KIFF 2016

Kolkata Film Festival

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

An adventurous Programming among all its sections ensured that the 22nd Kolkata International Film Festival (November, 2016) mounted films of poetic density, craftsmanship and textured milieu. The survey of cinema extended over tributes to Kenji Mizoguchi (Japan), Jacques Rivette (France), Bert Hannstra (The Netherlands) and Catherine Corsini (France) along with the best of World Cinema of the last two years. Seven films from China sparkled the ‘‘Country Focus’’. New films by Buddhadeb Dasgupta (Tope) and Adoor Gopala-krishnan (Pinneyum) embellished the Indian selections.

The Woman who Left
Lav Diaz’s ‘‘The Woman who Left’’ (Philippines, black and white, 228 mins) has an episodic script, inspired from Leo Tolstoy’s 1872 short story ‘‘God Sees the Truth, but Waits’’. The film opens with a radio news flash on 30 June 1997, announcing Britain ending colonial rule in Hong Kong and handing over to China. In Davao City in the Philippines, women prisoners are tilling a field. Soldiers with guns guard. Thirty years ago, Horacio (Charo Santos–Cancio) was sentenced to life in a women’s correctional facility, for a murder she did not commit. Horacio conducts grammar classes in the prison, for children of inmates. She is unexpectedly released from prison, when fellow prisoner and friend, Petra (Shamaine Gentenera–Buencamino) suddenly confesses to the murder, coerced by Horacio’s ex-boyfriend Rodrigo (Michael De Mesa) to frame her. Horacio finds Philippines has changed over the thirty years, she was incacerated. Her husband has passed away, her daughter (Mari Lorico) has moved on, and her son has been missing and presumed dead. There is terrorist driven kidnapping all around. When an old woman relation, dies Horacio cries and lights candles. Another woman, Minerva suggests Horacio claim her lands. Horacio takes to community work, providing help to the community members, and those less fortunate.

All along Horacio is tracking down Rodrigo, who is now a wealthy underworld boss. Philippines has altered and so has the Phillipno Chinese community. On the main neighbourhood street, a vendor sells eggs, hookers walk along, a man wins a lottery, and a teenage girl is assaulted and killed. Hollanda (John Loyd Cruz), a transgender prostitute receives care from Horacio. Rodrigo confesses to the parish priest, his complicity in framing Horacio. There are church services, and questions are raised about the existence of God. Hollanda kills Rodrigo, as an act of gratitude, for someone who showed kindness. There is police action, and local people demonstrate protesting against police tractor demolitions of huts on public land. Horacio frolics with children on a sea beach, while small fires light up the sky. She relates short stories to children. In the moonlight and rains, Horacio’s autobiography manuscripts are scattered on the streets. The town centre stands imposing with by buildings, amidst the persavive squalor. There are notice photos of a missing person, on the streets. Time is an elastic element in Diaz’s film, and the historical view is sprawling. The personal grief of Horacio converges with the sorrow of the Phillipino nation. Diaz’s script with subtle undercurrents, connects the colonial past to the current national corruption. Revenge becomes a planned course of redemption. Much of the frames are static, and Diaz’s cinematography abounds in subtle movements and perspectives.

It’s only the End of the World
‘‘Juste la find du monde—It’s only the End of the World’’ (Canada / French, colour, 95 mins, language French) by Xavier Dolan, is based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, who died of AIDS at age 38. A pre-film chyron card specifies on a dark screen : ‘‘Somewhere, a while ago’’ emphasising the lack of e-mail and smart-phones. Lovis (Gaspard Ulliel) is only four years older than the playwright Lagarce, and he too is afflicted by AIDS. Lagarce’s text is spoken in actual French, rather than Canadian ascents. After ten-twelve years of absence, Louis is returning to France, to tell his family that he is dying. The air voyage from an African country, memories and the luggage clearance, conclude in a small French town, where Louis’ family members are preparing a grand lunch. As Louis gets off a taxi, he is greeted in the foyer of his childhood home by sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) and sister-in-law Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Louis’s mother Martine (Nathalie Baye), has painted eye-lids and fingernails, of the same cobalt blue as her neckless. She leaves the chopping of salads on the table, and hugs  Louis. Antoine (Vincent Cassel) is full of an inner rage, with his back generally to Louis. Spending more than a decade of absence, Louis maintained only superficial communication with family in the form of birthday postcards and pictures of holidays, and less in long handwritten letters. The characters speak non-stop, and Louis fails to announce impending death.

Mother Martine keeps herself busy in the kitchen. Sister-in-law Catherine recounts stories of her children, and proudly shows photos. There are aerobics, music and songs. The scenes shift to the past, to sunny days, children playing, and adolescent affairs. Sister Suzanne on cannabis, takes Louis around the old house. The past is recalled, and the things one loves glide by. Sundays in the peak and lunches in shades flash. A telephone informs that Martine’s husband is pre-occupied.

In the home ghetto, Louis feels that there is no need for obligations and declarations. Time has wrecked and modified the old house. Sister Suzanne takes Louis to room of old things, LP records and mattresses. Louis is afraid of time, and feels the family warmth and conversations abrupt and maladroit. Table lamps and wall clock remain repeated background images. After ten years of absence, the strangers share nothing. Louis friend Pierre has recently died of cancer. Conversations and everyone survives a weekend. Antoine and Suzanne quarrel over dropping Louis to the airport. Louis leaves, pledging that he would return more often, and would write long letters. A small bird lies motionless on strewn leaves in the courtyard. Dolan’s screenplay breaks the proscenium theatracality with a profusion of extreme close-up, built with the fluidity of Andre Turpin’s mobile camera. The conversational nuances of the play are preserved, and the filmed vision never loses on the subtext dialogue. The camera pressing close to the characters, amplifies the intimacy of the faces. The lighting turns frequently orange with Gabriel Yard’s music.

Vol. 49, No.28, Jan 15 - 21, 2017