The sixth Abu Dhabi Film Festival began here last night on a star-studded note. American actor – who some years ago shot into the Indian limelight when he kissed Shilpa Shetty on the stage – was the undoubted darling of the masses. Greeting the opening night audience with his killer smile and warm words, Gere inaugurated the 10-day Festival with his movie, Arbitrage.
A taut thriller of a Wall Street honcho whose only mantra is money, Arbitrage may not be arthouse cinema, but proved to be a crowd-puller here, and one that promises to fetch Gere his first Oscar.
Trying to palm off a company he had built from scratch through a merger Gere’s Robert Miller negotiates a deal, craftily hiding its $-400-million debt – even from his daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling), who is the chief accountant there. Miller is an uncanny combination of pre-infamy Bernie Madoff and Chappaquiddick Teddy Kennedy. He represents a world that is selfish, has no scruples and uses money to get away with some of the worst misdemeanours.
In a subplot, Miller is seen walking away from a terrible car accident where his lover, Julie Cote (former Victoria’s Secret model Laetitia Casta), is killed. He tries to wriggle out of the mess by asking Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), the son of a former chauffeur, for help, putting the boy’s life and future in jeopardy. When things reach a flashpoint, Miller dangles millions to keep Grant with him.
Indian star Mammootty, Indian actress Shabana Azmi, who is heading the Narrative Feature Jury, and Sri Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundara, who is on the New Horizons Jury, were part of the star-spangled evening. So were some leading lights of Arab cinema, and they included Menna Shalabi, Bassem Samra, Elham Shahin, Carmen Lebbos, Jamal Soliman, Bassel Khayat, Hatem Ali, Ibrahim All Moulla, Mohammad Al Mansour, Abdel Aziz Jasimm, Daod Husein, Bothaina Al Rais, Salah Al Moulla and Zahara al Khargi.
The Festival, being held under the directorship of Ali Al Jabri, the first Emirati to hold the post, will screen 81 full-length features and 84 shorts from 48 countries. Manjit Singh’s debut feature, Mumbai’s King, and Kamal’s I.D. will be part of this package. (Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Abu Dhabi Film Festival)