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46th IFFI

Goa Film Festival

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

The 46th International Film Festival of India at Goa (November 2015) reinvigorated evocative images of cinema of the World, Indian Cinema, Documentary, Tributes to Anna Karina (France), Nikita Mikhailkov (Russia) and Amos Gitai (Israel); Country focus on contemporary Spain and Argentina, Restored classics, and homage to certain departed film makers. The film highlighted visual styles, narratives, and cinematic creations.

Jia Zhangke
Jia Zhangke’s ‘‘Mountain may depart’’ (China/France/Japan, 2015, colour, 132 mins) unveils China’s 21st century capitalism, following a single family, through the turbulations of time and economic progress from 1990 to futuristic 2025. Shen Tao (Zhao Tao) is a singer and dance instructor, leads a group rock dance performance to the tunes of Pet Shop Boys’ ‘‘Go west together’’. The new spring welcomes 21st century’s new dawn. A romantic triangle is formed, with Shen Tao, young capitalist Zhang (Zhang Yi), and Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong), modest coal mine labourer. Prosperous Zhang takes Shen Tao and Liazngzi for a ride in a red Volkswagen Sedan for the new century, through Fenyang town, in China’s northern Shanxi province. There is a street carnival with musicians and Tao dancers, carrying open umbrellas, next to Dragon’s Gate. Shen Tao and Zhang get married, and take their wedding portrait, in front of a photo enlargement of the Sydney Opera House, indicating future ambitions. The opening stretch of mountains in Act I of the film is the landscape of provincial life.

Zhang christens his first child, Dollar, ironically. River beds are blown up by dynamite, for mining excavations. Travelling on a train, Shen Tao watches a small aircraft crashing in fire. In Act II, Lianzi leaves Fenyang for Hebai, in Inner Mongolia. He locks his house, and throws away the keys. Forward and backward zooms make geometrical compositions of the country’s western landscape. Coal falls from filling trucks. Shen Tao is divorced, running a petrol gas station in Fenyang. Zhang the rich industrialist lives in Shanghai with a new wife. Liangzi returns to Fenyang, with respiratory problems, after a life in the mines. He has a wife and infant daughter. If price of coal stays low, mines may close. Shen Tao gives money to Liangzi’s wife. Children beat drums and dance in procession at New Year’s party. When Shen Tao’s father dies, Buddhist rituals are followed by Shen and son Dollar.

Act III focuses on Zhang in west coast Australia, leaping a decade and a continent. Dollar is now a teenager, who cannot speak Mandarin, and has lost all contact with Shen Tao. Zhang is lonely in a large beach side mansion. Dollar has a romance with divorcee college professor (Sylvia Chang), an emigre from Hong Kong and Toronto. The professor and Dollar board a flight to Shanghai, in search of Dollar’s real mother, Shen Tao. ‘Mountains may depart’ is beautiful craftsmanship written by Jia Zhangke. With each cut, editor, Mathieu Laclau provides new information on the protagonists and the narrative. Cinematographer Yu Lik-wai adopts a different aspect ratio for each period, beginning in the square academy ratio, and gradually expanding to anamorphic wide screen. Jia Zhanke’s film builds a microcosmic depiction of China’s rapid transformation. As an epilogue, Shen Tao sings and dances to Pet Shop Boys’ ‘‘Go West together’’, on a raised ground. A pagoda and snow are visible.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Pursuing a concrete narrative, mystical and surreal worlds are explored in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s ‘‘Cemetery of Splendour’’ (Thailand/Malaysia/UK/ France/Germany, 2015, colour, 122 mins). Soldiers guard an open field, with goal posts, as cranes dig up the ground. A hospital comes into view, with patients in bed or walking with crutches. The former school has been converted into a small clinic, in Thailand’s northeast region of Isan. Several military soldiers, who have fallen into a mysterious coma, are admitted. One old woman, a kind volunteer, with one leg 10 cms shorter than the other, who moves around in crutches, visits the sleeping soldiers, on the hospital beds. Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas Widner) the old volunteer, takes care of the male soldiers. She speaks to the duty nurse, and applies herbal cream on her legs. Jenjira does part time knitting of Japanese designs, on the Kerchiefs of the sleeping soldiers.

A special bond develops between Jenjira and a handsome, patient soldier Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), where emotions are synchronized. As Jenjira bathes him, sensuality develops. A woman sooth sayer visits, and visualizes Itt in the company of men and women. Fans reel, rain patters, and a water wheel churns up waves in a canal. Soldiers have visitors. Doctors and nurses visit patients. A girl defecates in open fields, and a patient man has an erection. Anyone can achieve awareness, if one trains the mind. Sorceror Keng (Parinpattra Rueangram) realizes a lengthy conversation between Jenjira and the transmigrated soul of Itt in Jenjira. Faces lighten under glare of fluorescent lamps, and Jenjira contemplates an underground cemetery of ancient kings, whereas the soldiers sleep in an old school in the woods, converted to a hospital. Itt springs from his hiberation and relates stories of war, led by phantoms. At night doctors conduct an experimental treatment on the sleeping soldiers, using lights that continuously change colour.

Jenjira lights a candle for Itt at a local Buddhist shrine, along with a friend Richar (Richard Abramson), an American, recently settled in Thailand. Two goddesses (Sjittraporn Wongsrikew and Bhattaratorn Skenraigul) gracing the shrine, take on human form, and appear before Jenjira in broad daylight. There are physical and emotional gestures between Jenjira and Itt, who has a cryptic notebook of strange writings and blueprint sketches. Consciousness comes and goes for the sleeping soldiers. One soldier drops to sleep at a mid-day meal, in the dining hall. At the end of a film, the audience stand before blank screen. The churning waters generate electricity. Amidst the trees and foliage, Jenjira and village women perform aerobic dances, with backs to audience. Weerasethakul weaves magic and melancholy in the personal and political enigma. Three years ago, 40 soldiers, victims of a strange illness, were quarantined, at a northern Thai hospital. Political turmoil in Thailand commenced at the same time. The sleeping soldiers bring in allusions of a government crippled by protests, coups and other civil violence.

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 41, Apr 17 - 23, 2016