Day 2 of the Chennai International Film Festival. A report

Here’s a peek at some of the films screened at various cinemas on Day 2 of the Chennai International Film Festival

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Director: Lynne Ramsey, England)

The Columbine tragedy has spawned several books and movies that try and examine why what happened did happen. While some people such as Michael Moore have tried to furnish reasons, others like Gus Van Sant have deliberately avoided explanations for such a baffling tragedy. Now, in this film Lynne Ramsey shifts the focus from the tragedy itself and uses it only as a point of culmination for the strange and paedophobic relationship between a mother Eva (Tilda Swinton) and her son Kevin (Ezra Miller).

The film is based on an epistolary novel of the same name. It is grounded in the skewed perspective of the memories and sufferings of the mother. We never quite see Kevin as he really is, or how he is with others. We only see him as his mother sees him. In doing so, Lynne Ramsey manages to hold the middle ground on the nature-nurture argument that was the centrepiece of all the hype following Columbine. If Kevin appears as another ruthless demon spawned by horror cinema it is perhaps because he has been denied his own voice. Eva certainly blames herself, as does society at large. She is ostracised and accepts the punishment without pity because she feels she deserves it.

There are only ambiguous explanations offered for their relationship. Perhaps because they are so similar (even physically they share a certain androgyny) that they are instinctively repulsed. We can only guess.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Director: Benh Zaitlin, America)

We see so much of America, marketed and presented in a certain way that when we see a film like Beasts it is genuinely shocking. The film is set in a Louisiana Bayou community that calls itself “the bathtub”. It chooses among a cast of colourful characters, a bright and resourceful six-year-old girl as its protagonist. Her mother is dead and her father takes care of her. They live off the land and on whatever is available around them. Commerce has not yet entered their society. They share all and live as friends in floating island huts. Their world is far away from the rest of America. The wall that separates the levee from the highlands is not just a geographical divide but a metaphoric one as well.

When the government finds them and forcefully evacuates them, they are like fish out of water. They are not used to medical facilities and shopping at stores. They fight to get back home. Zaitlin in the space of an hour and a half weaves the lives of an entire community realistically. He tells their story with love and compassion, often making use of magic realist elements (melting polar caps, extinct prehistoric bison) to impress upon us the marvellous world that these characters inhabit. Of all the films screened so far, this was the most hopeful and warm. An audience has never applauded more loudly or enthusiastically.

After Lucia (Director: Michel Franco, Spain)

After Lucia, once again, is a film about the brutality of teenagers and the harshness of the world they inhabit. A girl under the influence of alcohol makes out with a boy at a party one night. He records them making out, she doesn’t appear to care. Perhaps she is too drunk to care. Whatever the reason… it is ambiguous. What follows is torment and torture — the girl is molested, raped, beaten and even urinated on. She is isolated and her vulnerability is incessantly preyed on. High school societies often function through cliques and by manufacturing consent. Someone who might have been uncomfortable with abusing Alejandra might have found themselves “forced to” for fear of being likewise ostracised and humiliated. The camera work is often static, the movements framed in geometric lines, further elevating Alejandra’s isolation and helplessness. It deliberately maintains a cold, dispassionate distance until Alejandra is completely shattered.

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