The Chennai International Film Festival brings the best of world cinema, ranging from the classics of yore to contemporary masterpieces.

The 7th edition of the Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF, December 16-24) has announced a first-time competition with trophies for Best and Second Best Tamil film, with eight films in the final list, including “Achamundu Achamundu”, “Ayan”, “Thiru Thiru Thuru Thuru” and “Pokkisham”.

Conducted by the Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation at Woodlands, Woodlands Symphony and Film Chamber theatres, the Fest showcases 119 films from 41 countries.

Among them are films noticed at Cannes this year — Lars von Trier's “Antichrist”, spotting the darkest side of lust, “Eyes Wide Open” (Haim Tabakman, Israel) where a much-married man discovers homosexuality, and “Petition” (Zhao Liang), the Chinese documentary about citizens' battling for their rights.

The fest has its share of documentaries. The famous “Shake Hands with the Devil” (Peter Raymond, Canada) takes an unflinching look at the Rwandan genocide with Romeo Dalliare, deputed by the U.N to keep peace, who found it impossible to stop the horrors without support from the outside world.

Carnage is the theme of “John Rabe” (Florian Gallenberger, Germany), profiling the man who became a “Chinese Schindler”, masterminding the creation of a safety zone in Nanking during Japanese attack, but who was denounced by the Gestapo on his return to his homeland and died in penury.

Chennai will also get to see “The Other Bank” (Georgia), the Special Jury Prize winner at IFFI, Goa.

The film shifts between Georgian, Abkhazian and Russian within 90 minutes. Enough to underscore the puzzling diversities faced by the boy trying to find his father left behind in his hometown, from where war had forced the family to flee.

Almodovar's genius

While first time films from Albania and Nepal may be missable, not-to-miss are the opening and closing films: in “Broken Embraces” (Spain) the eccentric genius Pedro Almodovar is at his tangled best with a writer and film director protagonist, who decides that his “real” self is dead in the car crash that robbed him of his beloved and his eyesight. He now lives in his pseudonym. From tragic Romania comes a tale of revenge as the banished woman, “Katalin Varga” (Peter Strickland), searches for the father of her son.

Australia's “Meet Me Under the Mango Tree” (Brian McKenzie) is for those curious about the outsider's wry view of the struggle for existence in working class Tamil Nadu.

The festival has its share of retrospectives with the classic comedy series from Czechoslovakia by masters of satire such as Jiri Menzel. The package includes other evergreens. In “If a Thousand Clarionets” (1964) guns transform into musical instruments and a military base becomes a stage for a TV show. “Run, Water Run” (1980) has a violinist on his way to an audition finding a different source of income as waiter.

Europe is best represented in CIFF 2009, with Goddard and Truffaut leading the French New Wave, the country focus on Belgium, Finland and Netherlands, and a retrospective of the German film maker Roland Reber. Reber's “Dark Side of Our Inner Space” says it all as he explores the eerie moments in film after film, ending with a celebration of immorality in “Angels with Dirty Wings”.

If you like the distinct, the stylised and the offbeat, watch “the Portuguese Nun” (Portuguese/ French) by Eugene Green, paying tribute to Portuguese cinema in a minimalist romance, where a film actress encounters several characters as she explores Lisbon. The film is drenched in fado music, and Green plays the director in the film-within-the-film.

A sumptuous period pageant throbbing with modern urgency, Chen Kaige's “Forever Enthralled” returns to the world of panoramic visuals and epic sweep, so unforgettable in his Palme d'Or winning “Farewell My Concubine” (1993).

In “Forever Enthralled” (2008), the biopic of China's great opera star Mei Lanfang, the magnificent cinematography and the auteur's probing eye, swing between background (life) and foreground (stage), to reveal truths pleasant and unpleasant,underlined with a deep fellow feeling. For details, call 98401-51956 and 97910-77106.