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Pans & Tilts
Marrakech Int'l Film Festival Has Grown
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Correspondent
Robert De Niro

The Marrakech International Film Festival has grown in the five out of the eight years that I have been associated with it. In terms of selection, particularly. And why not, given the Festival Artistic Director, Bruno Barde's passion and penchant for cinema. He watches hundreds of movies before making his choice. Which at this recently concluded eighth edition was fairly impressive and in line with what last year's festival jury president, director Milos Forman, remarked about an ideal festival "offering a selection that gives the audience an international knowledge of cinema, centred around different cultures," Marrakech presented precisely this. A wide array of 120 films, including 32 in the official sections.

Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened," which opened the nine-day event, was a delightful spoof on the good times and bad times in Hollywood with that master actor, Robert De Niro, playing movie producer – steering through star tantrums and directorial diktats. It was hard to say whether it was De Niro's brilliant acting skills or Art Linson's clever screenwriting that made this film so funny and eminently watchable. But it sure did set the mood for the film roll that followed. Here are a few of the highs that got me drunk on a sheer cocktail of cinema.

Zhang Ch's Chinese entry, "The Shaft" was a sweet and sad drama of a mining family, one among the thousands, that depicts the other side of the nation which has clearly missed the bus to post-Communist capitalist goodies. The daughter in the family is torn between a new life, perhaps excitingly so, and her love that she has to leave behind. The son dreams of becoming a singer, the drudgery of dirt and dust as a miner horrifying him in a village that offers no other profession, and his father retires to get out of the darkness of the pit only to find himself facing another gloom. His wife is missing.

Double Silver Bear winner at Berlin ("Lost Embrace") Daniel Burman's "Empty Nest" from Argentina reminded me of Francois Ozon's "The Swimming Pool." At least the two movies have writers as protagonists who take off on a flight of fancy. Intensely psychological, the Burman work, which had a fantastic opening in Argentina and seems set for a fairly decent festival run, is a fascinating study of loneliness and a sense of loss, and how individuals learn to cope with these in different ways. Burman's hero, Leonardo is a rich and cultured playwright with a vivacious wife, Martha, and three children. But when the last of them, a girl, marries and leaves home, the parents find their nest empty, and an over powering sense of depression begins to grip them. The two seek different solutions. While Martha goes back to the university to study, and surrounds herself with friends, evoking a bit of suspicion and jealousy in Leonardo, he daydreams, the writer's psyche in him pushing him into a sexual fantasy with his young and attractive dentist. There is a brilliant twist in the end, as good as Ozon's, and yes, a question or two may perplex a viewer.

A moving film about coping with death and loss, Caroline Link's (2003 Oscar winner for "Nowhere in Africa") "A Year Ago in Winter" was a wonderful arthouse fare. Painting and poetry, music and melancholy breathe out of the frames in a smoothly crafted work that describes and dissects the angst of a Bavarian family. When the teenage son commits suicide, his mother commissions a painter to do the portraits of him and his elder sister, Lilli. So starts the central story, and as she begins her sessions and painter Max's canvas starts to come alive with colour, repressed feelings emerge. Each stroke of the brush draws the characters a little more out of their shells. There is tense underlying attraction between Lilli and Max, even as he grapples with a reawakening of heterosexual desire after his homosexual feelings for a man. Ultimately the artistic expression helps the players to get on to a path of emotional recovery. Lilli's parents split, and she herself is able to control her wild sexual passion.

Steve Jacobs captured in his "Disgrace" the black-white conflict through the eyes of a white Capetown university professor, David Lurie (John Malkovich), teaching romantic poetry. Lurie has this pathological, almost uncontrollable, desire for sex, and when this takes him to the bed of a coloured student, it can only spell disaster, particularly when the girl spills the beans to her boyfriend. Lurie is asked to resign, and he retires to his daughter Lucy's farm in the remote countryside. When she is raped by three black men, the attack leaves the father and daughter emotionally and physically broken.

Three works zeroed in on man-woman conflict. Ireland's "Eden," helmed by Declan Recks, studies how a marriage sours after a few monotonous years. Sean Baker's "Prince of Broadway" pushes an illegal black immigrant into a corner when his one-time girlfriend dumps presumably their child into his care leaving him to cope with fatherly duties that he is ill-suited for. In "Frozen River" (USA, by Courtney Hunt), a wife finds herself in deep trouble when her husband runs away with the money the couple had saved to buy a flat.



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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.

 

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