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Gems stem the IFFI rot

Beginning today, we bring for you a Daily Diary on the goings-on in IFFI 2003, written by cinema expert Saibal Chatterjee

india Updated: Oct 18, 2003 16:58 IST

On a desultory Friday afternoon, hours after the 34th International Film Festival of India opened with the screening of Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Partition drama Pinjar, one is assailed by a disturbing thought.

Is IFFI actually dying a slow death? The attendance at the main venue, the Siri Fort Cultural Complex, is unusually low this year and the three halls screening festival entries for the press and delegates are running empty.

And then, almost miraculously, the magic of cinema takes over and everything falls back into place.

Barely into its second day, IFFI 2003 has already thrown up at least two little gems worth going miles to see. Really, it feels like the good old days again. The mounting chaos, the gross mismanagement, the poor projection facilities, the commotion caused by inconsiderate viewers who float in and out of an auditorium during a screening without a care in the world and the cacophony of mobile ringtones that refuse to stop are quickly forgotten as Italy’s Marco Bellocchio and Germany’s Wolgang Becker materialize out of nowhere to play saviour to an event that was written off as a lost cause eons ago.

Thank heavens! It’s business as usual. There is life yet in IFFI.

Bellocchio’s wonderfully well-crafted film, My Mother’s Smile, is a masterly meditation on religious faith and human freedom. An atheistic illustrator of children’s fables, Ernesto, learns that his dead mother, murdered by a psychotic sibling, is on the verge of canonization. The church enlists all the support it can for its move, including that of a man who claims to be the beneficiary of a miracle cure, but Ernesto stands in the way.

Realising that his family had kept him in the dark about the procedure to grant sainthood to his mother for three years, Ernesto confronts truths about himself, about his little son who lives with his estranged wife, a beautiful religion teacher, his own temperamentally incompatible brothers... indeed, about life itself.

My Mother’s Smile is a marvelous story. But more than that, it’s riveting cinema. Bellocchio uses his camera with the felicity of a consummate painter, creating breathing space and shafts of brightness for his moral allegory to unfold without hindrance, and puts forth his now gentle, now provocative ideas with the authority of a philosopher.

Wolfgang Becker’s Goodbye, Lenin belongs to a different genre but is just as impressive. It is a bittersweet drama that seamlessly blends humour and pathos to capture a moment in history and its impact on a set of individuals. An activist for human progress in socialist East Germany falls into a coma following a heart attack. She recovers eight months later and returns home.

By then, the Wall has fallen and the world has changed. Knowing that the shock could kill her, her son keeps the old East Germany ‘alive’ in her room. As the lies pile up, things get increasingly difficult for the boy but he carries on regardless, going to the extent of creating a popular television news show that is stuck in the comforts of the past.

Goodbye, Lenin is only the third feature that Becker has directed but it bears the stamp of a veteran. The film portrays history in the context of a mother-son relationship. The human touches, the flashes of insights into the inevitability of change and the repeated emphasis on the worth of old beliefs elevates Becker’s film to the level of a universal parable. What Goodbye, Lenin articulates is that miracles do happen and that lost causes may still be worth fighting for.

Moving off-screen, doesn’t that message have a bearing on IFFI as well? Indeed, the annual event may be hurtling downhill from reasons non-cinematic, but it isn’t time yet to say "Goodbye, IFFI".

First Published: Oct 11, 2003 16:28 IST