13th Mumbai Film Festival Roundup

The 13th Mumbai Film Festival offered blockbuster sneak-peeks, underground gems and a clash of festival circuit heavyweights. I sample the films that generated the most buzz at the event.

Host Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) had secured the promo-oriented Brad Pitt-starrer Moneyball as the opener. The baseball film, written by Aron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian boasts great performances from Pitt and particularly Jonah Hill, but is curiously vague about what precisely the titular revolutionary math-based analytical method was.

Generation P, a Russian film about a copywriter on the precipice of creative nirvana is a glorious, simulating film that boasts some terrific, provocative imagery and splendid acting. Packed with trippy philosophical metaphors, the film is guilty pleasure bursting with dark, outrageous material.

The Turkish thriller Monsters' Dinner is undeniably impressive indulgence. Director Ramin Matin's single-location, ferociously dehumanised dystopian satire builds a highly credible atmosphere of paranoia and intrigue. The only major fault with it is the Turkish actors speak in English — it distracts from the striking visuals as well as the tone.

The indie Another Earth is a brilliant, meditative film that makes for a phenomenal viewing. Made on a shoestring budget of $150,000, Mike Cahill's debut film stars writer-producer Brit Marling as a young woman who gets involved in an accident just moments before scientists discover a twin Earth. Miraculously, the riveting first half is bettered by the devastating climax that has you dissecting it long after you see it.

Michael, based on the true story of an Austrian man who kept a child locked in his basement, offers enough unsettling moments to make director Markus Schleiner's distinctive vision clear. His ability to make a twisted situation both credible and emotionally involving has no contemporary parallel. Michael Fuith as the lead delivers a phenomenally creepy performance that complements Schleiner's decision to steer clear of deliberate shock scenes.

The French silent film The Artist had been one of the most talked-about titles of the festival circuit, and it easily lives up to the hype. Jean Dujardin is extraordinary as a fading star dealing with the death of the silent film era.

The Slut is a well-observed and powerful drama, but it isn't an easy film to sit through. Set in rural Israel, director-star Hagar Ben Asher provides an unsettling portrayal of a voracious sex addict in a drama that ends with a very disturbing reveal.

In The Ides Of March, director George Clooney does a good job of unleashing serious political drama and concentrating on clarity rather than grandstanding. It is by no means flawless, but star Ryan Gosling carries it off in style.

Wim Wenders' dance film Pina lacks the punch of 3D docus like Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but its images are extraordinarily powerful. Wenders makes far better use of 3D than anything one has seen to date.

Tabloid is a sly and intriguing Errol Morris documentary about the strange adventures of a former beauty queen who travels across the globe, getting involved in abduction, Mormons and cloning just to find the man she loves. The content is terrific, and the gradual stripping off of her layers of artifice is highly affecting and artistically justified.

Dad Made Dirty Movies is an interesting if somewhat hagiographic documentary about legendary sexploitation filmmaker AC Stephen. The film essentially allows his family to ruminate at length about his quirky ideologies, his rise to fame and his sudden fall into obscurity.

Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty is a gripping, voyeuristic slow burn shocker that unfortunately betrays the subject matter at the climax. Star Emily Browning spends far too much time gazing into some imaginary distance, fingering her inner pain until it's worn thin.

In the Marathi film Deoul, young director Umesh Kulkarni (Vihir) pulls off some nice sequences in the first half. The middle third is rhythmically edited and often moving, but in the final act he tries to shoehorn so much material one barely gets to dip a toe anywhere before being whisked off somewhere else.

Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse is hard to love, but easy to respect. It is neither warm nor approachable, and contains very long, dialogue-less shots of potatoes, livestock, and decrypt imagery. It makes for a borderline hallucinogenic, bullishly fascinating watch.

Melancholia, Lars von Trier's follow-up to his acclaimed but divisive Antichrist, had some of the highest expectations coming into the festival, but fails to impress. The film is a pale shadow of its predecessor, neither as hypnotic, nor carrying an element of climactic surprise.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a film that sets itself up as a searing drama about a doctor, cops, grave diggers and two suspects who drive through rural Anatolia in a single night in search of a dead body. But the plain truth is it isn't searing at all — neither does it eviscerate the crime in the way most of the audience would like, nor does it summon up character machismo the way David Fincher's Zodiac did. However, the beautiful imagery makes for a haunting Kafkaesque landscape that's both moving and strange.

First published in The Hindu

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