IFFI 2014

Goa Film Festival

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

The 45th International Film Festival of India (November 2014) at Panaji, Goa, highlighted transfixing and transforming World Cinema and Indian Panorama. The pure and uncompromising vision of movies spanned International Cinema, China country focus, South Asian cinema, Tributes to Krzysztof Kieslowski (Poland), Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Iran), Jeon Soo-IL (South Korea) and Alian Resnais (France).

Nuri Bilge Ceylan
‘‘Winter Steep’’ (2014, Turkey, 194 mins, colour) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan has a sparse beginning, with an open field full of wild grass, whiffs of smoke, rocks under snow and a tree with leaves. A poor boy Ilyas (Emirhan Dorukututan) in Cappadocia of Central Anatolia region, throws a rock at a moving truck, shattering the front glass window. Soon Ilyas’ drunk father Ismael (Nejat Isler) exchanges blows with the truck driver Hidayat (Ayberk Pekcan), while the other truck passenger, Aydin (Haluk Biligner) stands at a distance and looks on.

Aydin’s tenants have not been paying rent, and he is complacent and indifferent to the suffering around. He has interest in buying Anatolian horses, and collects debts. Grey haired Aydin, was earlier a successful stage actor, and now writes a regular column for the local newspaper, ‘‘Voices of the Steppes’’. He hopes to publish a book. Along with his much younger wife, Nihal (Melisa Sozen), he runs a small hotel. The plot veers to Aydin, who is Ismail’s landlord. Ismail is under debts, his brother Hamdi (Serhat Kilic) is aggressive, and the local imam is eager-to-please. The narrative is immersed in acted, absorbing long conversations, which are superbly sculpted by Gohan Tiryaki’s fluid camera movements. Aydin’s arguments with his sister, Neela (Demet Akbag), who is recently divorced, devolves into vicious personal, character attacks. Wife Nihal has disagreements with Aydin, over a charity project, she has undertaken to improve conditions at local schools. Relationships fall apart, and family members accuse Aydin of selfish pride and ocmplacency.

While nothing gets done for the school, there are accusations of embezzlement of donations. Aydin remains selfish, spiteful and cynical, but signs a cheque for the village school, as an anonymous donor. At dawn Aydin gives freedom to a white stallion. Without any thoughts, he leaves for Istanbul by a jeep. It is snowing, but trains are running. He has plans of not returning before spring, but diverts to school teacher, Suavil’s farm, along a village road. After drinking with friends, he returns home crying. Next morning, he shoots a rabbit along a mountain stream. His wife watches him returning home with the rabbit. Nothing calls to Istanbul. Back to a table and chair in his own home, Aydin on a personal computer, types out ‘‘History of Turkish Theatre’’. Ceylan’s film is exquisitely photographed; and grapples the divide between classes, men and women, believers and non-believers. The Anatolian steppes provide rock formations like giant stalagmites, and caves. The cave dwellers in the hotel, with cathedral ceilings hewn from caves, turn in on themselves, as the winter sets in. More snow brings in more gruelling. The cave hotel glows with antique light, love and hate. Intense conversations, makes talk seem action. Every sequences is under the aegis of philosophy and the ordinary. Life remains a bad piece of theatre. The actors display marvellously expressive faces. The only musical accompaniment is Schudert’s Piano Sonata number 20, bearing allusion to Robert Bresson’s ‘‘Au hasard Balthazard’’, another great spiritual lament for the human condition.

Andrey Zvyaginstev
A loose retelling of the Bible’s ‘‘Book of Job’’, Andrey Zvyaginstev’s ‘‘Leviathan’’ (2014, Russia, 140 mins, colour) is a metaphorical concept, borrowed from Thomas Hobbes 1651 treatise of the same name. Set in modern times, the protagonist Nikolai (Alexey Serebryakov) is an auto mechanic, who has built a house and business, on the shore of the White Sea. Sea waves and broken boats are visible. Nickolai drives along a highway towards the rail station. He is stopped by policemen. The corrupt local mayor (Roman Madyanov) has obtained legal authorization to appropriate Nikolai’s land, and demolish his home to make way for a vaguely described ‘‘communications centre’’ for the town. Nikolai lives in a house overlooking the coastal town with his young wife, Lilya (Elena Liadova), and teenage son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), by previous marriage. His close friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovishenkov), a sharp Moscom lawyer, bring an injunction on the Mayor’s plans. Dmitri is having an affair with unhappy Lilya. The land dispute continues, and son Roma finds Lilya with Dmitri, near a waterfall cottage. Nicholas batters and bruises his lawyer, Dmitri. The Orthodox priest advises the mayor to go for communion. Child Roma is depressed and Nikolai drinks. Roma declares he would not like to live with his step mother. Nikolai tells him to forgive his mother. He constantly mutters threats, cleans his rifle, and targets portraits of former USSR leaders, from Lenin to Brezhnev, drunkenly blasted during a picnic with friends. Political relevance emerges from the film’s melodrama. Son Roma finds a dead whale on the beach. Lilya from a clifftop, gazes at the tail of a live whale thrashing in the rough sea. Nikolai is arrested over an unsolved murder.

Local authorities remain indifferent to the destruction of Nikolai’s home and livelihood. Nikolai is powerless. ‘‘Leviathan’’, while echoing 19th century Russian classics, is built on contemporary realities. The theme of mistreatment of ‘‘the little people’’ is a favourite theme of Dostoevsky and Pushkin. Zvyagintsev makes a statement with the film’s darkly satirical streak. A key alteration and a possible murder occur off screen, leaving mysteries for the viewer. Mikhail Krichman’s wide screen vistas seizes composed images in steel blue and icy grey. Philip Glass’ music score binds the images in the predictable drama of family conflict, betrayal and heavy handed gangster tactics. The three leads act with vigour. The script has a welcome sense of humour. ‘‘Leviathan’’ is a universal take of corruption, besides being a polemic on current Russia.

Vol. 48, No. 2, July 19 - 25, 2015