be argued that Malayalam has the finest tradition in serious cinema in India; this retrospective from the 70s and 80s features some of the films that made it so -- as a parallel exhibit at the Kanakkunnu Palace boasted, there has been a slew of national awards: Uttarayanam -- G Aravindan's debut film, a cl-assic about corruption and alienation and, perhaps, redemption; Kabini Nadi Chuvannappol, Swapnadam, Ekakini, Athithi, Yaro Oral, Amma Ariyan


Tribute: Sotigui Kouyate: Films with the late Burkina-Faso-origin griot or oral story-teller/bard and actor, including Peter Brooks' Mahabharata (he played Bhishma), Toula or the Water Spirit (Niger), Genesis (Mali), Little Senegal (Algeria)


Homage to recently deceased Malayalam film workers, including the world-class cinematographer Mankada Ravi Varma (Uttarayanam, Swayamvaram). Like Sven Nyqvist did for Ingmar Bergman, Ravi Varma did all of Adoor Gopalakrishnan's perfectly crafted, beautifully shot films, and also Aravindan's debut film music director and singer M G Radhakrishnan (Manichitrathazhu) actress Adoor Pankajam (Chemmeen),


Epic Film: Char Adhyay (Hindi) by Kumar Shahani

The festival was nothing if not comprehensive: there were films from 78 countries (but who's counting?). Although the largest number -- not surprisingly -- are from France, Germany, India, the US, Spain and Mexico, there are surprising inclusions: Cameroon, Mali, Tajikistan, UAE. The organisers have taken pains to showcase films from across the developing world.

What is most amazing about the festival is the most important thing -- the choice of films available. The organisers, in particular artistic director Bina Paul, have a well-deserved reputation for being able to find and attract a slew of outstanding films, as well as film personalities. The fact that the festival is affiliated with the prestigious FIPRESCI (the international federation of film critics), which also offers prizes for Best Film and for Best Malayalam Film, is also a milestone.

There are always impressive personalities who participate: this year there was Werner Herzog, a giant of the German New Wave, and make of such acknowledged classics as Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre --The Wrath of God, and others starring Klaus Kinski.

There was also, fittingly, a retrospective of Herzog films at the festival, along with those of his contemporary, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the "enfant terrible" with works such as Berlin Alexanderplatz, The Marriage of Maria Braun, and Chinese Roulette.

Other notable attendees included Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives was the Best Film at Cannes 2010; and Mexico's Maria Navaro and France's Olivier Assayas. There were Contemporary Masters in Focus series of each of their films.

Indeed, it is remarkable that the top Cannes 2010 films were all at IFFK. In addition to Uncle Boonmee there was Certified Copy that won Juliette Binoche Best Actress Cannes 2010, and Biutiful that won Javier Bardem Best Actor Cannes 2010.

In addition there was also White Ribbon, Cannes 2009 Best Film. More on all these later. Given that Cannes awards are generally considered the world's premier awards for art films, it was a coup to get these for a low-budget festival like IFFK.

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Rajeev Srinivasan in Trivandrum