The second day of the 2019 MAMI Mumbai Film Festival was one disrupted by rains and clogged traffic around Andheri, the busiest hub of the festival. Yet, even the elements of nature couldn’t deter determined cinephiles who turned up in scores for screenings across the city’s seven venues.
My day was a light one, with just two movie screenings to attend. And while a film about a covert CIA operation seemed to have little to do with a man and his dog meandering about a deserted Indian ghost town, it was rather uncanny how threads connecting the two films emerged organically.
Screenwriter Scott Z Burns directs his second feature, which is set against a setup that he has extensively explored in his previous screenplays; a pacy conspiracy thriller with sharp characters combating terrible true events.
In The Report, we follow Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) who uncovers horrendous details about the immoral and illegal treatment of prisoners by the CIA following 9/11. As Jones investigates further, he unearths a cesspool of brutality and corruption, coated by the shiny veneer of Washington politics. Once we learn about the true scale of the abuse, the stomach churns, the mind feel sick, and the soul is crushed.
Burns is particularly efficient in conveying information visually as opposed to conventional exposition, which films such as these are burdened with. As the director expertly navigates a non-linear timeline of events, we jump between key moments from Jones’ investigation. Every breadcrumb is lead, informing the viewer with a new piece in the jigsaw. And then there are some that are simply roadblocks. A good mix of the two keep the film’s screenplay engaged and pacy.
But the film’s true impact is felt thanks to a stellar performance from Adam Driver. Driver imparts a silent, rather reserved sincerity to Dan which simmers just beneath the surface and explodes in the face of injustice. It’s a compelling performance by an actor who is consistently outperforming himself with every new film.
This depiction of a lone man facing off against the massive machinery of the state was captured from a different perspective by Siddharth Tripathy in his film A Dog and His Man, my second screening of the day.
Making his feature film debut with a restrained, almost meditative chronicling of the last man standing in a desolate village, Siddharth Tripathy carves a fascinating portrait of resilience through his rigid protagonist. Set in the Indian hinterland, where an entire community is displaced after it is discovered to be a bedrock of rich coal reserves, the film does not wrestle with the morality of these actions. Instead it chooses to focus on simply observing the sole man who wouldn’t vacate the village along with his canine companion.
A Dog and His Man follows its listless protagonist with a laidback keenness. Tripathy finds inventive compositions to frame the aimless meanderings of the old man. But despite that, his singular odyssey seems detached and lack the nuanced realism that a story like this needed.
The Report follows a man dead-set against compromising his ideals, even in the face of insurmountable odds, a sentiment which could possibly also be attributed to A Dog and His Man, but that would afford the latter an urgency and drive which it doesn’t quite posses. It is happy in just enjoying the lull in its atmosphere and content with staying put in its place, even as the world blows up around it.