Friday, March 30, 2007

Global warning, courtesy Al Gore

Firstly, special thanks to my revered professor P.K.Ravindranath who agreed to lend me an original DVD of Al Gore's Academy Award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Undoubtedly, the film came to me at an opportune moment. The mercury is rising across the city and the heat wave is unprecedented, atleast in the month of March. Mumbai clocked 41 degree C at Powai, yesterday and even at 8pm, when one expected the temperature to dip a bit, the thermometers clocked 38 degree C. The usual reaction is, "If it's so hot in March, imagine how extreme the summer is going to be in April and May!" The state's inability to deal with power-shortage has exacerbated the situation further, with large parts of Maharashtra, experiencing black-outs for over 10-12 hours. Its a cruel summer, indeed.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of what could turn into an annual phenomenon. Hard summers are lined up ahead, every year. If statistics quoted in An Inconvenient Truth are anything to go by, the world is only going to get warmer. The hottest years in the last century are all in the past one decade, with the mercury peaking highest in 2005. The massive heat wave in the same year claimed over 30,000 lives in Europe alone. British environmental journals claim that 'nature's been acting crazy.' And with good reason. Global warming has caused alarming rise in CO2 levels across the world.

Al Gore's film is a fitting rejoinder on the environmental crisis that lurks ahead. According to the film:
"Humanity is sitting on a time bomb. If the vast majority of the world's scientists are right, we have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tail-spin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced."

Gore's persuasive argument is convincing enough, albeit at times, scary. And rightfully so. A majority of countries across the world have treated global warming as more of a political issue. International treaties have been signed and nations have decided to come together and pledged to fight global warming. But the film's true merit lies in the fact, that it treats it as a moral issue that could alter the course of global civilization.

He hits the right notes when he presses for our concern to avert global warming keeping our future generations in mind. "50 years down the line, if nature's turmoil does not come to an end, our children would shudder to believe, 'What were our parents thinking?'"

David Guggenheim carefully intersperses the screenplay with Gore's own life story - from proud father who's world changed with his son meeting an accident, to a son who saw the family business of cultivating tobacco come to a stop after his sister fell prey to cancer. ("That's one way you don't want to see yourself die.") The strategy works for the film - firstly it does a lot to break the monotony of being stunned in the face by terrifying facts and figures. Secondly, it makes the narrative more autobiographical. It gives a deeper reason for the viewer to espouse his cause since Gore's story offers a human perspective. It re-affirms him as a messaih of the campaign to save the world for inevitable disaster.

The screenplay offers much fodder to make a dig at the political administration of the US, where Gore was brushed off "as a crazy lunatic offering to play with global warming as an emotional issue." The digs are well-placed and he also cites the case of a clandestine document acquisition, wherein a Bush aide was asked to alter the climate report to be presented in the Senate. Gore professes the following reason for it:
"It is difficult to make a man understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." The repartee pays off, sending the studio audience into splits. Having said that, it is worthwhile to mention that the film is not the run-of-the-mill sound-byte hunting documentary. Its a studio set-up with a huge LCD plasma screen forming the backdrop. Gore switches across several platforms in the setup to demonstrate statistics, images and predictions, with fervent passion and concern. He takes centrestage throughout. The comfort and confidence with which he deals with the topic is astounding. Since the globe has really not warmed up to the isue yet, he gives enough reason for us to believe him, when he says:
"It is extremely frustrating for me. I've given this slide show about 1000 times. Or rather, atleast 1000 times. I keep hoping that as I proceed from person-to-person, maybe it will create a difference enough for people to reach out for the cause. And every time, I try to focus on what is it that I can do, to make people reach closer to the issue, by making it simpler."

The Inconvenient Truth ends on an optimistic note, providing alternatives to curb the distress. Since it's a global issue, Gore cites historical examples to prove his point wherein Nelson Mandela's victory, the fall of communism and fascism, the invention of vaccines were remarkable global events. He graciously accepts that the US is the highest contributor to global warming and expresses political hope and faith in the democracy so that the issue will be dealt with alacrity:
"It's not been done before, because of the lack of political will in this country. But you know what? In the US, political will is a renewable resource and we're going to make it."

As the movie ends, there are certain facts presented which stay with you for long time. Long enough to make you think it over. I'll list some of them below:

1. The Arctic Ocean could be ice-free by summer 2050.

2. Global sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet with the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating coastal areas worldwide.

3. Deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years -- to 300,000 people a year.

4. Heat waves will be more frequent and more intense.

5. More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050.

CONCLUSION: An Inconvenient Truth is a land-mark film made on a global issue of a different kind. The scope is enormous and the purpose is firm. Carbon emissions have to be reduce at any cost if the future of mankind wants to survive. Perhaps the current generation will not live to see the catastrophic effects of global warming. But the film rightfully instills fear in the name of our future generations, if that is the only alternative, to get people moving into action. That, I believe, is a convenient truth to solving the issue.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Shades of MAMI 2007

After a disastrous IFFI (International Film Festival of Goa 2006), I’d almost developed this allergy towards film festivals. Then in January, there was the much hyped Frames Film Festival, which is supposed to be the Cannes
for BMM film-makers. Frames was utterly disappointing and its evaluation standards are falling every year. There was talk amongst fellow BMM-students from several colleges that Frames is meant to represent majorly the film-making expertise of SIES students first, then talent from other colleges. Either ways, one would expect the turnout to increase. However, that was not so.

Debutante at MAMI

Let me say it straight - Imax Adlabs rocked as a venue for MAMI. It boasted of the requisite hi-tech infrastructure and co-operative staff. Although the location - Bhakti Park, Wadala - is way off the mark from the main city (and many did rant about it), I think it does enough to filter the real film lovers from those who merely come over to warm their seats. A passionate lover of films would definitely go the extra mile to enjoy the best in global cinema, for seven days atleast!


Curse of the Golden Flower
Hong Kong-China
Colour / 35 mm / 111 mins / 2006

Curse Of The Golden Flower from China was a fitting entry as an opening film. Indians like to start off events in all possible grandiose and this oriental magnum opus was breathtaking in its opulent sets and costumes (Nominated for Best Achievement in Costume Design, Academy Awards, 2007). As has been the case with all Chinese period dramas, COFTGF had a good story to bank on. The action sequences were brilliantly choreographed and although the concluding action sequences seemed to go on forever, nevertheless, the ending more than made up for it.

*The discipline showcased in the Tiang dynasty of the 10th century is stunning. Right from frame one, the perfect harmony and order in which the supporting cast and extras have been choreographed is a revelation. I would not be surprised if this very discipline gives China a shot in the arm for an emerging global destination for foreign investment. Such orderliness and worship to work and daily life, coupled with the richness of culture is attractive for investors looking east for greener pastures.
Rating: * * * *


Having to choose between films is the regret of every delegate attending any film-festival. Given an option, we’d like to watch all of them. Amongst the films I was able to catch up, here are some of the notable ones.

Irina Palm
Colour / 103 mins / 2006

Sam Gabarski’s Irina Palm is a neat effort. A simple story of a professional handjob artist, her ailing grandson for whose medical surgery she must earn money, the film runs on a linear plane with some hilarious comic moments. The humour is situational and the story presents a fascinating glimpse of the life of Irina Palm, it never goes over the top. The director has deftly handled the scenes at the sex parlour, where Irina works. The most memorable scene from the film is where Irina’s friends ask her about her job profile. The guffaws from the audience had enough power to light up the auditorium.

Rating: * * * ½

Merry Christmas (Joyeus Noel)
Colour / 35 mm / 110 mins / 2005

If you’re wondering what a great film looks like, here’s one. Joyeus Noel presents the story of the unthinkable. When war breaks out in 1914, it puts millions of men in its wake. But its Christmas too. Unbelievably, its time for some celebration in the warring camps. Rifles are left at the bottom of the trenches and the armies march, candle in hand, to see those opposite, shake their hands, exchange a cigarette and piece of chocolate and wish them “Merry Christmas”. The strongest point of the film is the fact that it shows the power of a festival to bring warring parties together in a spirit of celebration. The fact, that this celebration leads the way in creating truce and furthermore strong bongs between men belonging to different countries, is heartwarming. Based on a true story, the film boasts of some great music, all of which lingers on when the credits scroll up, in the end. A must watch!

Rating: * * * * *

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
English-Gaelic / Colour / 127 mins / 2006

Winner of Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival (2006), Ken Loach’s masterpiece boasts of powerful direction and performances. Set in Ireland in 1920, it’s the story of the two brother Damien and Teddy, part of a guerilla squad fighting for the independence of their motherland. However, when truce is signed through a peace treaty regarded as unfair by a part of the population, war resumes putting Irishmen against Irishmen, brothers against brothers.

Rating: * * * *

The Land (La Terra)
Colour / 112 mins / 2006

Sergio Rubini’s crime drama is sprinkled with black humour and an infectious set-up of brothers who are out to reclaim a piece of family property. The setting is very adaptable to Bollywood standards and is very watchable. I particularly liked the concluding shot where the brothers are shown atop the rooftops of three houses, having fun throwing pebbles at each other. Brilliant.

Rating: * * *

The Good Shepherd
Colour / 167 mins / 2006

Directed by Robert De Niro, this film created quite a murmur at the Berlin Film Festival, what with a top-knotch star-cast of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin and De Niro himself. It tells the story of the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a man who is prepared to sacrifice anything and everything to protect his country. The story revolves around a quagmire of world, where deception is a part of life. Matt Damon in the lead role is terrific in his poise. The film gets monotonous after a while and while being scholarly shot, it offers little in the form of entertainment. Too scholarly and not up-to-the hype that surrounded the film.

Rating: * * *

Red Carpet (Tapete Vermelho)
Colour / 35 mm / 100 mins / 2005

This film is a heartwarming comedy with a deep social message. Quinzinho, a Brazilian country peasant has a promise to keep: to take his 10-year old son to watch a Brazilian Mazzaropi movie just like his father once did when he was a boy. So if he goes with him, his wife and their donkey on a journey through towns and cities to find a movie theatre still playing pictures he so fondly cherishes. But Quinzinho soon finds soon finds out that times have changed. The actors successfully get into the skin of their characters with their rustic look and accents. Although the film makes a slow start, it conveys a strong message about an era gone by, which ceases to exist on celluloid today.

Rating: * * * ½

The Road (Fang Ziang Zhi Lu)
35 mm / 114 mins / 2005

A touching life story of ticket controller Li on the rural bus line. And such is her whole life, like a bus ride with ups and downs. Set in the the prudish Chinese Society of the 70s during the Maoist revolution, the cinematography of the film is simply breathtaking. The deft handling of Li’s relationship with the much older bus driver Master Cui (note the bedroom sequences, sensitively shot) are one of the film’s strong points. Worth a watch, in case you’re in for sentimental touching cinema.

Rating: * * * *

The Child (L’ enfant)

Colour / 107 mins / 2005

I’d seen this one a couple of years back at the Pune International Film Festival, where it won the Best Film. This Palm D’Or winner at Cannes is one of the best French films in years. It tracks the growth of Bruno, the father of a child from childhood to manhood after being carefree and living only for the present. A petty thief, Bruno lives off his wife Sonia’s benefits. Always scheming and always strapped for cash, he decides one day to sell the baby on the black market. It’s the sensitive portrayal of the improvisation of Bruno’s character, all for his child, that makes this film a compelling watch.

Rating: * * * ½

Aviva My Love (Aviva Ahuvati)
Colour / DVD / 107 mins / Hebrew / 2005

Aviva, a hard working hotel cook in the small north eastern town of Tiberias, is on the brink of finally fulfilling her lifelong dream of being a novelist, thanks to her remarkable writing abilities. Due to her sister Anita, she gets introduced to Oded, an accomplished novelist. Immediately recognising her talent, Oded takes her under his wing. But the journey to greatness affects her life and lives of her family. Whats more, when Aviva discovers that Oded has other plans for her work, her world collapses. The contemporary urban setting makes this film extremely likeable. The central character of Aviva wants to be a successful and this trait is identifiable, therefore, the screenplay manages to make the emotions very practical, since most of us want to be achievers and successful in life. The film is well-packaged with its dose of humour and melancholy. A must watch.

Rating: * * * *

The Collector (Komornik)
Colour / 35 mm / 93 mins / 2005

Directed by Polish director Feliks Falk, Komornik boasts of a power-packed performance by Andrzej Chyra. The plot covers 48 hours and shows the rise and fall of Lucek Bohme, who in the name of law, ruthlessly seizes property of individuals and institutions for their debts. A series of incidents soon shock him into an attempt to right the wrongs he has done. However, being far too self-confident, he doesn't realize that his corrupt colleagues and superiors have set him up and falls into a trap. Although the screenplay is breezy and breaks into a rock-music-sorta -jumping-jack-around the city, the film does not give enough time in the transition of the lead character from ruthless collector to generous nobleman. It is however, the no-nonsense performance by Chyra, that this film still becomes watchable.

Rating: * * *

Just Sex and Nothing Else
Hungary Colour / 90 mins / DVD / 2005
This Hungarian film is a humorous romantic comedy about 33-year Dora, a beautiful actress who, after discovering that her fiance already has a wife and a child, decides to advertise for a HIV negative partner strictly for a night of sex, so she can have a child. Although the DVD print was not very clear - the subtitles were unclear most of the times, merging with the background colours - the movie was entertaining to say the least. Film festival afficionados might cry hoarse, since the film was more of a commercial entertainer, rather than the 'film-festival' circuit type of films. Nevertheless, the comedy gave an insight into a talented world of Hungarian cinema.

Rating: * * * 1/2


Spain Colour / 121 mins / 2006
One of the most awaited films at MAMI, Pedro Almodovar's Volver is almost fable-like. Actress Penelope Cruz was nominated for Academy Awards 2007 for Best Actress in her role of Raimunda and rightfully so. With a near-perfect screenplay, the film puts up the hilarious situation when her mother, who supposedly died in a fire with her husband comes back from the dead. Watch out for the title track, where Cruz really elevates her performance to brilliance and deserves a noteworthy mention. The rest of the cast come up with notable performances too. A must watch.

Rating: * * * *

The Near East (Ei Proximo Oriente)
Colour / 95 mins / 35 mm / 2006

Director Fernando Colomo must be watching a lot of Bollywood cinema to come up with a masala flick like this one. A thorough enterainer, in true Bollywood style, The Near East tickles at the right places. While certain sequences, like the revamp of the restaurant are reminiscent of Nikhil Advani's Kal Ho Na Ho, the plot set in the Bangladeshi immigrant community in Spain, is well sketched out. Good music, well-executed comic sequences and witty-lines to bring down the house, this film was a popular choice at the festival.

Rating: * * * 1/2

The Barbarian Invasions
Colour / 99 mins / 2003

This Oscar winner is a touching story of an estranged son who comes home and eases the last days of his father dying of cancer. While the father is a disillusioned academic, he finds it difficult to accept the reality of his death. The son creates an oasis of comfort in the crowded public hospital by getting together his father's ex-wife, ex-mistress and old friends. A must see.

Rating: * * * * *

Turev (Derivative)
Colour / 35 mm / 91 mins / 2005

Winner of the Best Film and Best Woman actress at the 2006 International Chennai Film Festival, Turev is a fantastic rendition of a litmus test for love gone wrong. The film looks almost like a home video - this speaks volumes of the performances and direction - and the screenplay jumps forth between actual happenings on screen and confessions by the characters about their lives. Sureyya wants to confirm whether her lover Nazim is really loyal to her or not. Hence, she asks her best friend Burcu to try and seduce him several times. By the time the film arrives at its conclusion, the tables turn, altering the course of the lives of the three lead protagonists. Paisa vasool!

Rating: * * * *

The Bong Connection
Bengali-English / Colour / 35 mm / 138 mins / 2006

Shot in Kolkata and Houston, the film is a satire around the Bengali community living in these polarised cities. Youngters might be able to identify with the film, as I did, since it reflects the catch-22 situation of the Bengali mindset - one which wants to dwell in the old intellectual past and the other which wants to progress in the globalized world. The screenplay lends itself delicately on these issues with a dig at Bengalis. For once, we end up laughing at ourselves. A very contemporary Bengali film.

Rating: * * *

Telegu / Colour / 35 mm / 111 mins / 2006

Even after winning the Best First Feature Award at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival, director Rajnesh Domalpalli has not been able to find a producer for this masterpiece. Using local talent, none of whom are professional actors comes this poignant tale of a spirited daughter of a low-caste, drink-addicted fisherman. Vanaja will be a great dancer, predicts a soothsayer. Sexual abuse at puberty makes Vanaja seek revenge. The film remains an authentic piece of work since it skilfully portrays the politico-socio implications of sexual abuse, at the same time dwelling highly on semiotics.

Rating: * * * *

English / Colour / 35 mm / 98 mins / 2006

An audience favourite at the festival, the film is a romantic comedy of 32-year old Todd, manager of call centre in Seattle, who is summarily despatched to India to train his own replacement. He expects the worst from this unknown country and the chaos of Mumbai assaults his senses. But slowly, with time, as he gets to know his co-workers, he finds them disarming and thoroughly likeable. He slowly gives up resistance to this new culture and learns a lot about India, to develop an emotional bond with the country. This bonding is almost Swades-like. Peppy to the core and sprinkled with humour throughout, this is one film with a heart. Beautifully shot with delightful performances, especially from Josh Hamilton, Asif Basra and Ayesha Dharker, this film deserves a two-thumbs up!

Rating: * * * *

The Namesake
India USA
English, Bengali, Hindi / Colour / 112 mins / 2006

Based on Jhumpa Lahiri's acclaimed novel by the same name, this film is directed by Mira Nair. It tells the story about the Gangulis: Ashoke and Ashima and their son, who is named Gogol, after the author Nikolai Gogol. Gogol is caught in a different conflict between his Bengali roots to which his parents cling and his American birthright of forging his own identity. The film boasts of brilliant performances by every actor and authentically portrays the confusion of migrant communities in adapting and identifying with a new culture. The film remains faithful to the novel choosing the best parts and the film is satisfactory to say the least. However, a special mention about the lead actors - Tabu, Irfan Khan and Kal Penn - whose performances really elevate the film from being a mere adaptation, to a film with a lot of soul and an identity. Highly recommended.

Rating: * * * 1/2

A delightful week of some of the best films in world cinema finally ended with the closing film, The Namesake. I'm looking forward to MAMI next year already. Over 2000 delegates registered this year for the festival and the numbers are expected to rise. Imax Adlabs still remains a favoured venue, but I'm hopeful that the management will introduce special transportation for delegates everyday, from the next year.

The line-up of films was good. But the Indian segment was disappointing. They still need to be well-marketed in order to capture more delegate attention. Buying and selling of films remains a major problem at Indian film festivals. The organisers must get aggressive about this.