Friday Review

It’s carnival time again

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R. Kumar



Cinema is believed to be the most modern and the most democratic of art forms. In attempting to imagine an egalitarian modern society, the cinema halls became the most secular and democratic of spaces wherein an art could be enjoyed by the masses, unlike the religious and ritualistic precincts of earlier art forms. It is a mass art too, which means its most artistic creations ideally ought to be enjoyed by the masses, across class, caste and gender divisions. That cinema in Kerala had some of its earliest screenings in the pooram maidanams and market places speaks volumes about its carnivalistic base and the way it sought to ground itself in the lived experiences and festivities of the people of this land.

The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) has over the years become a watering hole for cinephiles of Kerala, not only in terms of film viewing but also debates, critiques and the creation and sharing of public opinion and public taste regarding the art and commerce of cinema. What does a festival do in today’s staid, apathetic and fast moving lives? It recharges the batteries of a culture, periodically renewing its flow of energies, celebrating spontaneity and giving a fresh lease of popular support and cultural sanction for its institutions and organisational philosophies. However the level of policing, control and cultures of surveillance that often regulate the spontaneity and exuberance of festivals have become moot in recent debates over whether film festivals are becoming carnivals. Given the fact that IFFK seeks to promote third world cinemas and avant-garde experiments, the word carnival, with its implicit associations of breaking boundaries and celebrating human community should not ideally be posing a problem. Carnivals are also important in their celebration of freedom, a freedom that is simultaneously personal and collective, political and popular, as is the aesthetics of cinema itself. The fact that the very nature of the filmic image incorporates carnivaleque elements - of multiplicity, hybridity and performance, makes its association with the carnival seem even more interesting.

The film festivals every year provide young men and women a forum to bond, where creative and critical thinking can be shared and a repressive social order and its civic pretensions be challenged and subverted through the very act of viewing cinema. If cinema, and that too cinema of the finest kind can be the common platform on which they meet and bond, it is a phenomenon that has to be encouraged, for this was precisely what the film society movement attempted to do in the seventies, to create a film literacy and forge a community that could share the pleasures of the cinematic art. Thus the IFFK, over the years has also become a symbol of freedom and critique for the youth and women of the state, while emphasizing aesthetic creativity and affirming and re-enforcing a communion with like-minded fellow travellers.

It is indeed an achievement of the IFFK that it has made possible the alliance of cinema as an artistic expression with a festive community of spectators who realise the political potential of cinema, both in forging communities and in creating alternative rhythms of art and life. This is also one way of legitimising the state funds that flow into the staging of such festivals, infusing a new life and radical vigour into the cultural and social fabric of a land, and refusing it to be monopolised by any one political bandwagon or people.

It is amidst all these debates that the 19th edition of the IFFK has arrived in Thiruvananthapuram again, lending the urban landscapes a festive air in which the local and the global celebrate their variant hues. As films, filmmakers, directors, producers, promoters, distributors, critics, intellectuals, media and audiences of diverse demographics come together, the circuit remains incomplete without thinking of hotels, cinema halls bursting at the seams, tea shops, autorickshaw drivers and a general public which await with curiosity the energy and polemic derived from interactions between such a complex network of actors. It is a unique forum where art meets markets, the cultural, the aesthetic and the political seem to converge and diverge in complex ways, and public pleasures and private desires, creativity and competition commingle to generate curious synergies.

Focus on Turkey

This time many seem excited by the fact that the country focus is Turkey, a land that finds an empathetic resonance in the heart of every Malayali film buff, owing probably to its cultural and socio-political similarities with Kerala.

Paying a glowing tribute to the centenary year of Turkish Cinema, IFFK has eight films in the package including Yozgat Blues directed by Mahmut Fazil Cozkun, Reis Celik’s Night of Silence, Tayfun Pirselimoglu’s I Am Not Him , Seren Yuce’s Majority , Huseyin Karabey’s Come To My Voice, Kaan Mujdeci’s Sivas and Yesim Ustaoglu’s Pandora’s Box. Mahmut Fazıl Cozkun had received the Golden Tulip for Best Director at Istanbul Film Festival for his Wrong Rosary, and Yozgat Blues is his much awaited second film. Majority is a resounding slap on the face of Turkish patriarchy and is bound to draw feminist film viewers. Sivas, selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice International Festival, had won the Special Jury Prize there and is a heart stealer both for its stunning performances and sparse narrative. Pandora’s Box, a woman’s poignant tale of isolation and alienation, was judged the Best Film at the San Sebastian Film Festival recently. With Nuri Bilge Ceylan Turkish cinema seems to have received a new visibility and status all over the world, even while all is not well in the home front owing to severe political censorship and restrictions.

World cinema

The French Connection has a pack of seven films from France. There is a Chinese package with six films. The World Cinema Package, with 60 films from 37 countries, looks inviting this year with Ceylan’s Winter Sleep, Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The President, Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home, Krzysztof Zanussi’s Foreign Body, Kim ki-Duk’s new film One on One, Andrei Konchalovsky’s Postman’s White Nights, Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem, Vikram Sengupta’s Labour of Love, Takashi Mike’s Over Your Dead Body and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan among numerous other films that have bagged international acclaim.

Women and IFFK

In bearing witness to the increasing presence of women in cinema, IFFK will have a significant collection of cinema directed by women. The World Cinema section has 12 films by women including Gillian Robespierre, Chika Anadu, Maria Gamboa, Dyana Gaye, Natalia Smirnoff, Bety Reis, Tatjana Bozic, Sonja Prosenc, Anne Weil, Claudia Pinto, Narges Abyar and Pascale Ferran and Anu Menon. Japanese director Naomi Kawase's four films- Suzaku, Still the Water, Firefly and Hanezu- appear in the Contemporary Masters category.

One of the Jury Films will be Sumitra Bhave’s Marathi feature Vastupurush. Two women’s cinemas are running the race in the Competition Section, Moroccan-Iraqi director Tala Hadid's The Narrow Frame of Midnight and South Korean July Jung's A Girl at My Door.

Indian cinema

The section on Indian Cinema has seven films, each attempting a new visual idiom in representing social issues and realities. 89 is a Bengali psychological thriller by Manoj Michigan. Shrihari Sathe’s Marathi film Ek Hazarchi Note is a social satire that documents the tale of gullible village folk , Ananth Narayan Mahadevan’s Hindi movie Gour Hari Dastaan is an exceptional biopic, Adeyapartha Rajan’s Myth of Cleopatra uses the motif of Cleopatra to narrate every woman’s tale , S.U. Arunkumar’s Pannaiyarum Padminiyum is based on the hugely popular short film of the same name, Sekhar Das’ Nayanchampar Din Ratri narrates the plight of domestic helps , and Raj Amit Kumar’s Blemished Light is a social political drama

The Retrospectives this year will focus on Buster Keaton, one of the greatest comedians ever in the history of cinema and Miklos Jansco, the Hungarian auteur.

Malayalam Cinema Today section has Vidooshakan directed by Santhosh T.K., Jalamsam by M.P. Sukumaran Nair, Alif by N.K. Muhammed Koya, Oralpokkam by Sanalkumar Sasidharan , Calton Towers directed by Salil Lal Ahamed, Njan directed by Ranjith and 1983 directed by Abrid Shine.

Competition section

IFFK proclaims its signature in an ideological investment in films from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in the process seeking to highlight fundamental aspects of Third Cinema and its aesthetics that is so entwined in socialist politics and a resistance to monopoly capital.

The competition section has films from Asian, African and Latin American nations including two films each from Iran ( Oblivion Season directed by Abbas Rafei and The Bright Day by Hossein Shahabi) and Morocco (Tala Hadid’s The Narrow Frame of Midnight and They are the Dogs by Hicham Lasri). December 1 directed by P Sheshadri, Devashish Makhija’s Oonga, Sajin Baabu’s Asthamayam Vare and Sidhartha Siva’s Zahir will contribute to the Indian presence in the section. 

One for the Road by Jack Zagha Kababie (Mexico), Refugiado by Diego Lerman (Argentina), Summer, Kyoto by Hiroshi Toda (Japan), The Ant Story by Musharraf Ali Farooqi (Bangladesh), The Man of Crowd by Marcello Gomez (Brazil) and A Girl at My Door by Julie Jung will all add to the thrill of variety.

Opening film

As the curtain rises on the 19th edition of the IFFK with the opening film Dancing Arabs directed by Eran Riklis, which tells the tale of a Palestinian boy who gets a scholarship to an Israeli school, one will be reminded of cinema’s strange travels, the way it spreads roots in alien lands, the multiple maps of its aesthetics and the unique flavours of its geopolitical orientations.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 4:35:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/its-carnival-time-again/article6679413.ece

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