Monday, May 23, 2016

Isabelle Huppert Wins Over Cannes in 'Elle'

CANNES: Isabelle Huppert plays the lead in Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Elle’, an undefinable, complex role of a woman you would love to hate but cannot. She has you eating out of her hand with every glance, lift of eyebrow, caustic remark, and wishing that all women had her self-assured, indestructible spirit.

You wonder at yourself. Is this the way to talk of the subject of a violent rape? And can you actually laugh and chortle as the story unfolds? In Paul Verhoeven’s teasing and tantalising hands, heightened by Huppert’s audacious effrontery and some of the wittiest tongue-in-cheek throw-away dialogue, this is the racy story of a victim who unquestionably cannot be quelled. She is the victor, start to finish.

With this film Paul Verhoeven returns to the screen after six years. It also marks his debut in French, he has made earlier films in English and, of course, Dutch. ‘Elle’ is Philippe Djian’s fifth novel to be adapted to the big screen. Verhoeven’s ‘Basic Instinct’ opened the 1992 Cannes, the film that made Sharon Stone an overnight star.

The film follows Michèle Leblanc (Huppert) who lives alone in a large two-storeyed house in an upper crust suburb of Paris. With her best friend Anna as partner, she runs a successful video game design firm with an iron hand. As the film starts the credits give way to sounds of a man and a woman, of a prolonged and violent struggle between them.

We see Michèle lying flat on her dining-room floor being sexually attacked by a burly man dressed in black with a sky mask over his head and face. As he disappears through a window, although bruised and bleeding, Michèle calmly recovers and takes a slow, pensive bath. She does not go to the police because we realise that her tragic past does not let her connect with law enforcement. A forlorn and sad picture of her as a child is shown when her father, some 30 years back, was served a life sentence for killing many children and adults and burning down his neighbourhood. In the film, Michèle describes this phase in detail but with a pat nonchalance that is discomfiting. It says a lot for the steely second skin and pert, almost cheery, character she has developed.

Michèle is surrounded by couples she finds distasteful. Her weak and well meaning son has a blonde mistress who is bearing a child which clearly is not his. Michèle’s ex-husband is a failed writer who takes to young girls who flatter his academic side. She coldly and assertively sleeps with her best friend’s husband Robert when the whim strikes her. She has an eye on the handsome banker living opposite, married to an avid follower of the Christian faith. Most of all, she abhors her mother (veteran actress Judith Magre) who has affairs with men half her age. On her deathbed, she asks Michèle to visit her elderly and ailing father in prison. Ironically, her intended tryst makes him hang himself, which she blandly accepts as a triumph.

All these relationships and most of all, Michèle’s attacker who reappears, allow for ironic, amusing insights into the weird ways of this upper-class set of people. They also serve to sustain the continuing suspense, which is unveiled two-thirds into the film, on who the rapist could be. When Michèle does find out, she does not take revenge in the way one would expect. She does it her own, ingenious way.

Huppert in this role commands compelling admiration, her head held high, walking steadfast and unfalteringly, with her never-say-die attitude. Most of all, she mocks everything and everyone, including herself. It is impossible not to side with this sharp-as-steel woman.

This incomparable actor has had the most films (16) in the Cannes' official competition, and has won Best Actress twice -- for ‘Violette’ (1978) and ‘The Piano Teacher’ (2001). She is also the most nominated actress for the Cesar Award (14 times) and has won it once, for La Cérémonie (1995).

Paul Verhoeven juggles with his convoluted plot and his collection of actors expertly and every which way, which brings a light touch to the film. Even so, there is hope that Huppert will win a well deserved third Best Actress award.

Courtesy:  - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014. Reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

Kino Lorber launches distribution label for South Asia

Kino Lorber a leader in independent art house distribution for over 30 years is now launching a theatrical distribution label, Silk Road Cinema, dedicated to award-winning arthouse films from India, Pakistan and the rest of South Asia. Designed to drive Asian cinema in the US, the label will release films throughout North America in theatres and all home media.

Kino Lorber releases about 25 films per year under its various banners, their films have received five Oscar nominations in the past seven years, and also brings out over 100 titles annually to the home entertainment sector on all major platforms. 
The US distributor is partnering with New York and Mumbai-based independent director-producer Shrihari Sathe to curate the collection and collaborate on distribution strategy. Silk Road Cinema will release approximately six titles a year, in all media, starting with five titles acquired from 3 Monkeys, the international film group operated by Shrihari Sathe and Alan McAlex. 

These include Afia Nathaniel’s ‘Dukhtar’ and Geetu Mohandas’ ‘Liar’s Dice’, which were Pakistan and India’s submissions respectively to the 87th Academy Awards; ‘1000 Rupee Note’, directed and produced by Sathe; Avinash Arun’s ‘Killa', which won a Crystal Bear at Berlin in 2014; and award-winning drama ‘Harud', directed by Aamir Bashir.

Richard Lorber and Shrihari Sathe first met when Mr. Lorber was a juror at the South Asian International Film Festival, where two of the films controlled by Sathe were awarded major prizes. Sathe, also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and a member of the Producers Guild of America, Indian Motion Picture Producers Association and Film Writers Association (India), will be actively seeking new South Asian titles at Cannes Film Festival along with the Kino Lorber team. 

Kino Lorber will handle the theatrical releases for the Silk Road Cinema acquisitions, under the direction of Wendy Lidell, the company’s head of theatrical distribution who will also be in Cannes. Eventually all the titles will be available through Kino Lorber’s wide network of distribution platforms in the VOD, educational, home video and ancillary markets, both in North America and for certain titles worldwide.

“As a festival juror for South Asian films, my eyes were opened to the sophistication and originality of many talented emerging filmmakers who have been overshadowed by cliché driven dominance of Bollywood,” commented Richard Lorber.
“These locally rooted art house films have global emotions and via Kino Lorber’s established distribution network we plan to bring these films to audiences hungry for content from both emerging and established filmmakers” added Sathe.

- Rutwij Nakhwa

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sean Penn's The Last Face Flattened by Critics, Iran Saves the Day In Cannes

CANNES: The big films at Cannes are programmed at the beginning and middle. But some, ready only towards the tail-end, unexpectedly introduce a cinematic gem that energises the ebbing proceedings. So far, although many films have appealed and pleased, not one has created the fevered debate that, say, Lars von Tier’s ‘Dancer in the Dark’, screened at Cannes in 2000 did — when a majority vociferously rooted for it — and it won the Palme d’Or. 

Quite the contrary, this year the touted films prior to closing have been sorely disappointing. The high expectations of celebrated firebrand actor-turned director Sean Penn’s latest film ‘The Last Face’, had the overfull audience squirming from the start, an outburst of laughter at the banal opening title cards, one saying that the film was a love story “of a man”, followed by another saying, “… and a woman”. Guffaws followed as the maudlin, sugary dialogue between the couple washed away any meaning the film could have. Penn’s sincere feelings for the massacre of Africans by all and sundry also seemed too studied and manipulated. The critics have pilloried the film.

It has been almost ten years since Sean Penn directed his last feature ‘Into the Wild’ and 15 years since he came to Cannes with his own film ‘The Pledge’. This time Penn shows us an unpalatable mix of a horrific war-torn Liberia and a teenaged sugary romance between the director of an international aid organisation (Charlize Theron) and a relief-aid doctor (Javier Bardem). Although both care deeply about their mission to save lives, their differing attitudes and opinions constantly tell on their relationship. However the staged and stolid acting contains not an iota of any charisma between the two and so the whole large-scale exercise to bring the world’s attention to a very real heart-rending issue is whittled away.

Sean Penn is said to have been in a (now ended) relationship with the lead actress. An unkind critic said that she must have broken it off with him when she saw the rushes of this film.

A glitzy, glamorous female driven film invited anticipation, as did Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon’, but this trite, trendy morality fable also bombed with the audience after the first ten minutes. The film, a kinky, surrealist horror, is set in the competitive modelling glamour world of Los Angeles, a city that symbolises everything that is superficial.

Here, where three willowy women take umbrage over the glowing, angel-like beauty of a 16 year old arriving fresh from Georgia to the sinful excesses of LA. They take their revenge when she is preferred over them by the leaders of fashion. Despite its unusual high baroque visuals and women of fashion parading all over its lurid and neon-lit scenes, all of them toweringly thin and menacing, they are stiff and dull as the dead the bodies they prey on.

The film tries to infuse the aura of Mephistopheles, Faust, Dracula but fails completely. Besides, what is also disturbing is the misogynist angle to the film that sees women as superficial, murderously competitive and dangerously deviant.

However the evening screening of another competitive entry brought the festival back on track, with a film of high quality – ‘Forushande’ (The Salesman) by Iranian director Asghar Farhadin (who made the unforgettable ‘A Separation’). He continues his exploration of the dark side of the soul, using a traumatic assault to trigger a young husband’s uncontrollable thirst for revenge.

The film is set mainly around a young married couple, Emad and his wife Rana, who are stage actors and part of Teheran’s cultural community. The film opens on their rehearsal of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer-winning play Death of a Salesman, staged in Farsi, with Emad playing Willy Loman and Rana playing his wife Linda. The play is eventually performed under a big neon sign advertising gambling and booze, to a rapt audience.

The drama on stage then moves to their life at home. The couple are forced to shift to a new spacious apartment where the previous tenant, who they learn was a prostitute (described in the film as woman with many acquaintances) with a small child, who never gets down to removing all her belongings that she has packed into one room.

One fateful night, the young wife takes her bath while leaving the door open for her husband about to return home. He finds her lying unconscious on the bathroom floor with her face and head covered in blood. With this, the husband becomes obsessive about finding out who attacked his wife clearly with intention to molest her. The wife refuses to inform the police fearing public gossip and shame. She is totally unnerved by this incident, unable to stay alone at home and bitter about her husband’s lack of concern. Their relationship turns violent.

The film sees the slow transformation of a friendly, likeable and calm man into a cold, indifferent and cruel human being.

The director has been quoted as saying, “As in my previous films, ‘Forushande’ addresses how social challenges can propel the downfall of people.”

(Cover photo: Still from Iranian film Forushande (The Salesman) directed by Iranian director Asghar.

Still from the movie The Last Face directed by Sean Penn
Courtesy:  - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on 
January 27, 2014. Reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

Friday, May 20, 2016

"A Yellow Bird" Brings Singapore Director K Rajagopal Into Cannes Critics' Week

CANNES: Critics’ Week, created in 1962, has to be one of the smallest competitive sections at a festival. This key segment allows for only seven feature films which must be the first or second film of a director. Its objective is to highlight emerging talent from all over the world. 

This year, one of the seven competing films has a strong Indian connection, ‘A Yellow Bird’ from Singapore, directed by K Rajagopal. His grandfather migrated from Kerala to settle in Singapore, making him a third generation Singaporean. The film at its core is about a Tamil family dealing with separation and loss in a country made up largely of migrants who on the one hand cannot get on with each other and, on the other, are denigrated as lowly people by the regime and those in power.

‘A Yellow Bird’ revolves around the dark and stocky 38-year-old Siva Sudhakar, a Singaporean of Tamil origin, who is on parole after an 8-year sentence for smuggling contraband goods. He returns to his mother’s flat (Seema Biswas, surly and silent, but always a presence) to learn that his old bedroom has been rented out to migrant workers and worse, his wife and daughter (she was three when he was arrested) have left without a trace. His irate and disapproving mother refuses to acknowledge him. He then begins a furious search for his missing family. He hopes to bond with them and get back his flat to live in.

An urban vagabond, he finds work as a cymbal player in a funeral band. In his lonely journey, he finds Chen Chen, a Chinese woman working illegally as a prostitute. Her earnings pay for her family and daughter back home. Siva defends her from a lecherous band member. With this, the marginalised duo find comfort and safety in each other, even though they do not speak each other’s language. When he suddenly discovers his wife’s whereabouts, he confronts her only to discover a hideous truth about his daughter. The film stars local actor Siva Palakrishnan, the Chinese independent film star Huang Lu, and from India, Seema Biswas.

Rajagopal’s debt work is stringent, disciplined, sparse as it relentlessly describes the bleak half lives of migrant communities trying to make ends meet. This is not the spic and span, hygienic Singapore we know about. This film is set mostly in shanty areas where these poor outsiders live in crowded slums and or bare tenements. Here the migrants coming in from China, India, Sri Lanka and other places live cheek by jowl, unable to get on with each other. They hurl insults at each other and fight, which makes their precarious lives even more unstable. Living in poverty, they tend to take to crime. As migrants they feel alien and unwanted; as citizens they feel inferior to the local Malay. Overpowering insecurities eat into their human qualities and values.

The undercurrents of simmering racial tension and a need to connect with others comes through in Rajagopal’s film. The characters barely speak, looking searchingly into each other’s eyes, like hunted animals. The pacing is slow as the characters show their inability to communicate. Many languages are spoken in the film, Tamil is the one used by the main protagonists.

Earlier, at another packed screening, the documentary ‘The Cinema Travellers’ directed by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, also a debut work, showed a little-known and fading aspect of life in Maharashtra’s countryside. The well paced film is on the fast disappearing tent cinemas that tour the remote villages of this region, screening films for local villagers. Frame by frame this 96-minute film displays its love of the techniques that shape our cinema and also of the universal adulation and conviviality that this medium offers all people. Travelling cinemas peaked seventy-odd years ago and are now vanishing because of drought affecting the produce of these farming areas. Most of all, this film salutes all those behind the scenes who have the vision and stamina to take cinema to unlikely places. It is both a lament and a celebration. The film got a rousing reception with audiences applauding at length. ‘The Cinema Travellers’ is truly an archival treasure.

(PHOTOS: Cover picture still from A Yellow Bird Seema Biswas from A Yellow Bird Still from The Cinema Travillers)

Courtesy:  - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014. Reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Best Film ‘Highway’ directed by Umesh Kulkarni

Best Director Umesh Kulkarni for 'Highway'

Best Actor Rajit Kapoor  
and Best Actress Nina Gupta for 'Threshold' directed by Pushan Kripalani 

Best Child Actor Vedashree Mahajan for 'The Silence' directed by Gajendra Ahire 

Best Screenplay Ruchika Oberoi's 'Island City'

Best Documentary ‘Cities of Sleep’ directed by Shaunak Sen 

Best Short Film Daaravthadirected by Nishant Roy Bombarde 

Best One Minute Cell Phone Film ‘Bad Habit’