Filmmaker Don Palathara lists what not to miss at Kerala’s IFFK

As part of the International Film Festival of Kerala, films from across the world will be screened simultaneously on fourteen screens in Thiruvananthapuram from December 9 to 16.
A still from the Lav Diaz film 'When The Waves are Gone'
A still from the Lav Diaz film 'When The Waves are Gone'
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The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) is a mammoth event, not only in terms of the number of attendees, but also the number of films screened there each year. Films from across the world will be screened simultaneously on fourteen screens in Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram for six days, excluding the opening and closing days. The 27th edition of the festival, scheduled to be held from December 9 to 16, is special to me for several reasons. Even though I am attending the festival with a professional obligation, many of the films being screened this time are from filmmakers whose works I admire and look up to. By now, I have realised from past experience that it is better to have a plan in place while approaching the festival, in order not to miss out on some gems. So here goes my schedule:

Day 1: On the 9th of December, I wish to watch the festival’s opening film Tori and Lokita by Dardenne brothers. This film won the Cannes 75th Anniversary Award, its prolific director duo — Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne — known for their unique style and exploration of socio-political themes. 

Day 2: The most important attraction of this edition of the IFFK is the several retrospectives it’s catering. As part of the retrospective on Paul Schrader, The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese will be screened in Kairali. But at the same time, there will be Bela Tarr’s Family Nest playing in the New Theatre for the retrospective on the Hungarian master of slow cinema. Three great silent films by German pioneer F W Murnau are also available on the same day. Locarno award nominee Ariyippu by Mahesh Narayanan will have its Indian Premiere in the Tagore Theatre at 2.30 pm. Filipino master Lav Diaz’s latest film When The Waves are Gone is another film that cannot be missed before going to bed.

Day 3: Along with the films of Murnau and Tarr, Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi’s No Bears is something most cinephiles would be looking out for. Emir Kusturica’s 1998 film Black Cat, White Cat will be screened as part of the retrospective on the Serbian filmmaker, who is immensely loved by Malayali cinephiles. The most confusing time during this entire festival would be around 6 pm on Day 3, as there are so many films to choose from. Mia Hansen-Love’s One Fine Morning, Ulrich Seidl’s Rimini, Hong Sang-soo’s The Novelist’s Film, R.M.N. by Cristian Mungiu, and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Parson’s Widow are all screening at the same time.

Mia Hansen-Love has been showcased at the IFFK before, her most recent one being Bergman Island. Ulrich Seidl, the maker of the Paradise trilogy, has consistently been good at juxtaposing religion and dark humour. Hong Sang-soo, popular for his simple films exploring complex ideas, is often compared to Ozu. Cristian Mungiu has made some provocative films in the past, so it would be interesting to see what he has to offer too. But, as this is a rare opportunity to experience a Dreyer film on the big screen, I might eventually choose The Parson’s Widow. Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, German expressionist masterpiece Nosferatu, Claire Denis’s new film Both Sides of the Blade, and Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale, which is already popular for Brendan Fraser’s astounding performance, are also screening on the same day. With all these great choices, I suppose this would be the most exhausting day for film lovers. 

Day 4: Another gem from the silent era, Foolish Wives by Erich von Stroheim accompanied by live music, Schrader’s Master Gardener and Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters, the prolific Hong Sang-soo’s Walk Up, and jury member Alvaro Brechner’s A Twelve-Year Night are the films I look forward to on the 12th of December. A midnight screening of horror film Satan’s Slaves happens at Nishagandhi. An interesting clash between Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Swayamvaram and restored version of G Aravindan’s Thampu will also be happening in the evening. 

Day 5: The 1964 Band of Outsiders, directed by Jean Luc Godard who was awarded a lifetime achievement award in the 2020 IFFK, can be viewed at Sree Padmanabha. Day 5’s Murnau film is Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies, The Phantom Carriage by Victor Sjostrom, second screenings of several interesting films including Taxi Driver, The Whale, and movies by Mia Hansen-Love and Panahi are all the attractions of December 13. 

Day 6: Several films are having their final screenings on this day, including Liv Diaz’s When the Waves are Gone, Krzysztof Zanussi’s The Perfect Number, and Park Chan-Wook’s Decision to Leave. Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Mammootty starrer Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam and Mahesh Narayanan’s Ariyippu are also doing their final screenings according to the schedule. One will be forced to choose between surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and Emir Kusturica’s Promise Me This for the night show. 

Day 7: Russian master Aleksander Sokurov’s new film Fairytale will have its second show at the festival in Kalabhavan at 9.30 am. At the same time, First Reformed by Paul Schrader and Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Ostlund are also playing. I would rather be at the Tagore theatre for the lecture by Bela Tarr at 11.30 am than for any film. At the same time, The Man From London by Tarr will be played in Nila. It will be one’s last chance to watch Jodorowsky’s The Dance of Reality, Kusturica’s Life is a Miracle and Underground, Padmarajan’s Oridathoru Phayalvan, Broker by Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Rimini by Seidl on Day 7. 

Day 8: As the closing day, 16th of December is not providing a lot of options to cinephiles, except for the final shows of Hong Sang-soo’s The Novelist’s Film, Kusturica’s Promise Me This, and Panahi’s No Bears.

There can be a lot of great films I have missed out, either due to my lack of knowledge or personal biases. I don’t particularly enjoy the films of Kusturica or Jodorowsky personally, but I think it is still important to mention them in this list. The criteria for preparing this watchlist was not to find the films that would resonate with my personal taste, but to approach the festival as a film student.

Don Palathara is a critically acclaimed film director and screenwriter from Kerala. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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