Intrepid Films and Maverick Protagonists on the Move

in 19th Kerala International Film Festival

by Lalit Rao

With a few exceptions, the films shown in international competition at the 19th International Film Festival of Korea were resolutely bold in nature. The directors were dauntless, not only in their choice of difficult “subjects”, but in the way that their protagonists were made to ambulate in order to arrive closer to their objectives. These two qualities were immediately seized on by the festival’s discerning audience. There were packed houses for most screenings, with most viewers clamoring for an encore!

Iranian director Hossein Shahabi chose to highlight the importance of the criminal justice system in his homeland. His debut feature The Bright Day (Rooz-e roshan) depicts a brave woman’s relentless efforts to ensure that truth should prevail at all costs. What makes this film remarkable is the way that the protagonist, Roshan, is constantly on the move in her car to save her lover from the death penalty. The Bright Day is reminiscent of several films by Abbas Kiarostami, especially Close-Up (1990) and Like Someone in Love (2012), whose lead characters were always traveling and moving to achieve their personal goals. Iranian actress Pantea Bahram is quite convincing in her role, as a lone crusader for justice. The film won Shahabi the Silver Crow Pheasant award for best debut.

At a time when almost all societies have ceased to value older people, a different kind of erratic movement was witnessed in One for the road (En el ultimo trago), by Mexican director Jack Zagha Kakabie. In this subtly humorous film, three old men brave the odds to honor a promise made to a dying friend. One does not find too many comedies in competition at international film festivals, which are generally regarded to be the preserve of serious works. However, when I interviewed Kakabie, he stated that comedies are more difficult to make than serious films.

Movement by fearless protagonists was visible in other films too, in relation to different subjects and presentation styles. Moroccan director Hicham Lasri made effective use of television as a potent tool of “social awakening” in They are the Dogs (C’est eux les chiens), modeled on the sufferings experienced by ordinary Moroccans during widespread demonstrations against their national government in 1981. This film takes into account the countless trials experienced by Majhoul, an old man who is released after three decades in Moroccan prisons. Once he has tasted the joys of freedom, the only thing on his mind is his lost family. At this crucial stage, Majhoul encounters an energetic television crew. We seldom see the road movie genre crossed with television in order to comment on serious political issues. One needs to watch the initial scenes attentively, since a casual viewer would not be able to understand the scenes in which sound failure is used as a ploy for youngsters to express their opinions.

Actor Hassan Ben Badida is remarkable as Majhoul, a man who loses everything including his family when he regains he freedom after 30 years of meaningless incarceration. The film’s use of an abrasive television camera to get closer to the protoganist mesmerized all the jurors, so that we unanimously chose to award it the prize for best film in the international competition.

Edited by Lesley Chow