In terms of sheer size and scope, nothing beats the International Film Festival of Kerala. The event is programmed for cine-gluttons. There are numerous well-chosen and topical films to watch, including international arthouse favourites, Indian titles and classics. This year, a whopping 12,000 delegates have registered for the event, which is organised each year by the state-run Chalachitra Academy. The queues at the venues are likely to be nearly as long as the ones outside banks and ATMs. Here are our picks of the most promising films at the festival, which will be held in Thiruvananthapuram from December 9-16.
The event opens with the Afghani-Iran production Raftan (Parting), which is the Afghan entry for the Foreign Language Oscar category. The country in focus is Kazakhstan, while the annual Aravindan Memorial Lecture will be delivered by Ethiopian-American director Haile Gerima, who has chronicled the black experience through such films as Bush Mama, Sankofa, Ashes and Embers and Teza.
A film festival’s true measure is the number of heavyweight directors in its programme. There are quite a few at IFFK. In Hirokazu Koreeda’s After the Storm, a private detective tries to forge fresh bonds with his estranged son. Graduation, by star Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and Beyond the Hills), highlights financial and moral corruption through the efforts of a father to push his daughter into medical school in the United Kingdom. The other Romanian star, Cristi Puiu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Aurora) returns with Sieranevada, in which a family gathering to commemorate the recently deceased patriarch descends into chaos.
The theme of the family reunion as a terrible idea recurs in Canadian enfant terrible Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, starring Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassell, Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux.
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s semi-autobiographical Endless Poetry is based on the Chilean filmmaker’s experiences in Santiago in the 1940s and ’50s. The Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne return after the success of Two Days, One Night with The Unknown Girl, about a doctor who tries to learn the identity of a patient who refused surgery.
Thomas Vinterberg’s 1970s-set The Commune examines a social experiment in community living. Oliver Assayas casts Kristen Stewart in the English-language Personal Shopper, about ghosts, mediums and death. Andre Techine’s Being 17 is about the sexual awakening of two adolescent boys. Werner Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is a meditation on the internet. Buddhadev Dasgupta’s The Bait follows a hunter who has made it his life’s mission to kill a tiger. Three lives intersect in Andrey Konchalovskiy’s World War II-set Paradise: a Russian aristocratic woman, a French collaborator, and a German Nazi officer.
Classics by all-time heavyweights include Francois Truffaut’s Jules Et Jim, Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, KG George’s Swapnadanam and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari.
Six films are part of a package called Gender Bender, including Sudhansu Saria’s gay-themed love triangle Loev and Pepa San Martin’s Rara, in which a lesbian marriage is seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. But the tensions between and within genders reverberate elsewhere in the selection. In Tamara, by Elia K Schneider, a married man risks everything and opts for gender reassignment surgery. Deepa Mehta’s Anatomy of Violence is a dramatised recreation of the events before and after the December 16, 2012, gang-rape in Delhi.
In Paul Verhoeven’s deeply provocative Elle, featuring a masterly performance by Isabelle Huppert, a rape victim seeks revenge and finds love instead. Nicholas Winding Refn’s eye-popping The Neon Demon is set in the sepulchral world of the Los Angeles fashion industry, which welcomes its latest find and victim, played by Elle Fanning.
Three women escape their oppressive lives and journey to Bogota in Colombian director Felipe Guerrero’s Oscuro Animal. In Israel director Elite Zexer’s Sand Storm, a Bedouin woman has to arrange her husband’s second marriage to a younger woman.
From India, there is Leena Yadav’s Parched, a heart-warming chick flick set in rural Rajasthan and starring Radhika Apte, Surveen Chawla and Tannishtha Chatterjee. Tomas Wasilewski’s United States of Love examines the lives of four women in the former Soviet Union in 1990. In Rene Pereya’s 1940s-set Mexican film The Arrival of Conrado Sierra, five sisters wait for the prospective groom of the youngest of them to show up.
Sixty-plus Japanese women free-dive into the sea without breathing aids in Claudia Varejao’s Ama San. Hala Khalil’s Nawara examines the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 through a maid who works for a politically influential family.
One of the world’s favourite film producing nations lost one of its giants to cancer earlier in 2016. The death of Abbas Kiarostami went unnoticed at the Mumbai Film Festival in October, but was marked by the International Film Festival of India in Goa in November. At IFFK, Kiarostami’s older masterpieces, The Wind Will Carry Us and Shirin, will be screened along with one of his last works, a 16-minute wordless film set in Italy and titled Take My Home.
76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami is a tribute to the filmmaker by artist, cinematographer and friend Seifollah Samadian. The film has been compiled from footage collected over 25 years and includes interviews with Kiarostami and friends and collaborators, such as Jafar Panahi and Juliette Binoche.
Several other Iranian films will compete for attention. There is Asghar Farhadi’s latest festival scorcher The Salesman, in which an Iranian couple play the lead roles in a local adaptation of the Arthur Miller play. Reza Dormishian’s unconventionally narrated Lantouri examines crime and punishment through an acid attack on a woman. Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow is an allegorical horror film about a mother-daughter pair that is plagued by a mysterious force in 1980s Tehran.
In Reza Mirkarimi’s Daughter, a young woman flees her conservative family and travels alone to Tehran to visit a friend. In Behnam Behzadi’s Inversion, air pollution forces Niloofar out of Tehran and prompts her on a voyage of self-discovery.
As a bonus, there is a restored version of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s lost film The Nights of Zayandeh-Rood. The film was hacked to pieces by Iranian authorities at its solo screening at the Fajr Film Festival in 1990 and subsequently banned. The 63-minute version that survives examines the Iranian Revolution of 1979 through the relationship between an anthropologist and his daughter. Makhmalbaf reportedly stole parts of the original negative from the archives of the Iranian censorship committee to create the new version.
Films about migration
The perilous journeys undertaken by human beings in search of security, freedom from persecution and better lives are reflected in the curatorial theme of migration. Among the films on the subject is Fire At Sea. Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize in 2016. Fire At Sea is set on the Italian island Lampesuda, which receives boatloads of migrants each year.
The seven other films in the category include recent and older productions from India and elsewhere. There is Kamal’s ID, in which a Mumbai resident encounters another side of the city when a house painter collapses on the job. Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea examines migration through two men from Burkina Faso, who arrive in Italy by crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Midi Z’s Road to Mandalay follows two illegal migrants as they leave Myanmar for Thailand. Tamer El Said’s In the Last Days of the City is set in Cairo on the eve of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. The city is seen through the eyes of migrants from Iraq, Lebanon and rural Egypt.
In Sacha Wolff’s Mercernaire, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, a Polynesian-French rugby player tries to become a professional player. Soy Nero, by American director Rafi Pitts, reveals the desperate measures undertaken by an illegal Mexican immigrant to get American citizenship: he enlists with the US Army.
Konkona Sensharma’s directorial debut A Death in the Gunj is set in 1979 during a family holiday, where bullying, infidelity and death abound. In Haobam Paban Kumar’s Lady of the Lake, a mysterious woman haunts the days and nights of a fisherman on the verge of displacement.
Ananya Kasaravalli’s Chronicles of Hari explores the life of a Yakshagana artist. Rajeev Ravi’s Kammatipaadam, starring Malayalam star Dulquer Salman, is about the transformation of Kochi from a sleepy port town into a concrete jungle. Shanavas K Bavakutty’s Kismath, billed as Kerala’s Sairaat, is about a star-crossed romance between a Dalit woman and a Muslim man. Caste is also the focus of Vidhu Vincent’s debut feature Manhole, which is a part of the Competition section.
Jayan Cherian’s KA Bodyscapes, which deals with the lives of a gay painter, a kabaddi player, and an activist, has been in the news for its runs-in with the censor board. Gurvinder Singh’s second feature Chauthi Koot examines the impact of the Khalistani movement on a Punjabi village.
Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaaram stars the redoubtable Fahaad Faasil as a small-town photographer who turns into an avenging angel after a brawl. Saji Palamel Sreedharan’s Aaradi examines the discrimination faced by a Dalit Sanskrit scholar in Kerala.
Apart from Abbas Kiarostami, 2016 saw the death of Polish master Andrzej Wajda. His final film Afterimage captures avant-garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski’s battles with advancing illness and Stalinist policies. Boguslaw Linda, who appeared in Wajda’s Man of Iron and Danton, plays Strzeminski.
Pablo Neruda has been widely translated into Malayalam, so Pablo Larrain’s account of a key episode in the Chilean poet’s life is expected to be a houseful affair. In Neruda, Gael Garcia Bernal plays a police inspector who goes looking for the underground poet (played by Luis Gnecco) but comes dangerously close to being seduced by his subversive ideas and stirring poetry.
I, Olga Hepnarova, by Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda, is a biopic of the last woman to be given the death sentence in Czechoslovakia. Hepnarova ran down eight people in 1973 after suffering a lifetime of discrimination on account of her homosexuality.
Erez Pery’s debut The Interrogation is based on the questioning of notorious Auschwitz camp commander Rudolf Hoess by a Polish prosecutor. The Last Family is Jan P Matuszyński’s portrait of the troubled family life of renowned Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński.
The section Life of Artists comprises four old and new titles: Bruno Nuytten’s Camille Claudel, a biopic of the sculptor (played by Isabelle Adjani) and her affair with Auguste Rodin (Gerard Depardieu); Maurice Pialat’s Van Gogh, starring Jacques Dutronc; Jacques Becker’s Modigliani of Montparnasse and Mitra Farahani’s Fifi Howls from Happiness, about renowned Iranian artist Bahman Mohassses.
No festival is complete without a movie or three that features a life-altering experience. Fatih Akin’s crowd-pleaser Goodbye Berlin features the wacky adventures of two teenage misfits who steal a car and set out on a road trip.
Ana Cristina Barragan’s Alba is the carefully observed coming-of-age chronicle of a teenager who moves in with her estranged father. In Kleber Mendonca Filho’s Aquarius, whose plot is similar to Arvind Adiga’s novel Last Man in Tower, Sonia Braga is arresting as a retired journalist who refuses to leave her Art Deco apartment block after its redevelopment is announced.
A woman grows a tail (yes, you read it right) and her life changes for the better in Ivan I Tverdovskiy’s Zoology. Tobias Nolle’s debut Aloys features a lonely detective who begins to lose his grip on reality after he encounters a mysterious woman. In the time-warping philosophical thriller Endorphine, directed by Andre Turpin, the cinematographer of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, a young girl relives her mother’s murder over and over again.
Ken Loach retrospective
At the age of 80, British magician Ken Loach pulled a masterpiece out of his hat in the form of I, Daniel Blake, a blistering attack on the undermining of the welfare system in England that will resonate everywhere in the world. Nine titles by Loach will be shown at IFFK, including the films that examine the hopes, dreams and troubles of the working class in Thatcherite England’s industrial towns. These include Loach’s breakthrough Kes, about a troubled young boy and his kestrel, Looks and Smiles, in which a young man struggles to find a job and stay in love, and Riff-Raff, which follows a construction crew that is working on a luxury housing site.
In Land and Freedom, a British Communist worker lends his support for the Spanish Civil War. Hidden Agenda explores political skulduggery, establishment conspiracy and broken promises in Northern Ireland. In Looking for Eric, a postman has a Lage Raho Munnabhai moment: footballer Eric Cantona appears in his dreams and gives him tips on surviving his disastrous family life.
South Korean films
The East Asian nation cannot yet match its neighbour Japan in festival prestige, but it is certainly getting there in terms of sheer volume. The South Korean filmmaker who is sure to mesmerise the masses is Kim Ki-duk. Kim’s sexually provocative films always do well at IFFK, regardless of their quality, and when he visited the festival a few years ago, traffic stopped and crowds nearly fainted. We expect nothing less from his latest venture Net, about a North Korea fisherman who endures suspicion and interrogation after his boat strays into South Korean waters by mistake.
Equally anticipated is Hong Sang-soo’s Yourself about Yours, a head-scratcher about an estranged couple from a director who revels in low-key, observational dramas. A woman disappears from her lover’s life. Years later, she is back – or rather, her lookalike.
The big South Korean film of the year, Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden, has evaded all Indian festivals thus far, and Kerala is no exception. Other South Korean titles include The Wailing, a police procedural from Chaser director Hong-Jin Na, and The Age of Shadows, a handsomely mounted period piece set during Japanese occupation in the 1920s and involving double agents and resistance fighters.
Mia Hansen-Love mid-career retrospective
Five films by French director Mia Hansen-Love will be screened at IFFK, but the filmmaker will not be there to present any of them. The list includes her latest accomplishment Things to Come, starring Isabelle Huppert as a philosophy professor who gradually unravels, Goodbye First Love and Father of My Children.
Restored classics from the former Czech Republic
No festival is complete without a section on classics that have undergone restoration to enhance the filmic image and sound quality. At IFFK 2016, some of the best-known examples of the Czech New Wave titles from the ’60s will be screened, including the evergreen Closely Watched Trains, the Holocaust drama Diamonds of the Night and the anti-Communist satire The Firemen’s Ball.