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Film for thought from Cannes

Jude Ratnam’s ''Demons in Paradise'' offers memories of the civil war in Sri Lanka

May 24, 2017 09:54 pm | Updated May 25, 2017 04:17 pm IST - Cannes

With gender as its focus this year, Cannes may well have found a worthy Palme d’Or contender by a woman filmmaker in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled.

The film lives up to its title, it is captivating indeed. Set in 1864 in Virginia with the Civil War as its backdrop, it starts off as an elegant narrative about a sorority of women in a seminary where an injured Corporal is brought in to heal.

The calmness and austerity of the picturesque, all-woman world, shot in dappled light, soon gets turned upside down by the male visitor. Illicit feelings get unleashed, competitiveness and jealousies make things take an ugly turn. Delicious lashings of humour come riding on sheer viciousness. The Beguiled is an extremely tight, terse and absorbing film that might seem too short to some with an abrupt closure to boot.

India’s only official presence at Cannes, FTII student Payal Kapadia’s short — Afternoon Clouds — played out as the first film screened at the Cinefondation programme on Wednesday.

‘A stylised, still and quiet meditation on the loneliness of two women — an old lady and her young help — the film is all about the conversations, dreams and fears they share with each other. Kapadia’s work will be judged by a jury headed by renowned Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu. Jury members include this year’s Oscar winner Moonlight ’s Barry Jenkins and Singapore filmmaker Eric Khoo.

All the way from Assam

An Indian filmmaker has the rare distinction of making it to Marche du Cinema this year, but via Hong Kong. Rima Das’s Village Rockstars features in the ‘Hong Kong Goes To Cannes’ initiative that brings the film, along with three others from the Work In Progress Lab of Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum, for presentation and pitching at the festival.

A self-taught filmmaker from Assam, Das had made Man With The Binoculars , which opened at Mami Mumbai Film Festival 2016 and went on to play at Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia. Das started off and shot Village Rockstars entirely on her own. It is about a village girl’s dream of owning a guitar and her attempts at starting a local band called Rockstars.

Editing funds have made it possible for the first cut to be edited in Rome by Jacques Comet. 20 minutes of the rough cut was shown at Marche du Cinema. Das is looking for post-production funds now. The film has also met with good response from sales agents and festivals. “Hong Kong has been promoting it aggressively. It has got good exposure,” says Das. A co-production deal may be on its way, hopefully from France itself.

The trauma of war

Civil wars and the concomitant immigration have created a whole genre of cinema of its own. So we have a French film, Demons In Paradise , directed by Jude Ratnam, a Tamil hailing from Sri Lanka, competing for the Camera D’Or this year. The documentary is a slice of memory, going back to 1983, when five-year-old Ratnam, along with his family, had fled on a train to escape massacre in the battle between the Tamils and Sinhalese.

He goes back on that journey to dig out the uncomfortable, painful reminiscences and tries to reconstruct them in as much detail as possible. The film doesn’t involve itself in the deeper politics but in its own gentle, measured way looks at the human dimension — the hatred, the violence, the fear unleashed by war. Tamils recall how they dressed up like the Sinhalese, wiping every visual trace of their identity to be able to belong within the majority.

On the other hand there are moving reunions with Sinhalese friends and neighbours who provided safety and refuge to the Tamils while their world was being burnt down. From fighting for the Tamil Eelam, wanting to be an LTTE guerilla to wishing for the movement to fail and the madness to cease — it’s a full circle to betrayal, distrust and cynicism for Ratnam that leads up to the question: does violence eventually let down every well-meaning movement?

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