Films from the Educated State By Hubert Niogret

in 11st Kerala International Film Festival

by Hubert Niogret

The 11th International Film Festival of Kerala in Trivandrum — the second town of the state — showcased a large number of features, documentaries and shorts from all over the world. FIPRESCI has given an award to the Bangladesh feature Forever Flows (Nirontor) by Abu Sayeed in a competition showing 14 features from the three continents: South America (Argentina, Mexico) with two films, Africa with only one from Egypt and Asia with eleven (Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uzbekistan). All genres were represented: social drama, modern opera, social comedy, black humour, psychological drama, weird drama, musical comedy and fairy tale, but a lot of them were transversal, crossing different genres, mixing elements from different origins or characteristics, with contrasting styles. Most of them were from first time directors.

The general press (published in English) during the festival showed negative appreciations of the competition in a short-view for a festival that was very interesting in its choices of international cinema or more local cinema. The competition of 14 features offered at least six or seven very interesting features, and none of the films were incoherent in the festival perspective, showing elements in each of them that could have justified to be part of the competition, revealing new directors, and for some films being part of a national cinematography of which we knew very few. It’s extremely difficult to see some films from Bangladesh, and even if we can bet that in a country so close to India (and using Indian services because Bangladesh has none) most of the features are very cheap and commercial. It was very interesting to see Forever Flows, even if we know that the film must be an exception and it’s not representing the mainstream cinema.

Opera Jawa, from the experienced director Garin Nugruho, was perhaps the most audacious by itself (confirming that Garin Nugruho for each of his last films is going in new directions, trying to rejuvenate himself and the Indonesian cinema), and in a Third World Country as Indonesia, being part of a creative worldly approach in the multimedia arts. This opera, rooted in the local mythology and Asian legend of Ramayana, is also fully experimental about stage, space, movements, music, crossing through ages and establishing a bridge with European or North-American stage directors and designers.

Sankara, by Prasanna Jayakody from Sri Lanka, is perhaps one of the biggest discoveries, promising a lot for this first time director (who previously worked in TV dramas) by the sensitive approach, an eye for space and colours, an ear for sounds and a strong sense of ellipsis. She succeeds in expressing very intimate and secret feelings about sexuality in a discipline which refuses so. Her story of a monk painter, restoring old frescoes in Buddhist temples is filmed with beauty, emotion, and strict control.

Angel’s Fall (Melegin düsüsü) from Turkey by Semih Kaplanoglu and The Gaze (Negah), from Iran, by Serpideh Farsi, share in common the minimalist style with which they expressed the emotion of a woman between a shy lover and a brutal father (for Angel’s Fall), or the one of a son returning in his own country for his father’s death (for The Gaze). Family relations expressed in different ways. However, both are limited by script problems which forbid the directors to enlarge their views of the world.

Relations within society are the framework of two others films from Iran: Fireworks Wednesday (Chahar Shanbeh Souri), by Asghar Farhadi, where a young servant employed for one day has to witness the fight between his employers. Full or Empty (Gol ya Pooch), by Abolfazi Jalili, depicts a young teacher failing to teach because of the absurdity of the system. Fireworks Wednesday is guilty, perhaps, of thrusting too much the overdramatic dialogue. It seems more efficient, but only in surface, than Full of Empty — a film crossed permanently by a black humour, where the main character is able to take some distance to look at himself.

In a country where the audience is known for going after simplistic Indian films, the theatres were full in Trivandrum with audiences watching films from so many countries and by large author films. But then Kerala is also known as one of the most educated states of the Indian Federation and the International Film Festival of Kerala is not compromising with what the state thinks as it tirelessly takes care of its education and culture.