If there’s one great joy of an international film festival, it’s the unalloyed pleasure of serendipity. To accidentally discover films from worlds and languages that seem so alien at first glance, but strike joyously and disconcertingly close to home.
At the first day of screenings of the 9th Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFES) at Orion Mall, some of the organisational problems seemed to add to this pleasure of serendipity. With the synopses and schedules of films being announced in a piecemeal way across social media, on the festival website and at the venue, many attendees were left at a loss on how to pick and choose their viewings for the day. In typical “swalpa adjust maadi” fashion, they often took the most expedient route of joining the largest queues or trusting in the choices of other film fans.
The first-day glitches, including one thrice-postponed, and finally cancelled, screening due to technical issues, did not seem to dull the ardour of cinephiles, who lined up in hundreds if not thousands for over 50 films screened on the first day. And Day 2 of BIFFES had enough and more to offer.
A German abortion drama, a Columbian drama about a local armed militia, Ghanian films on superstition, a Korean action thriller, and a Swedish take on race and class issues of the Sami people, are just some of the examples of the global variety on offer for cinephiles of every shade. And Kannada cinema found good representation too, with the well-received 2016 film Rama Rama Re drawing huge crowds.
For this film fan and reporter, there were a few films that hit all the right buttons, and made the day’s screenings well worth the wait. Fukushima Mon Amour (Greetings from Fukushima) was a lush monochrome affair that threaded personal tragedy across the desolate landscape of the larger natural and nuclear disaster suffered by the Japanese town. The film traces an encounter between a young German woman seeking to escape her personal mistakes by throwing herself into a larger socio-political misery and an aging ex-geisha haunted by the ghosts of the town’s encounter with death and devastation.
One of the most endearing parts of the film is its refusal to seek easy resolutions for the cultural differences that set its two protagonists apart. This incomprehension plays out perfectly against the larger inability to truly deal with the aftermath of the disaster, leaving hanging the poignant question of how to continue living in the face of an event so destructive that one can never make meaning out of it.
The Andrey Konchalovsky-directed Holocaust drama Paradise, continued this theme of devastating incomprehension, focusing on the relationship between a Nazi officer and a Russian prisoner in a concentration camp. Oppressor and victim share a common problem – how to make sense of a world where nothing seems to mean anything, have value anymore.
The Russian prisoner struggles with questions of human decency and kindness in a situation where the line between human and animal doesn’t hold anymore. The German officer is lost for a way to understand his life and actions when the vaunted ideal of an Aryan paradise seems nothing more than the most pleasing lie used to cover up a universal catastrophe. What Paradise showed is that the German concentration camps may now be over seven decades behind us, but the questions they threw up have never left us, returning in different formulations that should continue to disturb us.
The Croatian drama The Constitution set up a fascinating interplay between a strongly nationalist homosexual Croatian professor and a heterosexual Serbian policeman and his Croatian wife. The film takes on questions of identities, stereotypes and the possibility of community and love across dividing lines of race and sexual orientation, and succeeds by not being too ambitious. Neither profoundly radical nor mawkishly pedantic, The Consitution is a warm film of small changes that reflect enormous hopes for living with seemingly incommensurable differences between people.
Kills on Wheels gives real flesh and heart to terms like differently-abled that often reek of pity and condescension. Framed around a quirky plot of two disabled teenagers who become the right-hand men of a wheelchair-bound mafia hitman, this Hungarian film treats disability for what it is – a situation needing different kinds of resourcefulness, rather than a sad half-life dependent on the condescending mercy of others.
Playing constantly on the theme of disabled persons being underestimated in the world, the film gives us real people with real loves and hopes and powerfully re-imagines disability, without falling into either escapist fantasies or preachy messages about “inspiration”. Kills on Wheels leaves you at the perfect point feeling the sheer ecstacy of lives lived as they are – with joys, sorrows, hopes and dreams that inflect each of us in a uniquely different way, none more or less than the other.