Curtain Raiser: Must Watch Films at the 19th MAMI Film Festival
A still from <i>I Am Not a Witch.</i>
A still from I Am Not a Witch.(Photo courtesy: YouTube/BFI)

Curtain Raiser: Must Watch Films at the 19th MAMI Film Festival

You know what they say... give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give a movie geek a week long international film festival in his city and you inspire him for a year.

The Mumbai Film Festival is like Christmas for those who eat, drink and potty cinema. It’s kind of a full body Balinese massage with a happy ending for folks like us obsessed with everything that happens on the screen and behind it. The chance to be able to watch five world cinema titles a day for seven days is especially great relief for folks numbed down by week after week of the substandard Bollywood fare.

The 19th edition of the festival - often referred to as MAMI - has kick started with Anurag Kashyap’s boxing drama Mukkebaaz as the opening film. Monica Bellucci will be attending the festival as a guest of honour, apart from British filmmaker John Madden and Carlos Rygadas DOP Alexis Zabe as jury members.

Also See: MAMI Red Carpet- Aamir Khan Leads the Celebs From the Front

And if you stay in a different city, it’s time for you to start looking for a buddy with a spare room or a B&B to shack up for the week in Mumbai. And if you’re wondering which films to prioritise, we’ve got you covered. Follow this list of recommendations and book your tickets-

I Am Not a Witch

Dir: Rungano Nyoni

By far the film I’m most looking forward to watching at the fest, I Am Not A Witch is a satirical drama with an overarching horror theme. A young girl in an African village is accused of witchcraft and locked up in a cell full of purported witches. The film premiered at the Directors Fortnight to glowing reviews, with critics praising the bizarreness of the tone and an original filmmaking style to render social commentary. By the looks of it, this seems to be a crossover between a Ben Wheatley film and The Gods Must be Crazy.

The Square

Dir: Ruben Ostlund

Swedish filmmaker Ostlund shot to fame overnight with the extremely well made Force Majeure, and he also made headlines with a strange video of himself reacting to being snubbed at the Oscars.

Much like his film, the video skirted the lines between drama and self-aware satire, and by the looks of it, his new film The Square seems to be in a similar zone. The film, which is set in an escalating series of events at a museum won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It was a testament to Ostlund’s choice to do this film over the ill fated sci-fi drama Passengers. He’s one of the most exiting new filmmakers out there and I can’t wait to see what Ostlund has done in his sophomore feature.

Loveless

Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Zvyagintsev’s work can only be described as From Russia with Depression. His 2014 film Leviathan was not just one of the best films of the year but also so painfully depressing it took me a holiday in Goa to get over its depiction of the fragility of the human condition. Going by the reviews it seems like he’s back with yet another desolately triumphant (or triumphantly desolate) drama with an undercurrent of the state of things in Russia. The story chronicles an estranged couple bonding together to find their missing son, and the film nabbed the Jury Prize at Cannes earlier this year. Expect long waiting lines outside the halls screening this film.

Devil’s Freedom

Dir: Everardo González

Imagine a converse version of The Look of Silence – the documentary about people inciting violence meeting the victims of the violence. This documentary by Everardo Gonzalez is an interesting aesthetic choice, where the cameras chronicle the perpetrators of brutal kidnapping and torture in Mexico and the recipients of these inhuman conditions. There are various people in similar looking masks talking about the hell on Earth that is Mexico, and there are others who attempt to justify their actions. It’s not exactly a film you walk away with hope from, but it’s the kind of film one needs to watch to realize what we have become. The film has received universal acclaim since its premier in Berlin and only clocks 70 mins, which, considering the subject material might just be merciful for our hearts.

On Body And Soul

Dir: Ildikó Enyedi

Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi seems like the stereotypical film festival watch – leisurely paced, art house aesthetics, careful examination of human eccentricities, and our urban tendency to alienate each other, all seen through a quirky setup full of strange abstract imagery. The setup here is that two people begin to have the same dream every night and attempt to unravel what the heck is happening. The film won the Golden Bear at Berlin recently and is Hungary’s entry for the Oscars.

Thelma

Dir: Joachim Trier

My second favourite contemporary filmmaker (behind the great Denis Villeneuve) returns with yet another familiar story with surprisingly unconventional storytelling. A young girl in a Norwegian university begins to experience strange supernatural phenomenon, but soon realises that she may be a part of something bigger and scarier. Those who haven’t seen Trier’s previous films Reprise (a drama about two competing writers) and Oslo 31 August (melancholic rumination on drug addiction) should drop everything, watch those two films, and line up for Thelma. A filmmaker like Trier, who experiments with technique and constantly goes against the cinematic grain dealing with horror elements during what is clearly the golden era of art house horror is something to be vastly excited about.

The Florida Project

Dir: Sean Baker

It seems that filmmakers like Sean Baker will define the next generation of cinema considering how freaking good his iPhone-shot debut film Tangerine was, and the lustrous reviews his follow up film The Florida Project is getting. The setup is delightfully strange – an adventure with magic realism seen through the eyes of a group of children trying to cope with their parents struggling to survive. Continuing the tradition he built in his debut film, Baker has cast a lot of non actors in this film, and going by the buzz, we’re in for quite a treat. It’s going to be interesting to see the sympathetic father character played by Willem Dafoe – an actor typecast since the last two decades as an evil scumbag.

Beach Rats

Dir: Eliza Hittman

Beach Rats was selected at the prestigious Sundance screenwriters lab a couple of years ago and went on to score great reviews at the fest earlier this year. The film, which follows an aimless sexually confused young man trying desperately to fit in, much like last year’s Moonlight, has also been lauded for its impressionist style of storytelling with familial and social themes anchoring the protagonist’s journey into self-discovery. The cinematography in particular looks stunning, even if the other elements of the film seem to be antithesis of Call Me By Your Name.

Call Me By Your Name

Dir: Luca Guadagniono

Italian filmmaker Guadagnino (most known for the terrific I Am Love) returns to helm an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s critically acclaimed book by the same name. The buzz around the film has gone through the roof after its festival rounds this year at Sundance, Berlin and Toronto, with critics praising the sensitive direction, nuanced performances and rich cinematography. Since the film deals with a homosexual relationship, it will never see the light of the day in Indian theatres – so your best chance to see it will be to line up outside MAMI halls at least a couple of hours in advance.

City Of Ghosts

Dir: Matthew Heineman

Documentary filmmaker Heineman took us on a bone rattlingly brutal journey two years ago with the absolutely searing Cartel Land, an inside look at Mexican drug cartels and their gruesome ways of working. Heineman’s cameras getting so close to drug deals, beheadings and even shootouts was shocking to experience, and made shows like Narcos look like a Disney product. The film rendered so much discomfort the moment the end credits rolled one felt relieved that the film crew made it out alive. It seems like Heineman has taken things one step ahead by wading into ISIS for City of Ghosts. The film has predictably received universally acclaim and we can expect more frightening footage of humans destroying each other in terrible ways. It won’t be for the faint hearted, but it’s the kind of film that needs to be seen on the big screen.

Others:

MOTHER! – the new film from Darren Aronofsky, which seems be as divisive as The Fountain has made it to MAMI. Whether you’ll like it or not depends on your threshold of art house horror and the crazy third act.

GOOD TIME – a pulsating, heart stopping heist thriller in the vein of Michael Mann, starring Robert Pattinson as a bank robber planning a big one.

ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE – Hong Sang Soo returns with another meta film about filmmaking, starring his off screen lover Kim Min-hee, who won the acting accolades at Berlin.

LAST FLAG FLYING – It’s received mixed reviews at best, but it’s directed by Richard Linklater, which just might make it worth a watch.

STALKER – Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic 1979 film in a digitally remastered print on the big screen? Count me in.

India Gold:

SEXY DURGA – the controversial film that rendered death threats to Malayalam director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan finally arrives on the big screen.

Haramkhor director Shlok Sharma returns behind the cameras with ZOO, a film purportedly shot entirely with iPhones.

AJJI, directed by Devashish Makhija chronicles a grandmother out to avenge the death of her grandchild.

(Mihir Fadnavis is not only a film critic and journalist but also a certified film geek who has consumed more movies than meals.)

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