Anhey Ghorey Da Daan | Gurvinder Singh, 2011, India
Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival. Midway through the first reel, the film goes out of place in the projector and we start seeing the edges of the frame. Scratches to the film print happen right before our eyes because the film gate was not properly clapped in the projector. Gurvinder Singh, who was present in the audience rushes to the projection room, partially aggravated by the damage to his film print. The rest of the film is screened in partially de-focused and unaligned images. Few of the audience members who can make out what a sharp image is, yell ‘Focus’ at the projectionist. Each time a reel is changed, which happens, not immediately, but a few seconds after the previous reel has blacked out, the frame would go askew for the opening seconds. Later we hear rumours that the projector was an Old Russian one which lay defunct since 1988. The Film Festival, hailed as one of the largest and best in India, clearly displays its incompetence in handling anything except DVDs for screening. Why then, did they accept the Film Prints at the first place? Is this a corporate conspiracy to displace film as a medium? Perhaps, it is, but no one would really care.
At the end of the screening was an incredible silence. Not a single applause. I, partly unimpressed by the film and partly scared of this silence, decided not to break the silence. Part homage to Mani Kaul, part hybridisation of the Bressonian aesthetics with consumerist ethos, this film presents the oh-so-familiar tale of grinding poverty with a restraint and eloquence, scarcely seen in recent Indian films. Gurvinder Singh is clearly, one of the better of the ‘new’ Indian filmmakers. We just need about 200 such aesthetically well-realized films each year, to be considered anywhere close to a nation that makes ‘film’.
Mekong Hotel | Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2012, Thailand
Unlike most of Joe’s films*, the characters here talk explicitly either about ethnic myths or make faux-intellectual remarks about political problems. The irony is enhanced by the celebratory soundtrack that constantly accompanies the actions. The characters are caught in a familiar bourgeois stasis called Mekong Hotel. In positioning them so, Author-God Joe moves away from the fantastic dialogues he effortlessly established with nature in his past films to present a far more cynical worldview. It seems much to his (and our) dismay that he has realized about the inability of his art to affect the politics he so enthusiastically sought to debate.
*The nickname of director Weerasethakul among international cinephiles.
Ex Press| Jet Leyco, 2011, Philippines
“Ever since the first use of the film camera by the French Lumière Brothers, the train has been a favourite subject – as a metaphor for progress, but also as a depiction of standing still, as at the beginning of Jet Leyco’s Ex Press.” The train’s pre-supposed bourgeois identity is put into question, as we focus more on the men laying the tracks than the train itself. This is to say, perhaps, that the cinematic identity of progress, as represented by the train, is absent in the Filipino context. What is present instead is a grinding, perpetual stasis- a struggle to survive. In one of the most remarkable scenes in the film, a railway guard, previously informed of an uprising from the displaced community, looks through the window as the train moves on. Suddenly his walkie-talkie is heard saying that the rebels are attacking and that he proceeds on the offensive. For several minutes this unnamed guard seems to hide from the window, and perhaps because of anxiety, fear or guilt, fails to act as his superiors repeatedly inform him to. The static camera records this in a single take; we have seen, in those few minutes, the failure of machinery, an ideology and even a state apparatus. This indeed is pure cinema, if there is any.
Reminiscent of Bing Wang’s masterpiece West of The Tracks and Lav Diaz’s meditative reactionism, Leyco’s thesis film is a stunning feat of cinematographic achievement. And if we are to believe the modest Leyco himself, it was made in just 5 days; the precision and maturity of this young filmmaker indicates that he is a filmmaker to reckon with.
Three Disappearences of Soad Hosni | Rania Stephan, 2011, Lebanon
Soad Hosni, “The Cinderella of Egyptian cinema” started her career in the ‘Golden age’ of the Egyptian cinema and ended it when it had “gone to the dogs”. Rania Stephan’s film is an attempt at re-constructing Soad’s life entirely out of VHS footage of her films. In doing so, Stephan brings out many socio-political trends that over-run the cinematic avatars that Soad portrayed in the tumultuous history of Egypt and Egyptian cinema. The film starts in the 1950s and ‘60s, when the political cinema talked about female liberation, goes through the ‘70s which were escapist, with a semblance of neutrality which negated the political upheavals in the nation and moved into a new found intolerance in the society in the 80s which saw Soad perform the role of a ‘fallen’ woman many times. Certainly a unique experiment, the film ties in many threads about how the personal is deeply tied with the political within the filmmaking ‘business’.
Cosmopolis | David Cronenberg, 2012, USA
The absurdist situations and philosophical depth of Cosmopolis arises from the human inability to keep up with the smaller units of time they have theoretically determined and designed their machines upon. Their lives, which revolve around these all-too-precise machines, outdo their human vitality, resulting in skewed, laconic existences which each of the characters, barring the ‘antagonist’ Paul Giamatti, substitute with dry, resolute seeming dialogues. Cronenberg chooses a fragmented narrative structure to portray this over-growth, we hardly see the characters enter or exit Packer’s ‘secure’ limousine, they are just there. In doing so Cronenberg, perhaps, attempts to make an alternate hyper-real film, instead of the capitalist hyper-editing that pervades today’s filmmaking. The twisted Marxian statement, ‘A spectre is haunting the world” - The Spectre of Capitalism’ seems to allude both to the actual global crisis within the film and the capitalist ethos of filmmaking that this ‘future’ posits. Cosmopolis exhausts the feasibility of the physio-psychological penetration that is key to Cronenberg’s oeuvre; the characters in the film are unmoved by it. Maybe we are too. Clearly, this ‘cosmopolis’, this impenetrable fog where rats have become a form of currency, needs much more to excite itself. Physical degeneracy and death seem to be the only options for the characters, and us. The fact that human senses can’t catch up with this hyper-real future is brought out very clearly as the film proceeds; the film takes up a much more conventional approach with its myriad of shot-reverse-shot routines and establishing shots. The future is indeed bleak, and perhaps it takes Cronenberg’s mastery to bring out this oft mentioned statement to its full fruition.
Rapture | Iván Zulueta, 1980, Spain
I have had an ambitious feature film idea for some time. In it, several mysterious men who could be the filmmakers from the past, work secretly to build a huge projector which opens up a pure-space interface in the universe and thereby negates ‘history’ and ‘time’. All the wrong doings of the temporal world can therefore, actually be altered by a cinematic dissolution into the pure. Ivan Zulueta’s Rapture attempts something similar and it does not need huge Hadron Collider-esque projectors to achieve the same. It simply puts its characters into a cinematic meta-space which cannot be filmed and does not need projectors to be screened. 'I always knew that cinema and I planned something special... but it was necessary to be at the edge of the abyss' remarks a character. The over-drawn debate of cinema’s ontology and meta-film is ruptured by Zulueta’s film, which gives us the most profoundly philosophical solution ever. The Tarkovskys who wanted to transcend cinema were all looking at the wrong places; they had to look inwards, into cinema itself.