Friday, December 18, 2009

IFFK 2009: The Blow-Out

Today at around 5pm, as Raul Ruiz’s ‘Nucingen House’, a fantasy filled with the fluid that makes time-space of memories and experiences, ended with ruminations on journeys against a black screen, the curtains went down on IFFK 2009 and all the faithful that had gathered and stayed till the lag end called it with wolf whistles and loud applause. And that was it. The delegate IDs went off the necks, the stalls disappeared, the flag and festoons came down. There was no drama, no comedy, no sentiment. The depraved and the perverted went back to their homes and their offices- tending kids, writing checks, providing tech support, booking tickets for ‘Avatar’ and ‘Vetaikaran’. If you asked us, we’d probably plead innocent and refute all charges. But the fact remains that ‘Antichrist’ played an unprecedented five packed shows. 4 of them scheduled and one put together exclusively ‘on public demand.’


My second Arturo Ripstein film of the festival and while like the first it wanders bravely into scandalous territories, it lacked the ingenious structure and deranged firmament of ‘The Realm of Fortune’. Also, as yet another critique of organized religion and particularly blasphemous of Christianity, I reeled with fatigue. There had been one two many films in the last few days that did just that. But as powerful director of surrealist imagery laced with sepulchral humor, Ripstein’s shock to the tender modern psyche continues to register with brute impact.

While ‘The Realm of Fortune’ was a dark pyramid built in the mind, ‘Divine’unfolds like it were a religious book or even, a religious movie for the dark ages of the new millennium. It takes around the turn to the 2000s and chronicles a religious cult in Mexico started by a deluded old couple who worship at the altar of Our Mother of the End of the World and keep awaiting for the return of the messiah and live in a commune that goes by the name of ‘The New Jerusalem’. Barbie dolls, Cecil B. Demille moves starring Victor Mature and Charlton Heston, Video Games, Television- these are the new totems and mediums through which the members of the church receive their communication from God. Once again, Ripstein plays broad comedy with sick strokes and catches the viewer off-guard between apocalyptic grimness, brutal excess and broadly funny satire.

‘The New Jerusalem’ is populated by society’s rejects- drug addicts, abused teens, the repressed, the homeless and the wretched. Unfolding chapter by chapter which Ripstein titles as ‘The Mystery of the Wrath of God’ or ‘The Mystery of the Second Coming’, he deconstructs religion, its paraphernalia, its allures, seductions and dangerous delusions and casts a shadow of doom, before ending on a beguilingly ambiguous note.

Nucingen House

‘Nucingen House’, a last minute replacement for Jacques Rivette’s ‘Around a Small Mountain’ as the final film to be screened at IFFK 2009 was my first experience of Chilean art house legend and cinephile-intellectual Raul Ruiz. The synopsis seemed to indicate a Victorian horror film but as the movie began I was thrown away at once by the fact that it was a period film shot digitally with the most pedestrian results. The aesthetic seemed to jar with tacky TV modernity when the material seemed to call for the thundering atmospherics.

Then the camera moved. Glided rather, on rarified air like Dracula’s brides. It showed you a scene, paused to take in the mis-en-scene and then moved back or turned away to reveal or confound with yet another secret. The gaze itself seemed as certain of the end of the corridor as it was uncertain of the ghosts that stood waiting at the turn. The narrator of the story seemed equally unreliable equally on terms and at odds with the flow of the camera. Was the story the overheard conversation at the dinner table where the protagonist sits; or was it the narration of the protagonist himself or is it director Ruiz? Flashbacks are confused with dreams and dazes. The fantastic is juxtaposed with the human and the seemingly real. The absurd turns into terror and terror back into comedy. The digital aesthetic which at first seemed unfortunate begins to yield into an atmosphere of its own. Blonde hairs dissolving in sunlight, the smudges of the candle stands, the blurs, the occasional color- a new aesthetic of beauty and ambiance is formed. And it blends seamlessly together with orchestral score played by one of the film’s characters on a piano that he seemingly created from the memory of a snatch of Debussy’s ‘Sunken Cathedral’ and was completed with the specter of the haunting quality of the piece serving as the muse. An inexplicable connect pulls it all together and like the best of Poe, Bierce, Hitchcock, Cluzot, all masters of thrill and suspense, it is this mysterious all-too-human stuff that haunts the film. The absurd fear of the vulture eye in ‘The tell-tale heart’, the obsession in ‘vertigo’ and the madness of ‘le corbeau’; they need not be explained and they cannot be but we know them more than we know the streets of Paris and San Fransisco.

Through the most generic of pulpy tale, Ruiz poetically and subtly distills this ‘human stuff’.

And with that it all came to an End.

In Trivandrum Avatar news, the release of the film has been postponed to Saturday evening on account that the prints are not yet arrived. 'Sreepadmanabha' the theater screening the film was mobbed all day today when members of the public undeterred neither by the hot sun or the fact that the IFFK had just come to an end stood in endless cues for tickets to the film which will reportedly change the face of cinema forever.

Capsule Reviews:

'Monrak Transistor' is an absolute joy.
'Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl' is exactly that.
‘Seasons’ is definitely not ‘thegreatestmalaylamfilminthelastfiveyears’. It checks in just about okay.
‘Ek Tho Chance’ is an absolute wash-out.
‘Harishchandrachi factory’ is a classic of our times and should be given an all-India tax-free release.
‘Antichrist’ is passé.
‘The Last Supper’ is one of the greatest political films of all time.
Mrinal Sen deserves a greater focus.
Raul Ruiz is some kind of master.
Arturo Ripstein is as supremely fucked up as it gets.
Everbody should watch Fransesco Rosi.


Dr. Fun Man Chu and Hard Ed

The place I come home to

The Festival and its organizers who make it happen every year

And to beautiful, debauched Trivandrum you should really stop pleading innocent for the rest of the year.

(Cross-posted at

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