“Let’s go to the other side. The view is much better there” – the haunting line from Cold War which aptly encapsulates the rocky journey of Wiktor & Zula entangled in a mad, complicated and passionate love story. Cold War is a Polish drama film and in the normal course of events, foreign language films come to India only through the film festival route. Of course, they are later accessible via online streaming platforms. But some of these movies demand that they be seen on the biggest screens one can find. And this is the reason why I love attending MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival) every single year. What a privilege it was to watch some beautiful films on the big screen! The 2018 lineup was exceptional and I am going to tell you why you shouldn’t miss the following films that I caught at MAMI this year.
Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski
Since I began my post with Cold War, I might as well tell you why I am so moved by this film. Cold War is a decade spanning love story with many layers, jarringly flawed characters, where every emotion is about love. Set in the desolate Europe post-WWII, it is a tragic story of two artistes whose time in history makes it impossible for them to be with each other. The film is made in black and white, depicting the gloomy mood in Poland at that time. I wouldn’t say this is a highly political film but politics did have a hand in shaping and destroying their love story. The movie does not have a background score or soundtrack but there are songs arranged by Marcin Masecki – which will take the viewer from rural Poland to the jazz clubs of Paris. Through its music, Cold war offers hope and escape which at times, we all need to rely on. The music digs deep into history and uncovers different nuances between the lovers – Wiktor, who’s a pianist and Zula, who’s a singer. The movie is just as much about music as it about love, destruction and the idea of finding a place in an ever-changing world. Interestingly, Cold War is inspired by Pawlikowski’s parents. He described them as “the most interesting, dramatic characters I’ve ever come across. Both strong, wonderful people but as a couple.. a never-ending disaster”.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Directed by: The Coen brothers – Joel and Ethan Coen
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the film I loved the most at this year’s MAMI. It’s made of six short films with nothing obviously connecting them, except for maybe a running theme of how funny, absurd and unfair death can be. The movie centres on various American Western archetypes. The first film tells the story of a happy-go-lucky outlaw named ‘Scruggs’ who sings through a town and shoots at the drop of a hat. The second film is about a man who robs a bank and gets punished for it in a hilarious manner. Up till now, the movie is layered with dark comedy – it makes you laugh, commanding cheers, whistles and applause from a packed house of audience. The movie takes a slightly different turn from the third story onwards which depicts a frightening tale of a handicapped (legless and armless) actor and his manager who travel to different towns every night to perform and earn their ‘meal ticket‘. The fourth and fifth films get you thinking about the meaning of existence and from this point on, it just gets more haunting. The final segment takes place inside a coach where a group of strangers are heading to a common destination. At this point, I remember turning to my friend next to me in the theatre and telling him that I almost feel claustrophobic now. And that’s exactly what the Coen brothers wanted us to feel – sitting a theatre with a bunch of strangers almost coming to the end of a mysterious movie. Well, I won’t risk revealing anything more. All I can say is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is possibly one of the most enjoyable and engaging films you’ll see this year.
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
Roma derives its name from the neighbourhood, director Alfonso Cuaron grew up in the ’70s. It depicts the world of Cuaron’s childhood and tells the story of his nanny, Cleo, who got pregnant out of wedlock. Set during momentous days of unrest in 1970 Mexico City, we are introduced to a well-to-do middle class family and Cleo, the live-in-maid who cleans the house, cooks and looks after the children. She is loved by the four children in the family. The film depicts pressing issues within country, in the family and even on a personal level for Cleo. The children do not know that their father is leaving their mother for another woman. But these are no spoilers. Roma isn’t just about the story of what really happens but it’s more about how it happens and how it completely involves us, the audience every second. I was in that world. This is the second film I watched at MAMI that’s devoid of any colour, made in black-in-white… echoing elements of the French New Wave. The movie has a strong female focus – Cleo is strong, positive and compassionate but vulnerable and helpless at the same time. Sofia, the mother of four, is an equally courageous woman who has questionable driving skills but knows how to really hold the family together when it’s time for her to step up and take responsibility. All in all, Roma pays a tribute to the women who raised Cuaron. It’s a very personal film.
Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Shoplifters tells the story of a family of petty thieves – there is a man, a woman, an elderly woman, a teenage girl, a little boy and a little girl, all living in a tiny apartment. Money is tight, they struggle to make their ends meet yet everyone seems to be happy in the cramped flat which is piled with crumpled clothes and cartons everywhere. The only big secret here is that none of them are related to each other. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda throws us in a space where we are forced to reflect on where we belong and who belongs to us. The main characters are flawed – they are dishonest and haven’t obviously done the most ‘socially responsible’ things. But then we see their warmth and love for each other – that’s what connects them and it’s hard to believe that they are not related. Or are they? Well, there are some overwhelming moments that will steal your heart. A line in the film which goes like, “you don’t get to choose your own family but family is still a choice that you have to make over and over again, each and every day”. The ending breaks your heart but it makes you think hard about relationships.
Directed by: Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is funny and disturbing at the same time. It is a true story of detective Ron Stallworth, a young black police officer in Colorado Springs who infiltrated the KKK in the late 1970s. When Stallworth joins the police department, he faces harassment as some of his fellow police officers are openly racist. Things take a turn when his boss lets him go undercover and he basically makes fool of the KKK. BlacKkKlansman is funny, fast-paced and never for once loses you. My favourite scenes were the undercover scenes involving the Jewish cop trying to get a KKK membership. But apart from being a funny crime drama, the movie obviously questions white supremacy and is a conversation starter, on many levels for many things that are happening in US right now. Even though this story is set in 1970s, it is really about America in 2018. Having said that, there’s a fine line between perspective and propaganda. In some parts, I felt the movie had an agenda to show how KKK and white supremacy is dangerous to Black Americans and Jewish Americans. I was a little uncomfortable with that because it looked a bit too extreme. But as a movie, it’s well-crafted and entertaining.
Created by: Karan Anshuman, Puneet Krishna
And finally, I got a chance to watch the first 2 episodes of Mirzapur, a web-series on Amazon Prime. It’s a story about a mafia don of Mirzapur crossing paths with an honest lawyer and his two sons. Well it’s got a stellar cast like Pankaj Tripathi, Vikrant Massey, Ali Fazal and Shweta Tripathi. It’s gripping in parts (like the end of the first episode) but overall, I didn’t really enjoy the show as much. Maybe because I had a lot of expectations after seeing the promo. The show felt very pretentious – a little bit of Sacred Games, a little bit of Gangs of Wasseypur – mixed together to present a very mediocre show. The dialogues seemed like I’ve heard them before. Some of the scenes seemed very familiar, trying to ape an Anurag Kashyap filmmaking style. It just didn’t seem original. The actors didn’t seem to be in their best form except for Tripathi. There wasn’t consistency in their characters, writing was weak and the story flow too predictable. Of course I am judging the show just by the first 2 episodes. Maybe the remaining episodes are better but unfortunately, I don’t think I will watch the other episodes.
So yes – this was my MAMI 2018 experience. I wanted to see more films from the Indian section but given how quickly they were getting booked, I thought I’ll wait for them to release here in India. At least I still have a chance to catch them on the big screen. But I wouldn’t have been able to see the foreign language films in the theatres here, anytime soon. So I prioritized those over the Indian ones. I’ve heard good things about Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota, Bulbul can sing and Rajma Chawal. Hoping to see those in the coming months! Let me know if you were at MAMI this year and if you have seen any of the above films/series I reviewed above. I’d love to hear your views. And once again, thank you MAMI for the chance to discover great films, listen and learn at panels, meet filmmakers and just get inspired!
Till my next post!