In brief but beautiful ceremony the 9 th Marrakech International Film Festival began here late last evening with drummers from Korea and Morocco in a great piece of “jugalbandhi”. Shorn of bureaucrats and politicians and their ponderously pretentious speeches, that someone like me from India is so used to, the opening night was marked with splendorous dignity.
The 10-member international jury, led by renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, was presented on the stage, and as the name of each member was announced he or she walked out of a door and down a winding stairway. There was perfect coordination, indicating a well rehearsed show. India’s actress-helmer-social activist, Nandita Das, in a deep blue (or was it black?) silk sari with a red border looked so attractive that journalists from Israel, Denmark and Britain remarked that she was indeed the jewel in the Moroccan Crown (The nation in the northern tip of Africa is an enlightened monarchy.)
Later in the evening, a lavish spread of seven-course dinner which the Prince of Morocco, Moulay Rachid, (who symbolically – and only symbolically-heads the Festival) himself attended.
Earlier, the Festival’s opening movie, Germany’s John Rabe by Florian Gallenberger (who was presented on stage with his cast and crew), played out a feel-good tune. There are not many films from Germany that make you feel pleasantly nostalgic about World War II. When it premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last February, it led to massive celebrations.
Based on a book by John Rabe himself, it tells the story of the good German, who though being a member of the Nazi Party could not abandon his conscience. In fact, the title of his published diaries is The Good German of Nanking. Reminding one of Oskar Schindler, Rabe saved thousands of innocent Chinese in 1937 when Nanking was devastated by the invading Japanese army. One estimate places the figure at 250,000.
Gallenberger uses Ulrich Tukur, a leading German actor, to play Rabe in a cool, collected fashion in what is fascinating period drama mounted around the horrible days of Japanese massacre. In the movie, he essays a representative of Siemens Company in China, a country that has been his home for 30 years. When the Japanese flatten Shanghai and march towards Nanking, Rabe, who has little idea of the atrocities of his own party or that of the invading forces, decides that he cannot abandon his workers and the enormous trust they have in him. He sets up a “safe zone” in Nanking and ensures that the Japanese do not enter that. A great scene is the one where Rabe uses his ingenuity. He holds up a large Nazi flag to deflect Japanese bombers away from civilians crowded on the Siemens ground.
The 134-minute film has enough to tell us about Nanking and its dark days, and John Rabe never loses its rhythm or excitement. And all this without glorifying its hero into someone supernatural.