The ten day film festival that started screenings on a sober note finished with a bang – the best was saved for the last. It was a good year as far as films were concerned; the buffet was big enough to cater to everone’s apetite. The diversity of films is what makes a festival like this special.
Films that relive significant incidents of the past (The Fencer, Aferim!, Labyrinth of Lies), deal with issues plaguing the society (Mustang), a reflection on the eccentricity of personalities (Eisenstein in Guanajato), feel good stories (The Idol, The Dark Horse, Our Little Sister ), to visual brilliance (Land and Shade, Embrace of the Serpent, The Assassin) – the films covered the whole gamut.
The last day of regular screenings started with a documentary Among The Believers. Truth still remains stranger than fiction and this film takes a look at the rise of the radicals in Pakistan using two parallel narratives. One is of the Red Mosque where the religious cleric Maulana Aziz is hellbent on implementing the Sharia Law and takes the government headon. It is amazing what people believe – many children who join the madrasas and their parents are convinced that they will go to heaven if they study the Koran by heart and will be presented with a special studded crown. That’s not all, ten family members who are designated to go to hell will be pardoned.
Religion remains the greatest marketing gimmick known to mankind. The other parallel story is that of a uneducated gent who donates his land to build a school where children can be taught regular subjects like English, science and math. The film gives voice to the victims of radicalization and by following the cleric who speaks his heart out, the hypocricy of the extremists comes to the fore without having to make too much of an effort.
The pick of the day, of the festival and of 2015, is Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. A word like masterpiece is no just a cliché but also an understatement. Darren Aronofsky, the president of the jury at the Berlin Film Festival (where it won the Golden Bear) decribed it as a ‘love letter to cinema’ And what a letter it is. If all the greatest littérateurs of the world came together to write a such a letter, the cinematic equivalent of that would be Taxi.
Panahi is banned from making films in Iran since 2010 for his ‘anti-Islamic and anit-state propoganda’ – yet he has surreptitiously managed to make three films after that. In this film, he just drives around town with a camera on the dashboard, while he picks up passengers and discusses various socio-political issue with them. One of them is a DVD pirate and Panahi even discusses films with him and offers advice to an aspiring filmmaker that should be carved in gold. When the young film maker tells Panahi that he has been reading books and watching films for inspiration since he can’t find a good subject for a film Panahi says: “Those books have already been written and those films have already been made. Now you have to do your own thing.” There’s a repeat screening of the film at midnight and heck, I am going to watch it again.
On Monday evening the awards in the competition will be declared. It was not possible to watch all the fifteen films but from the one’s I saw, Embrace of the Serpent, Rams, Enclave and stood out along with Eisenstein in Guanajuato and Mustang.