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Mumbai Film Festival Diary 2014: 'Next To Her' surprises with unexpected twists, 'Court' wins accolades for its masterful storytelling on Day 6

On the penultimate day the festival looked empty as the 'tourists' have already left for their native places.

Suprateek Chatterjee |

Updated:October 21, 2014, 11:31 AM IST
Mumbai Film Festival Diary 2014: 'Next To Her' surprises with unexpected twists, 'Court' wins accolades for its masterful storytelling on Day 6
On the penultimate day the festival looked empty as the 'tourists' have already left for their native places.

What a day.

On the penultimate day of the festival, film snobs heaved a huge sigh of relief as the madding crowd returned to their offices, now that the weekend had ended. I ended up watching four great films and returned home feeling giddy with cinema-induced happiness.

It's amazing how empty the festival looks once the 'tourists' (my term for people who attend the festival for the sake of attending a film festival - not that I don't appreciate them picking making the effort and picking this over Bang Bang!) have left. I began the day by watching the black-and-white Iranian-American production A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Ana Lily Amirpour's stunning debut feature.

It's being called the first 'Iranian vampire Western' - as though it's a full-fledged genre film rather than an ingeniously unique concept that loses value if repeated. However, Amirpour's film is much more than its audacity. The story of a burkha-and-sneakers-wearing vampire who walks around a fictional city called Bad City (shot entirely in California), A Girl Walks Home Alone somewhat recalls the stylized universes of Frank Miller's Sin City and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and combines it with a strong, feminist narrative. My favourite scene: when the vampire (a chillingly good Sheila Vand) faces a man dressed up as Dracula, and the two look at each other in silence in a beautiful and perfectly symmetrical shot.

Walking in blind pays off

I had no booking for the 3 pm slot and met a couple of acquaintances in the large corridor where we could see all of Cinemax's 4 screens that were available to us. One suggested that I should simply go for the one with the longest line because that means people are eager to watch it. I asked if anyone could recommend anything at some of the other venues and the other asked me, "There might be, but why would you want to go outside in this heat?"

(As a side note, it is entirely possible that Mumbai's unbearable heat during this year's festival might have forced people to stay indoors and watch more films so, I guess everything in this world has an upside.)

I asked Somen Mishra - producer, editor of popular film blog Moi Fight Club, and overall champion of indie cinema - what I should go for, and he recommended the Israeli film Next To Her, which was screened as part of the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes this year. Directed by Asaf Korman, an editor who has turned director with this film, Next To Her is a beautiful and sensitive drama about Chelli (Ben Shlush) and her loving-but-unhealthy relationship with her mentally challenged sister Gabby (Dana Igvy). Carefully written, with certain unexpected twists, and wonderfully acted, Next To Her has the dignity and subtlety that is reminiscent of Jhumpa Lahiri's prose.

Packed houses

By now, evening had set in, and the festival had begun to look a little more crowded. The last two films I watched were packed to the gills, which is always a good thing. '71, directed by Yann Demange, is a powerful re-creation of events in Belfast, Northern Island, during the height of the clashes between Protestants and Catholics in 1971. A regiment from the British army arrives to quell a riot, but leaves when one of their soldiers is shot dead by the uncontrollable crowd. Another soldier , Gary Hook (Jack O'Connell), gets left behind and becomes a target.

'71 has some thematic similarities to war films like Saving Private Ryan and its realism is undeniable. Its highlight is a jaw-dropping one-take shot that shows a pub being blown to smithereens and Hook attempting to rescue a boy from inside.

Finally, the day ended with the festival premiere of Court, Chaitanya Tamhane's much-lauded debut feature that won two prestigious awards at Venice Film Festival last month. The line for the film rivaled the ones for Boyhood, Party Girl, and Mommy. At the start of the film, 27-year-old Tamhane remarked that, indeed, he had been lucky to get in.

Court is the most assured debut by a young Indian filmmaker since Ship Of Theseus. Tamhane, who seems to count Michael Haneke as one of his many influences, is impressively unafraid of using long, unbroken takes and letting the story unfold at its own pace.

Depicting the year-long trial of a folk singer charged unfairly with abetment of suicide (a story inspired by real-life cases), Court observes our judicial system with an unprejudiced eye, laying bare its absurdities and idiosyncrasies. Tamhane possesses a wonderful talent for spotting humour and irony in seemingly mundane, everyday situations, and thus the film spends a fair amount of time painting detailed portraits of the characters involved in this trial; however, not once does any of this feel unnecessary.

Even the city of Mumbai - from dirty slums to posh hotel bars - has an important role to play in this film, as a living, breathing monster that yanks you from one extreme to another in a matter of seconds. Beautifully acted, written, and directed, Tamhane's Court may not be groundbreaking in form or technique, but deserves all the accolades it can get for its masterful and honest storytelling.

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