IFFI 2018

Goa Film Festival

Abhijit Ghosh-Dastidar

International Film Festival  of India, (Panaji, Goa, November 2018), presented simple images in the World Cinema Section, weaving internal stories. The Indian Panorama mounted new films in India, springing fragmented concerns, linguistic differences, and fluid in doors and outdoors, allowing breezes to flow in. Country Focus stretched to Israel and Tunisia. Centenary Tribute to Ingmar Bergman highlighted diversity of output and an alluring volume of cinema images.

Alexei German Jr's "Dovlatov" (Russia, colour, 126 mins) portrays six days in the life of Soviet dissident writer Sergei Dovlatov (Milan Maric). Over six cold snow white days of November 1971 in Leningrad, Dovlatov intermingles with a broad spectrum of Russian writers and artists, past and present. The portagonists are evoked as witnesses to history. The effort not to compromise himself proves a hopeless task, as Dovlatov floats through literary salons and publishing houses, in a search of a way to express himself. He was too much of a non-conformist to get entry into the writers' union, even though his talent was widely recognised, since the end of the 1950s. Except insignificant reports and interviews for a factory newspaper, glorifying Soviet society, he failed to impress the writers' union. Dovlatov's life stagnates as he quarrels with his wife Lean (Helena Sujecha) over their forthcoming divorce and walks with his young daughter over snow. He visits literary soirres and jazz clubs. A broad spectrum of Russian writers and artists are evoked, from different time epochs as witnesses to history.

At a surreal shipyard set, Dovlatov speaks to actors dressed up as Tolstoy, Pushkin and Dostoyvesky. The masters provide politically correct answers to questions on current Soviet affairs. Dovlatov moves underground to interview a young oil worker, who writes poetry. Disillusioneed by love, the budding poet ceases composing poetry. Dovlatov and the poet visit a fancy party, where unrelated conversations build a collage of characters. Soviet era spies abound. A painter who is arrested for smuggling, tries to jump from a police car but is run over by another vehicle. A writer Andrey slits his wrists in a publisher's office, when his manuscript gets rejected numerous times. Alexei German Jr takes a critical glance at Russia's communsit past. Writers like Dovlatov preferred starvation than write commi-ssioned acticles. The Jewish Armenian writer finally emigrated to USA in the mid-1980s. Books and paintings get banned, as government authorities feel that the episodes not exist. Dovlatov's self humiliation narrative moves in an unhurried pace. The graphic rhythum of the script and the haze of memory are ensured by Lucasz Zal's camera and Elena Okopnaya's stylish sets.

Highly influenced by recent foreign films on tales of mermaid and merman, Shaji N Karun's "Olu–She" (Malayalam, colour, 121 mins) explores violence, lost dreams and the pursuit of art and passion in emotional spaces. A young girl Maya (Esther Anil) is gang raped and thrown into a river. She dies. But her spirit is awake, and fully clothed she swims amongst the underwater hyacinths, and emerges afloat on moon-lit nights. A young painter Vasu (Shane Nigam) has an empty canvas, on shore in a Kerala vilalge. To get over disappointments, Vasu rows a boat midstream of the river, where Maya underwater and Vasu above water, converse. Vasu has the open sky and shoreline. Maya, underwater, is sorrounded by flowers and fishes. The nymph spirit inspires Vasu to paint. Each painting fetches Rs 10,000 and art dealers and collectors flock the rural surroundings. Vasu leaves for Mumbai at the invitation of an art dealer. Detached from Maya, who lives in the village river, Vasu loses his inspiration to draw and paint. Humiliated by two lady art dealers, Vasu returns to the village. His boat criss crosses in circles in the silent river. From underwater, Maya notices the sad expressions on Vasu's face. Love sensations return.

Buddhist monks, from Tibet building a monastery in the Kerala village, approach Vasu to paint murals on the religious walls. The island is sinking, and there are no spirits to help. The monastic paintings fail to materialise. Vasu calls for Maya, who does not respond. Vaus's family perform prayers and rituals, Maya underwater, cries in a floating position. She gives birth to a child, as water lilies sway and small fishes swim. The visual appeal of M J Radhakrishnan's camera when underwater and amidst the natural sorroundings of a rural river, strengthen myth and folk art. Shaji's script follows fantasy, ethnographic impulses and the thin line between belief and disbelief. In the boat and below stream conversations, between Vasu and Maya, there is no mistrust of words to convey universal truths. The irrational plot line does not carry the narrative beyond the imaginary. The visuals lack depth and unexpected turnabouts.

Vol. 51, No.25, Dec 23 - 29, 2018