Tuesday, August 25, 2009

CIFF 2009 preview, part I

The full line-up for CIFF is out. This year marks the 10th anniversary of CIFF and the line-up is the strongest ever. A new competition category this year is the Mavericks. All 10 films in this category should be noteworthy but I can only comment on the 4 gems that I have seen.

Be Calm and Count to Seven (2009, Iran, Ramtin Lavafipour)

This stunning debut film can take one’s breath away with its poetic beauty. The opening scenes feature fast boats landing on the beach, followed immediately by burqa covered women running and unloading the goods off the boats and disappearing into the mud houses. We only learn later on in the film what the contents of those bags are but both the contents and act of smuggling are minor details. The most important aspect of this film is observing the way of life on a tiny beautiful island in the Persian Gulf.

If the character’s didn’t speak Farsi, then I would have placed this film to be shot in either Yemen or North Africa due to the setting in a fishing village by the ocean. In fact, the film reminded me most of Abderrahmane Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness because of the theme of characters waiting to cross the ocean to seek a better life. But this is a completely refreshing work that exudes life in every frame.

Everyone Else (2009, Germany, Maren Ade)

A fascinating look at how professional competition (architecture in the film's case) can put an already fragile relationship under more stress. The film has a slow start and at first it is not clear what the issues in the relationship are but gradually as we get to see more of the couple's behaviour, the problems become clearer and the film catches fire. But it is not an open inferno but a slow burn which eventually leads to an implosion and not an explosion. It is credit to Maren Ade that the film does not resort to melodrama but instead lets the body language of the actor's do most of the talking. The rawness and honesty of the couple’s relationship is unlike anything seen on film in the last decade.

Karaoke (2009, Malaysia, Chris Chong Chan Fui)

This beautifully shot film attains a level of beauty normally associated with the cinema of Thai film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Plus, the film’s structure of two inter-related parts has shades of Tropical Malady. One segment of Karaoke appropriately takes place inside a Karaoke bar and the other is in the beautiful Malaysian country side where the Karaoke videos are shot. There are two memorable moments where the camera moves freely and one can truly breathe in the atmosphere. The first such free movement comes in the opening 15 minutes of the film as the camera shows the diverse ethnic make-up of Malaysia by listening in on snippets of conversations taking place at the different tables. The different ethnic groups in Malaysia (Malay, Chinese and Indian) don’t always get along and one can sense that distrust by the few observable moments at the film’s start. The second free movement takes place near the film’s end when the camera stops following a character and drifts into the jungle to show some truly mesmerizing sights.

Fish Eyes (2009, Korea/China, Zheng Wei)

Zheng Wei makes an impressive debut with this well shot film that does not burden the screen with needless dialogue. The minimalist style works to perfection here and this film is another example of the impressive Chinese films being made in the last few years. The film’s style evokes memories of another wonderful Chinese/Korean co-production, Grain in Ear, that showed at CIFF a few years ago.

No comments: