Solidarity and explicitness at the Berlin Film Festival
BERLIN: Last weekend, the 61st Berlin International Film Festival ended with an award ceremony and a set of Bears for the Iranian film‚ ‘Jodaeiye Nader az Simin’ (‘Nader And Simin, A Separation’). The film won the Golden Bear for Best Film and two Silver ones for Best Female and Male Actor ensembles.
The film surely deserves the prize, but the decision to award it is very political as well. Famous Iranian director, Jafar Panahi was member of this year’s festival jury. Since he has been sentenced to six years in prison last December, the six-member jury decided to maintain Panahi’s jury membership and included a couple of his films into the Festival. In doing so, the Berlinale joined many international filmmakers in solidarity with Panahi. The promotion of this political message may have been of equal benefit for the festival itself, as it guaranteed additional media coverage. In this, there is a similarity to last year, when director Roman Polanski received a Bear for ‘The Ghost Writer’ while being under house arrest.
Three Indian feature films and a British documentary were the only representation of South Asia at the festival that showcased more than 400 films.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ starring Priyanka Chopra and a selection of male actors, premiered at the Festival, but unlike last year when Shahrukh Khan was mobbed by the Berliners, there were no Bollywood stars walking down the red carpet. After highly acclaimed films like ‘Maqbool’ and ‘Omkara’ by the same director, ‘7 Khoon Maaf’ was a real disappointment. The film wants to tell a long story, or rather seven versions of one story, but there is no tension holding the plot together. Other the charming item song ‘Darrrrrling’, the film became ‘borrrring’ much too soon, even though both Naseeruddin Shah and Irfan Khan acted very well.
Another film I was looking forward to was, ‘Patang’ by Prashant Bhargava, which portrays a family conflict during the Basant (kite festival) in Ahmedabad, India. The setting was the city’s roof top terraces, under a sky filled with colourful kites dancing in the air. Unfortunately, this was captured by a shaky handheld camera that for me, took away some of its magic. This is unfortunate, because the film relies more on its visual impressions than it does on its story line.
But there were two films that were really stood out! ‘The Bengali Detective – a documentary on a private detective in Kolkata – by British filmmaker Phil Cox demonstrated that real life inspired stories lead to better scripts. The filmmaker follows the detective and his employees as they try to solve three different cases while at the same time, auditioning for a reality television dance competition. Experiencing private hardships and espionage challenges, the protagonist remains a very positive and strong character throughout. In the Q&A session Cox highlighted that this is what he had been aiming towards and did not want to make another sad film highlighting poverty in India.
The other film surely has been one of the most controversial ones of the whole festival. Set in Kolkata as well – the controversially-titled film directed by Kaushik Mukherjee or Q., and produced with the support of the Asian Dub Foundation – it portrays an angry young man and his escape from boredom. He is searching for friendship, musical expression and the physical aspects of love. With a radical black and white aesthetic, a soundtrack that was an amalgam of punk and rap music, a hyper energetic narrative and a strong visualisation of drug usage – it offended quite a few people who left halfway during the film. But it also left a striking impact on the others who decided to sit through it. The film leaves behind the conventional society often portrayed via films, and instead it gives a voice and a body to the silent and poor. The film appears to be very authentic in its liberating attempt.
In fact, this film is surely too radical to be released in both Pakistani and Indian cinemas, as it contains several pornographic scenes. The director pointed out that he wanted to make a film about the frustration of young men and that this frustration, for many, is sexual in nature. This honest concern might be one of the reasons, why the film is so much more than just a provocative title.
*Dawn.com is not responsible for content accessed via external links