13rd Kerala International Film Festival
India, December 12 - December 19 2008
The Festival. The audiences at the 13th International Film Festival of Kerala were abundant and upbeat — not just at the anodyne or revved-up films but also at some of the more forbidding ones. The culture of Kerala made itself felt in their enthusiasm, no less than in the astonishing classical-dance performance that was a highlight of the closing ceremony. For me, the festival will remain unforgettable as an opportunity to work with the ten students in the press mentorship program who, as aspiring film critics and journalists, were kept busy providing daily coverage throughout the festival. May their passion for cinema be sustained and their opportunities to write enlarged.
The IFFK Competition offered a strong slate of 14 films from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Our jury gave its prize to Mariana Rondón’s inventive and diverting Postcards from Leningrad. Two competition entries that had won FIPRESCI awards at previous festivals, Huseyin Karabey’s My Marlon and Brando and Enrique Rivero’s Parque Via, were named by the IFFK’s competition jury as the Best Debut Film and the Best Film, respectively. (That jury also recognized Mariana Rondón as Best Director.) Other interesting films included Girish Kasaravalli’s masterly Gulabi Talkies, Laurent Salgues’ handsome Dreams of Dust, Nan T. Achnas’s stately, discreet The Photograph, Abolfazl Jalili’s enigmatic Hafez, and Amor Hakkar’s engaging The Yellow House. (After reflection, I believe that this last film — which recounts in a straightforward manner an Algerian villager’s efforts to retrieve his son’s corpse and play the young man’s videotaped last message for his grief-shattered mother — is intentionally rather than unintentionally absurdist.)
The Malayalam Cinema Today selection was disappointing. In a short essay published in the festival catalog, K. P. Jayakumar notes that Malayalam cinema is in the midst of a crisis brought on by globalization and by the influence of the Hollywood, Tamil, and Hindi film industries on the tastes of the local audience. Instead of following the path of other regional-language cinemas by projecting a valid representation of local identity, Malayalam cinema has so far settled for weakly imitative forms, according to Jayakumar. On the whole, the films in this section bore out this assessment. Even an above-average entry, veteran director T. V. Chandran’s oddly titled Beyond the Wail (Vilaapangalkkappuram), about a Muslim woman who flees from Gujarat to Kerala after the 2002 riots in her home state, suffers from the heavily obvious, over-slick style that dogs, more disastrously, Jayaraj’s Gulmohar and Madhupal’s Thalappavu (which both deal with the Naxalite struggles for land reforms in Kerala in the 1970s). M. Mohanan’s As the Story Unfolds… (Kadhaparayumpol) has some success with its light-comic approach to the problems of rural tradesmen (in particular, a poor village barber) in the face of modernization, but the film wastes its promise in torrents of crude sentimentality. Let’s hope that the best film in the section, Anjali Menon’s Lucky Red Seeds (Manjadikkuru), points to a larger renewal of Malayalam cinema and is not merely an isolated triumph by a gifted and intelligent first-time filmmaker. (Chris Fujiwara)