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Great films offset festival's glitches

This year, IFFI has attracted one of the finest selections of films in many years, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2005 15:58 IST

The initial hiccups and controversies have been forgotten, so have the drawbacks that go with a new venue. The 36th International Film Festival of India has warmed up nicely thanks to an array of wonderful films in the Cinema of the World section, the centrepiece of the annual event.

This year, the IFFI organisers have attracted one of the finest selections of international films in many years and, to give the devil its due, that has compelled carping critics of the festival reason to ignore all the organisational glitches that stalk them at every step.

The opening film itself set the tone. Olga, directed by Brazilian debutant Jayme Monjardim, is an epic narrative about a German-born Jew anti-Nazi activist who ends up in Brazil as the wife of a Communist leader. Superbly handled and wonderfully well acted, Olga has emerged as one of the biggest hits of the festival. Screened for the sixth time on Monday afternoon, it drew another packed house that included veteran Indian filmmakers like Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Jabbar Patel.

Yet another film that benefits from the quality of the acting is the Italian entry, Cristina Comencini’s Don’t Tell. Like Olga, it has a simple enough, linear narrative. It revolves around the demons of the mind that haunt Sabina, who makes a living by dubbing for TV shows and has a relationship with an actor. On a visit to her professor-brother in the US, Sabina comes face to face with a ghost buried deep in their dysfunctional family’s past and she must exorcise it in order to move on.

The Cinema of the World line-up also has several masters with their latest films. The Greek auteur Theo Angelopoulos is among them. His new film, The Weeping Meadows is a characteristically lush and poetic film that is intended to be the first part of trilogy that Angelopoulos hopes will provide the world a condensation of all hois work. As with all Angelopoulos films, The Weeping Meadows blends the epic sweep of master’s vision – the film alludes to major events of 20th century Greek history – with the touches of intimacy and emotional intensity that come naturally to a great storyteller.

Much the same could be said of Marta Meszaros’ The Unburied Man, a superbly crafted Hungarian film that tells the story of Imre Nagy, one of the most influential figures in the history of the east European nation. Like Angelopoulos, Meszaros is a name that IFFI regulars are familiar with and any film by her invariably attracts widespread attention.

Lesser-known filmmakers like Mikael Hafstrom from Sweden and Marc Rothemund from Germany have contributed two of the best films of this festival. Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl – The Final Days deals with the life of the only woman member of an anti-Nazi group of Munich University students committed to passive resistance against Hitler’s war machine. The psychological edge that the director lends to the film about an innocent girl who turns into a hardened anti-Nazi activist and falls into the clutches of the Gestapo gives it an epic feel.

Hafstrom’s Evil is a sumptuous adaptation of a novel that is set in an elite school where a misfit is terrorised by a bunch of sadistic kids. The film won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2004.

Add to the above films all the entries that have come here from the Cannes Film Festival – including the closing film, L’enfant, the Golden Palm-winning Belgian drama directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, and Michael Haneke’s Hidden – as well as films by Miguel Littin, Alain Corneau and Regis Wargnier and you have a package of cinematic riches that can rival the best that you could hope to get anywhere else in the world.

First Published: Nov 29, 2005 15:31 IST