Short reviews by Prarthana Mitra
This was an eventful month for our jury at Cult Critic as we rummaged through submissions looking for our monthly award-winners – films that are audacious in form and content, breaking aesthetic barriers and preconceived notions about cinema.
Alongside filmmakers who showcased at our in-house festivals – Cult Critic Movie Awards and Calcutta International Cult Film Festival – we present you the winners of our sister festivals Virgin Spring Cinefest, L’Age d’Or International Film Festivals, Mahul Woods International Film Festival and Druk International Film Festival in this monthly report. Sit back and enjoy a brief glimpse into some extraordinary, visionary, and truly revolutionary work by filmmakers across the globe – all in one platter.
Flux of Life by Mimi Garrard, US
Genre: Experimental, Short
Flux of Life is an experimental performance arts video directed by Garrard and performed by dancer Sarah Daley and composer Jonathan Melville Pratt. Garrard, a dancer herself, draws from nature, still photography, and meditation. All her influences come together in an abstract synthesis in this piece that took away CCMA’s Outstanding Achievement Award in the Postmodern Films category in July.
The film while being wildly reminiscent of Wim Wenders’ experimental take on Pina Bausch’s life and career (Pina), also matches up to the visionary use of the dance form in Paul Thomas Anderson and Thom Yorke’s subversive Anima.
The routine is based in a hall of mirrors-esque setting, with a psychedelic backdrop that depicts the karmic chart of life, death and rebirth and everything in between. The circuitous nature of existence and multiplicity play an important role in this cosmic dance-drama. Cyclical motifs, repetitive motions, and ephemeral graphics further exacerbate the feeling of being lost, alone and puny in this universe.
Buried Seeds by Andrei Severny, US
Genre: Documentary, Biography
US-based filmmaker Andrei Severny’s documentary on Vikas Khanna, renowned Michellin Star Chef with an immigrant backstory is winning hearts all over the world. Khanna is a celebrated figure both in India and abroad and this film is an attempt to trace his roots and unearth the buried seeds of his childhood. In doing so, it presents ethnic cuisine as a bridge between cultures and Khanna as an agent of cultural transfer.
The process of how the film came together is interesting as well. In Severny’s own words, “When Vikas came to our photo studio in New York in 2015, I didn’t know I was doing a portrait of a chef that had become a legend in India. I quickly noticed the intense creativity that manifested in everything he did and every word he said. Vikas continued to return for more photos. Each time he would tell me a little bit of his life story. It was a story of a man destined to travel outside of his troubled native land and arrive at the largest melting pot in the world. It was a story of a child in pursuit of his dream. It was a story I knew. ”
Both men’s have had troubled trysts with their native land (India and Russia) which seems to have pushed them into each other’s orbits, resulting in a synthesis of shared empathy with the migrant condition. In more ways than one, Buried Seeds is the perfect embodiment of the American Dream. It tips a hat to Khanna for the resolve and passion with which he overcame his disabilities and disadvantages. Severny’s intimate portrait of the Khanna’s remarkable journey is the film’s biggest strength but it is this unique yet universal rags-to-riches story that makes for a compelling watch.
Gone Kesh by Qasim Khallow, Indian
Genre: Drama, YA
Qasim Khallow has been drawing praise from all quarters for his heartwarming debut feature Gone Kesh, a tale of conquering fear, demolishing preconceived notions of beauty and exploring a healthy relationship between parents and children in contemporary India.
Starring Shweta Tripathi in the leading role, the film is a hair-splitting account of a common but underrepresented medical condition called alopecia that plagues men and women alike. It follows the central character, a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, through her trials and tribulations in coming to terms with the fact that she will be bald soon. It takes an incisive look at the cultural importance our society attaches to a woman’s hair and how it goes on to shape her body image. Although she finds temporary solutions, she soon realizes that time isn’t on her side and feels what’s remaining of her teenhood slipping away. But Khallow makes sure that the tone of the film never wavers from light-hearted comedy. And yet, it is peppered with moments of pathos and poignancy, bringing tears to your eyes and making you smile at the same time.
Co-starring Vipin Sharma, Deepika Amin, and Jitendra Kumar, Khallow portrays social stigma syndrome through her struggle with alopecia. The film essentially depicts Enakshi’s personal quest to find a way to live with dignity despite her disability and has been well-received by critics and audiences since its theatrical release in February.
Catakah – To Revive An Old World by Somapriya Bose, India
Genre: Documentary, Short
Catakah is a very timely and topical film that looks at man-made climate change through the crisis faced by the declining sparrow population across the world. Subtitled “To Revive An Old World”, Kolkata-based documentary filmmaker Somapriya Bose presents a very well-researched and well-shot video testament on the matter that has acquired global concern of late.
It kicks off with a narrative and fits in testimonies by experts and enthusiasts like M Shafat Ulla and Dr. Ranganayaki Srinivas, ornithologists like Dr. V Vasudeva Rao, who weigh in on the threats and impact of this decline. These are presented alongside idyllic footage of sparrows in their natural habitat set to diegetic as well as non-diegetic sounds.
Just like bees, endangered sparrows too are an indicator of degenerating environmental health.
The film seeks to primarily explore the reasons behind the disappearance of the species, that were a common sight in Indian cities and villages even a few years back but have become a rarity today. Somapriya’s work also outlines the grave dangers and consequences of this decline, and initiates a dialogue on eco-political and individual efforts we must make for the sake of humanity.
The Alliance by Robert L Butler, US
The Alliance was a favorite among the LIAFF jury for its interesting juxtaposition of an old-school gangster narrative and a uniquely contemporary visual style.
American filmmaker Robert Butler weaves a nail-biting thriller that takes a look into the brotherhood and betrayals in the drug trade we are so familiar with but he does it with a novelty of practice you cannot shake off. The feature focuses on four former drug rivals in the US, four decades after they’d laid conflicting matters to rest and shook on a truce. But this peace is disturbed by the mysterious and unprecedented death of one of the members.
Over the course of the film, the inner dynamics of the group is gradually revealed as Butler’s screenplay shifts from one surviving rival to another, exploring and negotiating their motivations in ordering a hit on their comrade. Secrets from the past and the ghosts of the future come out of the woodwork while chaos and clarity descend soon after.
But Butler’s exciting pace makes the wait for the final showdown/climax worth it. Also worth mentioning is the use of handheld jerky camera movements to capture frames dripping with rich colours and theatrical performances by stock characters. Kali’s soundtrack, further escalating the tension, fits the film like a glove and has rightfully earned him an award too.
Bozkir Look At The Birds by Mehmet Tanrisever, Turkey
Genre: Drama, Western
With four successful films under his belt, Turkish filmmaker Mehmet Tanrisever returns with Bozkir Look At The Birds to depict a harrowing tale of human aspirations, honour, crime, guilt, and ostracisation set in rural Turkey.
Having witnessed a disgraceful incident involving his former comrade’s wife, Abdullah, who is a man driven by his lofty moral principles, feels driven to kill his close friend and business partner, Cripple Ziya. For this, he goes to prison but later recants his confession and eventually escapes unbearable captivity. Tanrisever deftly carves the film into these two halves, before and after the crime, tracing the suspense of what’s in store for Abdullah and if he deserves the justice that’s coming for him.
In the first half, the film indulges in folk humour in the style of a western: Abdullah and Ziya are gun dealers; they have starkly different world views and ambitions. At one point, Abdullah tells his friend that the only thing that matters is one’s heart. To salvage Ziya’s heart of darkness, he kills him. By the end, when his own world comes crashing down, Abdullah is unable to reconcile with losing everything he’s held dearly. Tanrisever’s film examines if that has been worth it. In the process, it offers a fresh perspective human sin, justice and conscience.