Feasting at festivals


I broke my record of not watching any films at all at the Busan festival by attending the world premiere of Sanjeewa Pushpakumara’s Burning Birds, a stark, devastating portrayal of extreme poverty in Sri Lanka. Then it was time to fly halfway across the world for the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival. Unlike Busan, my primary purpose in London is to watch films and I packed in back-to-back screenings daily. Of all the films I watched, three were extremely moving, in different ways.

The Danish director Lone Scherfig has been a faithful chronicler of British society for the best part of two decades now.

Her latest film, Their Finest, addresses the delicious subject of British propaganda films during the Second World War, and is a rousing feminist tract as well. Gemma Arterton, very often these days a distracting presence when she occupies the table next to us at the BAFTA when us poor mortals are trying to solve a script problem, plays a spirited Welsh woman who gets an opportunity as a scriptwriter at the British information ministry. In a deeply and casually sexist world, she takes upon herself the task of writing an inspirational propaganda movie that the deeply-cynical British public will not laugh at. Her comrades in arms are fellow writer Sam Clafin (from The Hunger Games movies that I have no intention of ever watching) and the always delightful Bill Nighy, who plays a vain, over-the-hill actor. The film is shot through with typical British humour, but beneath it is a subtle and poignant romance.

Australian commercials director Garth Davis makes his feature debut with Australia/UK/US co-production, Lion. Based on a true story, this heart-rending film is the story of Saroo, a little boy from a poor family who gets separated from his family in Madhya Pradesh, and after a terrifying two-day journey in a locked train, finds himself in an even more terrifying city, Calcutta. Leading a charmed life, he evades most of the horrors that the city’s underbelly serves up and is adopted and sent to Hobart, Tasmania, where Nicole Kidman is his new mother. He grows up to become Dev Patel, finds love with Rooney Mara and gradually becomes obsessed with finding his birth parents, using Google Earth in a variety of ways.

I watched Lion at the festival’s press and industry screening. We are a hardy lot, not given to displays of emotion, but in the case of the incredibly moving finale of Lion, hardened members of the press were openly snuffling into their hankies and hastily wiping away their tears as the lights came on. I was emotionally overcome as well by the sight of Dev Patel, thankfully unencumbered with the effort of putting on a fake Indian accent, finally delivering a performance.

But for raw emotion that requires a whole box of tissues, look no further than debutant Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy’s A Billion Colour Story that world-premiered at Busan, had its European premiere in London, and is in the Mumbai Film Festival.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 10:16:26 PM |

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