133 films from 53 countries. Plus, the Indian Panorama. Plus, Tamil films in competition. The 9th Chennai International Film Festival, presented by The Hindu and Akshaya, has it all, says Baradwaj Rangan
Long before a film festival prints its official bulletin — that thumb-thick catalogue with glossy pictures and synopses to help you decide which 11 a.m. screening is likely to prove most rewarding — the committee prepares a rough-and-ready document for private consumption. Scrolling through this document is like leafing through an alphabetic atlas, from Albania (with a sole entry, Buyar Alimani's “Amnesty”) to USA/Canada (Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life”, Gus Van Sant's “Restless”, Brad Furman's “The Lincoln Lawyer”, Larysa Kondracki's “The Whistleblower” and Michael Greenspan's “Wrecked”). The cinema is international in more ways than one — from all over the world, certainly, but also all over the place. Presented by The Hindu and Akshaya, the 9th Chennai International Film Festival, open from December 14 through 22, isn't just a shrine for the meditative art movie. It also features a legal thriller starring Matthew McConaughey, who, as if in deference to the occasion, keeps his shirt on. Throughout. Finally we know what Kubrick meant when he called the screen a magic medium.
More of the supernatural arrives via Dominik Moll's “The Monk”, where the titular ascetic forswears his vow of chastity and finds himself dealing with Satan in female form. Wait a minute. This synopsis sounds almost — dare we use this word in the context of a film festival? — ‘entertaining'. Where are the films that are the equivalent of a day at a countryside spa, rejuvenating the mind and chasing away the toxins accumulated from the multiplexes the rest of the year? Those films arrive in the form of a Hsiao-hsien Hou retrospective. The polarising Taiwanese auteur (all those long takes with a static camera, signifying either nothing at all or the thrum of the universe itself) will be represented in the World Cinema section with “A Summer at Grandpa's”; “Good Men, Good Women”; “Goodbye South Goodbye”; “Daughter of the Nile”; “Café Lumiere” — the first two are impossible to see anywhere but in film festivals.
The other retrospective honours the Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki (not to be confused with his brother Mika Kaurismäki, also a filmmaker, responsible for the irresistibly titled “Zombie and the Ghost Train”), with six films — “Le Havre”, “I Hired A Contract Killer”, “Leningrad Cowboys Go America”, “Shadows in Paradise”, “Calamari Union” and “Rikos Ja Rangaistus”, an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. The Country Focus section will shine a spotlight on films from Egypt and Iran, and the other segments include focuses on French, German and Hungarian cinema. With so much to choose from, the audience can be left feeling like a hungry man at a smorgasbord of unfamiliar cuisine, but here's a sampling of appetisers — Angelo Cianci's “Top Floor Left Wing” (French), Asghar Farhadi's “A Separation” (Persian), Ulrich Köhler's “Sleeping Sickness” (German), the Dardenne brothers' “The Kid with a Bike” (French), Lech Majewski's “The Mill and the Cross” (English, Spanish) and Nani Moretti's “We Have a Pope” (Italian). All you need to bring along is an appetite.