Kerala Summing Up

in 18th International Film Festival of Kerala

by Derek Malcolm

Marco Bellochio, Arturo Ripstein, Carlos Saura and Goran Paskaljevic were present this year at the Festival. But guess who was cheered to the rafters? It was South Korean director Kim Ki -Duk, hailed as a hero in Kerala despite the fact that few in his home country take much notice of him. Despite the fact too that Moebius, his latest shocker, caused part of the audience to leave the screening in shock and several others to be physically sick.

He was, however, not to be denied his moments in the limelight, presiding over the prize-giving celebrations along with the Chief Minister of the state and gratefully receiving the first copy of Silence And Violence, a book written by K. B. Venu and published by the state’s Chalachitra Academy, which runs the Festival. “Narcissism” said the director with some feeling at his press conference, “is an essential quality for a filmmaker” and advised young would-be directors to go and get some of it before starting out in film.

This near adoration may not seem so surprising when you consider that Keralan society has always welcomed radical artists even if those intrepid figures really make much of a mark on the box-office where cinema is concerned. The Festival’s core audiences like nothing better than a good controversy and are prepared to sustain many of those who find life difficult in their own countries. They are not after ‘nice’ films. They love fringe figures who kicks against the pricks.

There were plenty of those on the programme, which included the winners of the Berlin, Cannes and Venice Festivals. It should be noted that neither Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn’s The Act of Killing, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour nor Moebius were censored at the Festival, though it is extremely doubtful whether any of these controversial films will be distributed in India without cuts.

There were few real discoveries in the Competition, which was rather surprisingly won by Majid Barzegar’s Parviz, the story of a fifty year old man who has lived with his father all his life without proper job and suddenly gets kicked out when dad remarries. Left to his own devices, he ends up taking violent revenge on those he thinks despise him. The film never quite convinces. But Levon Haftvan as the fat and sweaty Parviz is outstanding, and it was one of the director’s best touches to allow us to hear his heavy breathing throughout the film.

Easily the most original and lively film was Errata from Argentina, where the young Ivan Vescovo constructed a thriller about the attempted thieving of a valuable book by Borges which, because of a particular erratum, is worth a great deal of money. Alongside these Errata parallels a romance between a young man and a girl who seems to be not the person he thought she was. We discover that nor is the book quite what it seems, proving that both the animate and inanimate pose the same problems of identity. If this sounds a bit on the tricky, arty side, Vescovo’s filmmaking is as entertaining as it is clever.

There was also a stylish tribute to the great Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak from Kamaleshwar Mukherjee which detailed the angry life of a man who could never forgive the Partition of Bengal, was eventually admitted to a mental asylum and died early of alcoholism. The film takes certain liberties but looks and feels something like a Ghatak melodrama, and has some fine performances which add to its atmosphere. Its problem is that it is 152 minutes long. This simply destroys its point by over-emphasis and repetition. The film is called Megha Dhaka Thara, and there appears to be no English translation.

Palestinian Israelis do not find it easy to make films in Israel. But Adi Adwan was given enough money to make a short and, within 13 days, had concocted his first feature. Arabani is actually the very first Druze film and criticizes the sect from the standpoint of the director himself. It is hardly a masterpiece but honest and audacious as a young Druze returns to his village after leaving in disgrace having married a Jewish woman. Bringing his two children with him, he finds his mother adamant that he has committed a sin and that the children cannot be considered Druze. He has to leave whether he wants to or not.

But if the competition lacked much real quality, the reason is obvious. It is staged right at the end of the season after a plethora of festivals. The choice, even for Asian, African and Latin American films, is thus slim. The best films have already competed elsewhere. Even so, the general programme delivered by the indefatigable Bina Paul was a good one, rather better than that of the All-India festival at Goa, run by the Central Government. Kerala ought to be proud of it, competition weakness or no. And when you get a local icon like Kim Ki-Duk singing a song at the closing event because he can’t, or won’t, speak a word of anything but Korean, it’s a lively event too.

Derek Malcolm