The 10 Chennai International Film Festival opened with the screening of three much-acclaimed movies and the promise of more to come

The 10th Chennai International Film Festival could not have had a better start, with a crowd of over 200 attending the opening ceremony at Woodlands multiplex. A number of movie stars and celebrities were also present. The opening feature (December 13) was Michael Haneke’s Amour which won the Palm d’Or this year.

Amour (Director: Michael Haneke, France, 2012)

Amour is the story of an octogenarian couple (Georges and Anne) whose love and devotion are severely put to the test when Anne starts suffering debilitating strokes. The movie is poignantly filmed by Darius Khondji with soft lighting and warm, intuitive framing. Minor disagreements become major arguments. There are huge communication gaps. Yet throughout their ordeals there is so much devotion and affection and a demonstration of strength in frailty that the couple becomes more dignified than before in our eyes.

You might remember Emmanuelle Riva, the French actress from Hiroshima Mon Amour. Now more than half a century later, in Amour, her portrayal of love is not as a fleeting, tempestuous, volcanic emotion, but as something permanent and grounded in the everyday routine of life. Sadness in love is replaced with pain in old age.

In Haneke’s 1989 debut feature The Seventh Continent, a couple named Georg and Anna, along with their daughter, are slowly and systematically driven to a murder-suicide. In Amour too there is a murder-suicide. But the film is a departure from Haneke’s usual austere style, as it conveys a deep sense of compassion and shares with us his concern. This is probably the most human film Haneke has ever made and for that reason we feel Georges’ and Anne’s pain more keenly.

Out in the Dark (Director: Michael Mayer, Israel and Palestine, 2012)

Out in the Dark traces the story of gay love between a Palestinian student of Psychology (Nimr) and an Israeli lawyer (Roy). Their problems are compounded because the two men are on opposite sides of the Middle East conflict — Israel and Palestine, and face the wrath of a society that disapproves of such relationships.

Nimr’s brother is a terrorist who seeks out and executes squatters and illegal immigrants. He especially targets people of the LGBT community. It is not long before Nimr’s secret is revealed to his family. He is disowned and forced to permanently go into hiding because of his crazy gun-toting brother.

The entire third act seems contrived and consists of Nimr on the run. The thrust of the movie, Nimr and Roy’s love story, is not given enough time and is replaced by the overarching themes of communal strife and violence. Nonetheless the film succeeds surprisingly well in refusing to take sides, instead choosing to humanise the “opponents” of one of the most brutal wars ever fought.

Before the Fall (Director: Dennis Gensel, German, 2004)

Friedrich is a talented young boxer and a school dropout, working as an apprentice in a factory. The prospect of a bright future is bleak, until his boxing skills earn him a position in one of Hitler’s elite National Political Academies. While his friends are extremely happy for him, his coach is disappointed. At home, his father slaps him. Friedrich doesn’t understand this reaction for, his new job will ensure he is fed, clothed and educated. He will have a chance of a better future and his father will have to pay for none of it. But, life is a lot bigger than any one man. The boxing coach and Friedrich’s father understand this. Friedrich does not. He runs away from home and joins Napola, a school situated in a castle high up on a grassy hill, far away from his rustic home. Director Gensel makes use of this jarring fairytale metaphor frequently. The students at the academy are reared on Germanic folklore of knights and virgins, feeding into the Nazi mythos of purity and nobility. It lends their crimes and misdoings a sense of grandeur, a sheen and sparkle that youngsters like Friedrich find hard to resist. Over the course of the film, two students die. Their deaths are referred to as suicides but are in reality murders. Gensel quietly condemns an oppressive regime that leaves the boys with no choice. By confining his narrative to a school, Gensel emphatically elevates it. He forces us to see the Nazis not as monsters but as men and children. Not as the propagators but as the products of violence.

(The films are being screened at different venues in the city.)

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