The second edition of the El Gouna Film Festival on Egypt's Red Sea opened on Thursday with Thomas Lilti's French title, The Freshmen. Set around a practice in France in admissions to medical courses – that reminded me of all that is wrong in India as well – The Freshmen takes us into how too many candidates chase too few seats.
In one of the opening shots, we see about 2500 boys and girls aspiring to be doctors trying to squeeze into the 329 places on offer. An infamous system which the French Government is now planning to review (and possible do away with), the kind of dog-eat-dog competition focusses on the lives of two medical students, Benjamin (William Lebghil) and Antoine (Vincent Lacoste), in the movie. They strike up a friendship and work out a plan to “digest the papers of the past 10 years in just 15 days so that they can get ahead in their medical examinations”.
The Freshmen is one among the 75 films that will unroll in this small gated town that has in recent years turned into a huge hit for European holiday seekers. The sun and the surf (a close to 40 degrees centigrade may not be an Indian tourist's idea of vacation) make it quite an attractive destination for Westerners.
The Festival, which runs till September 28, will show on its innumerable screens movies from about 45 countries, India included. Rahi Anil Barve's and Adesh Prasad's Tumbbad, which had a Venice premiere early in September, will be one among the 15 in the feature film competition category. Apart from this, India's representation at El Gouna will be a 19-minute short, My Best Friend's Shoes by Ajit Singh.
The opening night also saw the presentation of two Career Achievement Awards, for Egyptian director Daoud Abdel Sayed – know for his fabulous neo-realistic cinema (The Land, The Vagabonds) – and Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha Fourati – said to be the first woman from her country to have taken up movie production.
In the days to come, American legend Sylvester Stallone (who has won several Oscar nominations and Golden Globe Awards ) will also be given a Career Achievement Award.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the El Gouna Film Festival )