Sunday, August 22, 2021

Just Like That

Just like That (2019, India,  Kislay)

The mother is a revered character in Indian cinema and society (‘Mother India’), someone who is selfless and devoted to her husband and family. This portrayal has hardly been challenged in Indian cinema, especially Bollywood films which depict mothers as always standing by their husband/sons/families and often these films resort to depicting mothers as overly melodramatic characters speaking cliched dialogues. This is why Kislay’s debut feature Just Like That is refreshing. The main character, Mrs. Sharma, is a 74 year-old woman who has recently become widowed. She is expected to live like other widows before her but she defies expectations. Mrs. Sharma wants to be independent, dares to open her first bank account, wants to go shopping at the mall, eat ice-cream, learn sewing and wants to live by herself in the upstairs portion of her son’s house. Her independence isn’t taken well, not by the son, daughter-in-law, neighbours and other family members. The film doesn’t just focus on Mrs. Sharma and the camera quietly captures intimate moments showing other family members and highlights problems caused by the patriarchal structure of society.

Such problems aren’t only restricted to India but impact all nations in varying measures. In this structure, women (young, married or widowed) are always expected to follow protocol but men are given leeway to behave as they please. Well Mrs. Sharma isn’t having any of that! For her entire life, including over 5 decades of married life, she followed protocol. Now at the age of 74, she is standing up for herself. Of course, her revolution isn’t loud or grand but consists of many tiny gestures; the kind of tiny gestures that are rare to find in cinema. This attention to detail is just one of the aspects that makes this one of the best films of last year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Fantasia 2021

Fantasia 2021 runs from Aug 5 - 25th in a hybrid format. Unlike last year’s virtual edition, this year’s edition is showing films in cinemas along with a few on-demand.

The following are comments on five films seen virtually. Three films are refreshing upgrades on genre films while the main highlight was screening of a two decade old Uruguayan cult film!

King Car (2021, Brazil, Renata Pinheiro)

A few years ago, Bacurau showed the power of using genre (Spaghetti Westerns, John Carpenter’s films) to create a smart multi-layered political allegory. Renata Pinheiro taps into the same energy albeit via a different set of genre films, the Hollywood car horror movie from late 1970s-80s such as The Car (1977) and John Carpenter’s Christine. He also incorporates a few more car centric elements such as the talking car of Knight Rider with a fetish touch of David Cronberg’s Crash (difference is that the pleasure isn’t only one way). If that wasn’t enough, the film is layered with some social, environmental and political messaging. The overall mood and tone of film also reminded me a bit of Adirley Queirós’ Once There was Brasilia.

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2021, Japan, Junta Yamaguchi)

The time loop movie has become a sub-genre within sci-fi films and its depiction has taken on many forms ranging from comedy (Groundhog Day), dark comedy (the recent Palm Springs) to action/thriller (Edge of Tomorrow) and even horror (Timecrimes). A majority of the films revolve around characters going back to a key event in their lives to save the world, save a loved one or even saving themselves. Unfortunately, a majority of these films get caught in their own repetitive loop and lose momentum after the nth repetitive scene. Therefore, it is such a joy to discover Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, a charming, creative take on the time loop movie. In the film, the main character can only see 2 minutes into the future and this discovery happens when he leaves the cafe to go to his apartment upstairs. 

The 2 minute concept is lovingly expanded with plenty of humour and even though there is some saving involved, it is nowhere near as dramatic as most of the Hollywood repetitions. Also, the film shows that a talented filmmaker can add a loving dimension to this sub-genre with a limited budget. No need of millions for pointless explosions and car crashes.

Tiong Bahru Social Club (2020, Singapore, Tan Bee Thiam)

The happy peaceful suburbia concept has proved to be fodder for horror and dramatic films which have shown the darkness that hides behind the curtains of those oh so perfect looking white picket fences. David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is just one example but there have been many other films which have gone the full body horror route while some have gone the satire way (The Stepford Wives). The recent Vivarium combined satire, horror and sci-fi. Tiong Bahru Social Club shows that there is another possible way. The setting of Singapore adds a much needed splash of colour and the suburban houses are replaced with an apartment like community. The satire is quite visible and the location of Singapore ensures a clean sanitized version on screen at all times. There is a hint of an evil scheming plot that is turning the wheels in the background but even that is presented in the film’s overall pleasant tone. The end result is a film that shows it is possible to tackle existential ideas in a humorous manner without resorting to blood, gore and orgies.

Act of Violence in a Young Journalist (1988, Uruguay, Manuel Lamas)
Straight to VHS (2021, Uruguay, Emilio Silva Torres)


The highlight of the festival so far has been the double bill of Act of Violence in a Young Journalist and Straight to VHS. Manuel Lamas’ 1988 film Act of Violence in a Young Journalist is a curious beast. The low budget video production gives the film a grainy look which at times indicates an old fashioned B-grade film but that is doing the film a huge disservice. In some aspects, the film is well ahead of its time by mixing documentary style footage with some fictional aspects and having these two threads come together in a creative manner. The main character Blanca (Blanca Gimenez) is a journalist doing a thesis into what violence means and she goes about interviewing various subjects on the nature of violence. These interviews lead to some of the film’s best moments including a segment where a subject links the violence in Uruguayan society to that which takes place on-field in Uruguayan soccer games. This subject’s observations in a way predict the evolution of Uruguayan soccer over the last 2 decades and how the team has formalized violence in a formal framework within their game. Even today, the Uruguayan team of Oscar Tabárez is known for its grit, tough tackling physical side rather than a creative flair. Blanca’s work attracts the attention of a person who believes that the only way Blanca can learn about violence is experiencing it first hand. So he starts a series of killing with the intent of killing Blanca last. There are some creative camera movements that are often hidden by the film’s low budget production (editing, sound) but it is easy to see why this film became a cult phenomena.

Emilio Silva Torres tries to decipher this cult nature in his smart documentary Straight to VHS that also uses a creative touch of fiction to walk through the Lamas labyrinth.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

The films of Ulrich Köhler

Bungalow (2002)
Sleeping Sickness (2011)
In My Room (2018)

Unlike previously, I started in the middle. The first Ulrich Köhler feature I saw was Sleeping Sickness his 3rd out of 5 features. Although, when I saw the film it was his newest and thereby last. A single film doesn’t highlight the themes or signature elements of a director. That is why seeing two of his other films as part of a double bill was an eye-opening experience and helped place Sleeping Sickness nicely in Köhler’s style.

Alienation, loneliness, isolation. These words appeared over and over again when viewing Ulrich Köhler films in quick succession.


In the early moments of Bungalow, the elements of isolation and loneliness stand out. At the film’s start, we observe a group of soldiers following orders as they disembark in unison from their truck and make their way to McDonald's while ordinary civilians look on. When the captain calls the soldiers back to the truck, they walk back without any protests. Except one. Paul (Lennie Burmeister) continues to sit with a civilian, taking his time and missing his ride back on the truck. It is clear that unlike the rest of the Germans, Paul doesn’t want to follow. He is deserting his military duties. Instead, Paul goes back to his parents house to just rest, chill. Since his parents are away, Paul expects to have the house to himself but he is surprised to find his brother Max (Devid Striesow) and new girlfriend Lene (Trine Dyrholm) show up. Paul takes an immediate liking to Lene. Even though events are presented in a minimalist manner, there appears to be an undercurrent of tension akin to what Maren Ade brilliantly showed in Everyone Else. The overall style and tone of Bungalow also aligns the film within the ‘Berlin School’ movement similar to that of Christian Petzold.

Sleeping Sickness

Sleeping Sickness continues the lonely isolated theme of Köhler’s cinema by showing two of the main characters preferring to stay in Africa rather than return to Germany. Ebbo (Pierre Bokma) in Sleeping Sickness is cut from the same cloth as Paul. On another note, Ebbo also shares some traits with the character of Johann (Peter Ketnath) in Marcelo Gomes’ Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures. In Gomes’ film, Johanna leaves Germany due to WWII and wants to stay in Brazil.

In My Room

In My Room takes the lonely element from Köhler’s films to its ultimate extreme when Armin (Hans Löw) wakes up one day to find that he is the only human left on the planet. All the other humans, male and female, have mysteriously disappeared. In My Room perfectly encapsulates all of Köhler’s signature elements.


1. Michael Sicinski on In My Room

2. Mark Peranson on Sleeping Sickness

3. David Hudson on Sleeping Sickness

4. Dennis Lim's Cannes interview with Ulrich Köhler

5. Vadim Rizov's interview related to In My Room