Kolkata Film Festival

Abhjit Ghosh-Dastidar

The 21st Kolkata International Film Festival (November 2015) emphasized social concerns and camera perspectives in Cinema International, Asian and Indian selects, Bengali Panorama, Sports Films, focus on Hollywood and Tributes and Homage to Anthony Quinn, Ingrid Bergman, Kon Ichikawa, Orson Welles, Umasashi Debi, Jean Renoir and Manuel de Oliveira. There was a centenary revival of D W Griffith’s ‘‘The Birth of a Nation’’ (1915). The dynamic visual compositions set film-making apart from the other arts.

Alexander Sokurov
Alexander Sokurov’s ‘‘Francophonia’’ (Russia/France/Germany, 2015, French/ German/Russian, colour, 90 mins) is a meditation on the Louvre art museum of Paris, and its status during the Second World War. Museums travel in shipping containers. The credits converge to a conversation on phone Skype, between Sokurov and a ship’s captain. Death bed photos of Chekov and Tolstoy precede. It is the dawn of the 20th Century. France is personified by Marianne (Johanna Korthals Attes), who mumbles ‘‘Egality, fraternity and brotherhood’’. Elements of forces of sea and history are fused, as the ship wobbles in a blast of waves. The eyes and faces of those who have lived before Sokurov, peering out of the Louvre paintings are amazing. The human stock of Europe, emphasizes that in Europe, Europe is everywhere. Art is unwilling to teach pre-science. In 1940, the German army enters Paris and German soldiers are marching. There is armistice between Germany and France. Documentary footages flow in sepia. Bombers fly overhead. Parisians live their lives during the Nazi occupation.

The Louvre head, Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) receives the first legion of Honour. Conversations between Jacques and German officer Count Franziskus Wolff Metternich (Bengamin Ultzerath) follow the Louvre’s centuries long construction. European civilization is shaped by the port-raitures. The government of new France is formed in the town of Vichy. There are hundreds of museums and art galleries in Paris, the open city. The ship with museum freight shakes in stormy seas. Fragments of civilization glide by in the museum artefacts. The Assyrians of 700 BC and winged bulls find the State has gone. Fear is the face of power. In the 19th century, all artefacts were brought from Basera port to Marseille. Uncounted seamen perished. Tolstoy is asleep. Underground spaces connect to all corners of the Louvre. Marianne hysterically repeats ‘‘Liberty, Egality and Fraternity’’. The human search for form is a battle against imitation. The spirit of Napoleon (Vincent Nemeth) walks the museum’s grand galleries, and occasionally meets Marianne, the personification of France. Footage presents Hitler before the Eiffel Tower. The Germans had a love for French culture. The Louvre’s treasure collections were unloaded and transported to different castles/chateaux. There was a prescient of war in the museums. Napoleon kept artistic war trophies. During the Second War only sculptures were left in the Louvre. The close up of DaVinci’s ‘‘Mona Lisa’’ invites a fuller engagement with the musings. Photographer Bruno Delbonnel’s rich and varied textures, and tones, concludes the film with a blank screen. Sokurov’s meditation on the Louvre and its status during the Second World War is dense and enriching.

Philippe Garrel
‘‘In the Shadow of Women’’ (France, 2015, French, Black and White, 69 mins) directed by Philippe Garrel, is based on a screenplay by Jean-Claude Carriere, Caroline Deruas, Arlette Langmann and Philippe Garrel. Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) is having a sandwich, leaning against a wall, and reading. His friend Manon (Clotlide Courau) is drying her hair with a dryer. The doorbell rings, and the landlord objects to a stove in the small room. He demands immediate rent. The couple are poor. Pierre makes documentaries, while Manon works in a school canteen. An old man (Jean Pommier) relates stories on the Resistance of 1942. Pierre is making a film on the ‘Spring of Resistance’. His father, who died recently, had landed in Provence with the Americans. Pierre’s mother is affectionate. Pierre and Manon share all projects together, and watch live documentaries on the Resistance, on a TV screen. Elizabeth (Lena Paugam) is an intern on film archives. Pierre helps her in stacking film cans on a trolley. An acquaintanceship develops, and Elizabeth leads Pierre to her apartment, Pierre divulges that he is married. They make love, their parents come from working class backgrounds, but they wanted elitist education for their children.

Returning home, Pierre brings flowers for Manon. In France, flowers indicate a woman is being cheated. During the film shooting, the old man claims he was unaware of the Jewish problem, during the occupation. Paris was deserted during liberation. People stayed indoors with their heads down, unseen. Hiding behind a wall, Manon watches Pierre and Elizabeth together in a car. Elizabeth wants to go on a vacation with friend Lisa. Pierre is seized by male equivocation. One day Elizabeth finds that Manon also has a lover. Elizabeth informs Pierre that she found Manon with a lover in the Grand Boulevard Cafe. Pierre cannot forgive Manon, but continues to meet Elizabeth. He looks on Manon as a disgusting animal. Only a man had the right to be unfaithful. There is no more tranquillity and peace. Pierre joins Oriental Studies.

Some years later Pierre and Manon meet at a funeral in a cathedral. Manon informs that the old resistance fighter had betrayed all his friends and had them shot. Pierre finds the documentary film worthless, and decides to film again. Manon and Pierre stand in solitude and hug each other. Renato Berta’s camera pursues the currents of desire, jealousy and resentment in exquisite close-ups. The voice over by the third person off-screen narrator (Louis Garrel) highlights the self-absorption of the male ego, along with the portraits of Manon and Elizabeth, possessing independence of mind and body. The script has a conventional structure, but has sufficient space for the unpredictability of life disrupting the frame. The black and white Garrel’s film is always bright in the depiction of today’s world, and fully captures the logic of the narrative.

Vol. 48, No. 30, Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2016