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Pans & Tilts
International Film Festival of India
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Correspondent
International Film Festival Of India (IFFI) is India's oldest and most prestigeous film festival.

If there is one venue in India that really celebrates cinema other than Bollywood, it is the annual International Film Festival at Panaji in Goa. This year's 39th edition, which ended recently, screened some remarkable movies. "Tulpan" from Kazakhastan pictured the traditional lifestyle of nomadic sheep herders. In a quiet sensational drama, Sergey Dvortsevoy never shows the title character, Tulpan. But it is through her suitor, Asa (recently discharged from the Russian Navy), that we find about Tulpan. Ironically, here again, Asa himself only sees her eyes as the curtains that hide her part for a second. The captivating scenes of the desert region's sandstorms add to the allure of "Tulpan," which clinched the Festival's top Golden Peacock Award.

Reaching the deeper crevices of human emotions, Taiwan's Ang Lee weaves his period piece, "Lust Caution" that tells us through rough sex the story of a beautiful Chinese woman asked to kill a Japanese collaborator in the Shanghai of 1942. Marked by brilliant performances (especially by Tony Leung) and excellent cinematography, the film is quite a departure from Lee's earlier works ("Brokeback Mountain" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Beyond the disturbing episodes of violence, "Lust Caution" paints the pain of a woman torn between her love for a traitor and loyalty for her nation.

We see such dilemma in China's sweet and sad drama of a mining family by first-time helmer Zhang Chi in "The Shaft." The work is a classic example of how restrain translates into powerful narrative. Set in a depressing little village amid the awesome mountains of western China, the movie documents the "other" side of a country where ordinary people have clearly missed the bus to post-Communist capitalist goodies. Essentially the story of a young woman, caught between her lover and a promising life in the city, and her brother, whose poor grades dash his hopes of a life other than one in the coal mines, "The Shaft" is pure cinema, marked by strong visuals and minimal dialogue.

There were two outstanding Indian films. Priyadarshan's "Kanchivaram" and Adoor Gopalakrishnan's "A Climate for Crime." The first in Tamil is a compelling story of Kanchivaram silk weavers knitted through the tragic life of a family that dared to look beyond the bondage of looms. Set in the 1920s India, it narrates the tragic tale of a weaver whose dream to dress his new bride in the silk sari that he weaves and, later, to see his daughter in such finery is shattered by the exploitative mechanism of middlemen and rich loom owners. Tamil actor Prakash Raj adds depth to the work through his characterisation of the doomed silk weaver.

Adoor's "A Climate for Crime" is yet another period piece, which happens in the 1940s Travancore, a princely State that is now part of Kerala. Freely adapting four short stories of the Jnanpith Award winning Malayalam writer, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Adoor tells us how the war-time shortages of essentials, especially food, drive the poor to crime. However, for every one who commits a crime there is another to counter or check it. In the first episode, a young son's valiant attempt to reform his thieving father is narrated with rare poignancy. In the second, two policemen's nefarious ways are questioned by a senior officer, though in both stories do-gooders fail. The last segment is perhaps the most interesting (though it has little to do with shortages), when two men in love with the same woman come to blows, provoking a riot of sorts in the village. The jail sentence that both serve together helps them realise that they have been taken for a ride by the woman. Indeed a master movie by a master craftsman.



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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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