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A week of intriguing fare

The Chennai residents' fascination for the event and the organiser's resolve were the two outstanding features of the International Film Festival that concluded in the City recently, observes GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN.

Phillipe Lioret's French entry, ``Miss," is a tale of casual sex.

THE SECOND edition of the Chennai International Film Festival, which closed last week, proved the city's passion for art house fare. Most of the screenings in three of Chennai's cinemas were packed with an amazingly motley group of people. There were hundreds of young people, many of them college students, as there were scores of middle-aged and older men. Students said that their institutions had given them leave with attendance to watch the 90-odd movies from about 30 countries, and one saw many of these youngsters in film after film. However, what one found odd was the fewer number of women: are they not inclined to watch different kinds of cinema or were they apprehensive about seeing uncensored movies in male company? What, though, beyond doubt was the fascination of Chennai residents for the Festival, and also the organising Indo-Cine Appreciation Foundation's resolve to hold the seven-day event.


When the Foundation conducted the Festival in December 2003, there was some apprehension among film buffs, who felt that Chennai could not possibly be in the league of Thiruvananthapuram or Kolkata or Mumbai, each holding its own international cinema festival, apart from, of course, the main one put together — this year in Panaji — by the Directorate of Film Festivals.

The Foundation found sponsors in the BSNL, National Film Development Corporation and others to raise about Rs. 20 lakhs, a big leap from last year's under Rs. 10-lakh budget, provided by Hyundai and others.

A few foreign delegates could also be invited this year. Among them was an interesting French director, Nathalie Schmidt, whose ``Clear Skies After Rain," had echoes of Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee. In the course of a chat after her movie, she said that she had been influenced by these auteurs even during her long innings as an actress. Her first directorial venture, ``Clear Skies...," is a sometimes shocking, sometimes hilarious story of a rather dysfunctional group of musicians. Each shot appears to spring right up to your face in what appears like an attempt to shock the viewer into a frightened excitement.

If Nathalie's work was one where form scored over content, there were others whose straight narrative style of story telling had a more captivating way of holding audience attention.

Simple story

Phillipe Lioret's French entry, ``Miss," is a simple story of casual sex: a sensible and steady woman medical representative meets a whimsical improviser, and in a classic way they are attracted to each other ``like mercury and Venus in a leap year." Lioret gets an inspiring performance from Sandrine Bonnaire, who as Claire remembers her brief encounter as she window shops one afternoon with her family. The film takes us through many probables (!), but if one is in a mood to overlook them, ``Miss" reminds us of how cinema was in the 1960s and the 1970s. Uncomplicated and unnerving!

Israel's ``The Syrian Bride" (by Eran Riklis) gave us the same kind of feel, though there was a more sensational element here. A woman living on the Golan Heights is all set to marry a television actor in Syria, but Tel Aviv and Damascus play spoilsport. The film ends on a rather clever note. But it is not so much the political aspect that appeals as it is the emotional interplay within the bride's family that pushes the movie to a higher plane.

The festival had another work from Germany, ``Goodbye Lenin" in which director Wolfgang Becker brings emotions and State affairs together in a wonderful sequence of light and shade. A son's attempt to prevent his mother from a fatal shock after a long coma forms the basis of this movie: she should not know that her beloved East Germany no longer exists. Becker carefully orchestrates a picture that the son sets up for his mother, a picture of make believe. However, if one were to look a little beyond the frames, what emerges is a powerful satire on the complex absurdities of Capitalism and Communism.

Other works on offer

The Chennai festival had other subjects to offer: Brazil's ``Celeste and Estrela" is stimulating insight into the problems of making a movie, not that they are very different anywhere else, but Betse de Paula's method of styling his cinematic process is different. Equally novel was Bulgaria's ``Mila from Mars" that follows a runaway 16-year-old girl as she lands in a tiny inhospitable settlement of very old people.

Director Zornitsa-Sophia gives us a little moral: fear can be conquered by love. One is not sure, but a touch of authenticity in situational expressions creates the mood for the girl's acceptance of the village as her home. There were still other entries that were not exactly remarkable, but were touching.

Chen Kaige's ``Together," talks about the triumph of love over art. A father stands for art, his son for love. The man wants the little boy to be a great violinist, but the road to artistic greatness cannot be paved with loneliness. And Chen Kaige helms a great piece of celluloid with wonderful music.

The Chennai festival extended a whole week of such intriguing cinema, which may not have always been critically outstanding, but the effort to programme one must be commended, especially because of the difficult conditions pertaining to venue and finance.

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