Short reviews by Prarthana Mitra
This month, we bring to you a brand new winner’s circle comprising a diverse array of films from around the world. Our choicest picks for November include an eye-opening documentary on the surviving subcultures in Varanasi, an endearing animated film about one’s roots and old memories based in Sicily, a comedy sketch series pilot and a couple of family dramas from India, amongst others. Keep an eye out for other exciting reviews and interviews with several young filmmakers in the new issue.
TWO AS ONE – Carlo Stoppa (Italy)
Demystifying Varanasi for Indian and international viewers, Carlo Stoppa documents in Two As One the practice of Indian classical music as it lives on today. More than just entertainment, the genre has survived regimes and centuries, transmitting harmony and offering spiritual guidance to its practitioners who swarm to the riverine town to this day – drawn to the allure of the ragas.
Stoppa’s film addresses this relationship between man, music and God, in addition to revealing the unique music teaching and learning culture that has produced so many international acclaimed artists over the ages. Exploring the vibrant land of mystics and music, he specifically explores and investigates why westerners arrive in hordes to immerse themselves in this form of music training – regarded as religious and rigorous by experts. Testimonies of locals, students and some current maestros offer up relics of the past, present and future of this sacred subculture.
THE FLYING OF LEAVES – Juan Pablo Etcheverry, Nathalie Signorini (Italy)
The Flying of Leaves presents a ruminative journey down the memory lane, based on the tragic termination of a father-son relationship. Written and produced by Fabio Teriaca, the film paints his nostalgia with the help of sentimental Italian music, imaginative storytelling, and painstaking animation. The film is essentially about the things and memories that remain in one’s heart despite the physical absence of a loved one. In this case, that thing is a tree symbolising the narrator Carmelo’s pastoral heritage in Sicily before he moved to the city to study, work and eventually settle.
Carmelo, who is survived by his father after his accidental and untimely death, is now an old man himself. The Flying of Leaves thus becomes a moving portrayal of time, grief, posterity, family, and nature’s ways of retaining links between generations – the tree dies when Carmelo dies, along with all the memories of his childhood and his father. This makes the polaroids falling from the tree instead of leaves one of the most moving moments in the film.
WHISTLE – Gowri Shankar (India)
Chennai-based filmmaker Gowri Shankar tries his hand at family/romantic drama with the thoroughly entertaining and poignant Whistle. The film is centred on two single parents in their early thirties, Yazhini and Aravind, who are drawn into each other ambits as their children, Mithun and Anamika, bond over broken homes. It does an excellent job of portraying the heteronormative notion that a home is incomplete without a mother or a father. This idea drives Aravind to propose to Yazhini, who rejects him at first, sowing conflict and the threat of another separation in the film. What follows is an emotional rollercoaster ride, ultimately ending happily for the adults as well as children.
The film also poses some difficult questions on modern parenting. In an afterword, Gowri relates his own experience of growing up without a father, and admits making the film as a plea for all single parents to reconsider their decision to remain single, for their children’s sake. Most of the cast and crew comprises newcomers, but they manage to put up a show worthy of a conscientious watch.
MANIFESTATION – DANNY GERMANSEN (DENMARK)
Manifestation is a cautionary tale against ‘othering’ disabled people from mainstream spaces and dialogue. In this semi-autobiographical art-house short, disabled filmmaker Danny Germansen also metaphorically depicts his own personal struggles before he had discovered his place in society and his penchant for filmmaking. In a way, therefore, the film is also a work of true inspiration – marking the successful culmination of Germansen’s video-art therapy to cope with trauma and abuse.
Shot in monochrome, this avant-garde piece of work focuses on a mentally-ill man who is driven to revenge as he feels neglected by his family and society at large. Germansen also addresses seminal geopolitical issues like white supremacy, capitalist exploitation and climate change to present the nihilistic worldview of a social outcast who is overwrought by loneliness, isolation and alienation from society. The film asks a fundamental question: “When life is meaningless and everything is hopeless, where do you go?”
HANDOVER – SHUVAYAN MUKHOPADHYAY (INDIA)
In Shuvayan Mukhopadhyay’s Handover, set to premiere at the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival in November, the subject of national pride and posterity reappears once again, viewed through the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter this time.
Munni is a young girl, very close to her grandfather Abinash. The septuagenarian shares his wisdom and values with the new generation as all grandfathers are wont to do. They bond over science and arts, but unfortunately, their golden days together are short lived. Munni’s mother opposes their growing closeness; finding Abinash’s guidance unacceptable, she quickly shuttles Munni away to boarding school in the hills. The black and white images help bridge the past with the present, while the lush hillscape of Kalimpong in the second half marks a poetic respite from the concrete jungle Munni calls home and sorely missed at boarding school.
In a dramatic turn of events, however, Abinash meets his death and the news hits Munni hard. After she recovers from a spate of feverish dreams and trauma, the rest of the family discover to much surprise that Abinash’s best qualities (like his love for patriotic music and the piano) live on through Munni.
COMIC OOPS TONIC – Grigoriy Mironov (Canada)
Comic Oops Tonic is a compilation of irreverent non-verbal comedy sketches, superbly directed and executed by Canadian video artist Grigoriy Mironov. His Chaplinesque brainchild is designed for a series pilot and is meant for family viewing. The humour is clean but never overly witty or satirical. Instead, horseplay and vaudeville abounds the various sketches containing recurring actors/characters, who take their bizarre mimicry to the park, the restaurant, the mall, dates, dinner parties and football fields – each time with rib-tickling outcomes.
Stylistically speaking, there are elaborate and exaggerated effects – especially with sound, costumes, wigs and makeup. Lots of props are used to heighten the eccentricity, including musical instruments, gift tags, fake plastic flowers, partywear. The background score comprising both diegetic and nondiegetic sounds is superlative, repurposing classical symphonies, folk tunes and introducing odd sound effects for human noise like a revving engine or 8bit music in the same breath. Mironov’s pilot thus makes for a scrumptious watch with a lot of theatrical elements that remain forgotten and unused in modern television.