October 24 2014
Reviews from this year’s London Film Festival…
CINEMAS up and down the country are screening the Brad Pitt starrer, “Fury” a Second World War drama which closed the London Film Festival just under a week ago (Sunday, October 19).
It was a strong note to close on – and while it was typical Hollywood fare in many ways – slick and entertaining – it perhaps lacks originality and invention.
That couldn’t be said of the some films our critics saw.
Focusing largely – but not exclusively – on the South Asian angle content brought a mixed bag.
There was something fresh and funny with “Court”, genuinely warming and moving about “Margarita With A Straw” (‘MWAS’) and beautiful about “Dukhtar”.
British feature “Catch Me Daddy” about an Asian teenager who runs away from home with her white boyfriend had a standout performance from Sameena Jabeen Ahmed. The 22-year-old from Blackburn collected a British Newcomer Award at the festival for her role. (See story). The film doesn’t pay much heed to political sensitivities but it’s beautiful and bleak at the same time and equally evokes a mixed response.
We have interviews with the filmmakers and Kalki Koechlin from ‘MWAS’, and will be publishing those later (and likely to in be in line with UK release dates or other major festival screenings).
For now, sit back and let our critics give you an early heads up on what they saw…
“Catch Me Daddy” – This now comes with a huge stamp of approval and probably foists unreal expectations on a first feature by Daniel and Matthew Wolfe. Sameena Jabeen Ahmed’s best newcomer award at the BFI London Film Festival is rich recognition for a tough and searing role – made yet more impressive by appreciating the 22-year-old, from Blackburn, was acting in her very first feature. She plays a Pakistani origin teenager running away from home with her white boyfriend.
Similar in some ways to “Honour” the Paddy Considine pseudo-thriller, directed by Shan Khan, this has less rich plot strands and possesses a distinctly bleakly, but very authentic Northern/Yorkshire tone to it.
The sight of a few very angry Asian men (some with beards) running around and demanding retribution and revenge will annoy some, but the Wolfes and cinematographer Robbie Ryan show a keen eye for the brutal beauty of the Yorkshire Moors and the sheer grunginess of some of its urban pockets.
Stylised and mostly absorbing – its central characters aside from Laila, and her white lover, are too one dimensional and stereotyped to mean anything beyond the sum of their parts. Consequently, the style makes a statement, but little else other than Ahmed’s articulation of toughness and vulnerability, do. It isn’t bad, but the style ultimately triumphs over substance. (SR)
ACV rating: **½ (out of five)
Expected to be released in March/April 2015 in the UK
“Court” – Chaitanya Tamhane’s first feature is a superbly constructed drama centred around the absurdity of a fictitious trial in Mumbai. It might be made up, but Tamhane’s general point is well made: the Indian legal system, as it is presently constituted, in some very notable instances, invites ridicule and disbelief.
A campaigning folk singer from what appears to be the ‘untouchable’ caste is harassed and discriminated against by local police, who think they have nothing better to do. The singer is charged with abetting a suicide – but he is neither present at the tragic act, nor even knows the man in question. The state prosecutor argues that a song by the untouchable man has incited a sewer worker to take his own life. Using non-professional actors and drawing in on the social background of the two opposing lawyers, “Court” has much to say, but does so subtly and at the right times, very comically and incisively.
Highly watchable, and engaging, it is a little gem of a film that shines a light on a dark and often obscure(d) part of Indian life. (SR)
ACV rating: ****
At the time of the festival, the filmmakers were in talks with distributors
“Dukhtar” – It’s a debut feature by Afia Nathaniel, a filmmaker from Pakistan that tells the story of a young girl about to be married off to settle a tribal dispute. However, her mother has other ideas and runs off with the daughter only to be hotly pursued by the angry men.
It is beautifully shot in the imposing landscape of Gilgit but Nathaniel is primarily interested in the journey of the mother (impressively played by Samiya Mumtaz); as she develops from a quiet wife (who herself was married off for similar reasons) to a strong woman doing everything she can to save her daughter from a comparable fate.
The relationship between the mother, Alla Rakhi and daughter, Zainab (Saleha Aref) is beautifully captured and the scene where Zainab is teaching her mother how to speak English is extremely moving.
As mother and daughter flee the harsh landscape and the wrath of the tribal leaders, they are picked up enroute by a sympathetic truck driver, Sohail (Mohib Mirza) who has to make a choice between helping them or saving his own skin.
Nathaniel is part of this evolving group of women filmmakers from Pakistan (Sabiha Sumar; Mehreen Jabbar, Shermeen Obaid Chinoy, Iram Parveen Bilal, Meenu Gaur) whose work is sparking debate about social inequalities and tribal hierarchies in the country. (SB)
A UK release is due, and the film has been selected as Pakistan’s entry to the ‘Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars next year.
“Labour of Love” – Much loved by some – this film is really for those looking for something quite different. Indeed, it is cinema through and through. First time feature director Adityavikram Sengupta missed out on the Sutherland Prize at the festival, (after an award in Venice), but you can see why for some this was startlingly original and audacious filmmaking. There is no dialogue in the 84-minute production; the two central characters do not utter even a word to each other and yet communicate love and understanding. Set against the background of the last recession and economic unrest in Kolkata, it’s mostly slow and unremarkable. Sorry – Sengupta is bright and undoubtedly has flair (as we gleaned from our interview and a charming man). Therein lies its power for some, but for others it is too much like a labour of love in itself – if there had been more of a fantasy element, as there is at the end with the beautiful images of the bed in the foggy forest, it might have saved this critic.
Again outside India, some of its sights and sounds will simply carry the viewer along, but if you’re looking for cut, thrust and obvious drama – avoid. It’s a lovely idea – aka the prize-winning, “The Tribe” – equally no dialogue, but lots of action and strife, and some will warm to “Labour of Love” despite all this, while others will shrug and simply wonder what all the fuss is really about. (SR)
ACV rating: * ½
“Margarita With A Straw” – Whoever said disabled people can’t be sexy? Kalki Koechlin as Laila is hot – though she isn’t without issues on personal relationships (who isn’t?). Director Shonali Bose, in her second feature, gives us a rounded and real character, not surprisingly based on a real person, her cousin Malini.
Laila is awarded a creative writing scholarship and the flight from Delhi to New York is well charted and her mother (well-known Indian actor Revathy), in typical Indian fashion, helps to bed her down in the first year. It’s later in the big apple that Laila’s mind and body are opened to new experiences – not least first by the blind Khanum (Sayani Gupta) and then later by everyheterowoman hottie, Jared (William Moseley). There are perhaps too many ‘issoos’ here for the characters to have real weight and it may be a little bit too in love with itself to see beyond that charge.
However, Laila is very likeable and her rich smile is hard to resist. Koechlin’s performance and those around her, perhaps, lift this film to a different place, had it been simply left to its own plot devices.
Having said all that, it remains a powerful reminder that disability should not be invisibility, especially in the sub-continent and the better it does at the box office, the more powerful it will be. (SR)
Expected to be released in India in February 2015
“Two Dosas” – In case you hadn’t noticed, retro racial stereotypes are back in vogue. Post-“Citizen Khan“, it’s okay to make jokes about hairy Asian women (BBC3’s “Some Girls“) or as in this short by director Sarmud Masaud, invite the audience to laugh at (there is little laughing with here) whimsical gags about Indian culture.
Here, geeky single Asian guy Pavan attempts to impress a white girl with his Indian-ness. Only problem is, Pavan’s Indian-ness is rife with embarrassment and she’s more at home with paan and Bollywood than he is (he can’t even get her Indian ex’s name right). This could have been a smart comedy about ethnic assumptions and the falsehoods of authenticity. Instead, it just falls back on dated ideas of cultural confusion. (SRS)
ACV rating: ** dosas out of five (sorry, couldn’t resist)
Main picture: Dukhtar
For non-Asian reviews, please see part II here
Contributors: Suman Bhuchar, Sunil Chauhan, Sailesh Ram and Suranjit R. Shah