Film festivals are not for those with weak constitutions. This is especially true of MAMI, which after a point turns into a carousel of waiting in lines, frenetic taxi/rickshaw rides to other venues, and forcing horrible multiplex food down your throat. Who needs nutrition, really, especially if all you’re doing is sitting around and watching films all day? Right?
Well, I watched five films yesterday, which is the most I’ve ever done in a single day (I’m an amateur compared to some hardcore MAMI-ers, who do that all the time — don’t ask me how). At the end of the day, my brain felt scrambled as I tried to remember the plots of individual films with little success while my body tried its darndest to digest a sandwich that had definitely been synthesized in some seedy, run-down lab rather than a kitchen.
My day began with Rinku Kalsy’s documentary For The Love Of A Man, which premiered at Venice in September. An exploration of the fan frenzy that surrounds southern superstar Rajinikanth, it made for an entertaining watch that had much of the audience applauding and hooting along.
However, on a deeper level, I found that the film lacked objectivity and a true critical eye — why, for instance, was there no exploration of his comparatively minuscule female fan following, a possible by-product of the hyper-masculine roles he has often played in truly regressive films? By the end, the documentary ends up paying tribute to the man nearly as slavishly as his die-hard fans do, which to me is a bit of an opportunity lost.
A large chunk of the day then went into watching two out of three films from Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy — Aparajito and Apur Sansar — which have been restored recently. I last saw these films about ten years ago on a DVD with bad sound and horrible print. On Sunday, however, I think we must’ve seen the version that’s closest to what Ray must’ve intended. The print was clear and the sound had been cleaned up. It almost looked like we were watching a modern film.
The experience of watching Ray’s work is always cathartic for me, but never have I been so blown away by his technical prowess. The restored version’s biggest achievement is that it truly showcases how ahead these films were of their time.
Next up was The Brand New Testament, selected as Belgium’s entry to the Oscars this year. Jaco Van Dormael (Mr Nobody), known for his surreal imagery and cinematic obsession with death, helms this often-hilarious religious satire in which God is a nasty, brutish lout who lives in a middle-class Brussels apartment with his miserable family and his daughter Ea, whose point of view the film takes, wants to get back at him. The film is chock-full with audacious humour, beautiful frames, and impressive VFX. It’s more crowd-pleaser than art, but it was just what I needed at that point of the day.
Finally, I ended my day with the Dutch film Schneider Vs Bax, a bare-bones ‘Spy Vs Spy’ thriller peppered with lots of black humour that I didn’t mind, but couldn’t bring myself to love either. Maybe I was just tired. Or maybe it was because I failed to see why grown-ups were belly-laughing to things like a man tripping and falling face-first.
Or maybe, it’s what your brain does when it’s on sensory overload: it overcompensates.