The 46th edition of the International Film Festival of India had an eclectic mix of movies. Held in Goa for the 12th consecutive year, the festival showcased 289 films from 90 countries, from November 20 to 30. Each film had been thoughtfully selected, and it was a challenge for the visitors to decide which movies to watch and which to skip because there were no repeat shows. We bring to you ten films that stood out, starting with Iranian director Jafar Panahi's Taxi/ Taxi Tehran, which won the Golden Bear for best film at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February this year.
Known for his association with the new wave film movement in Iran, Panahi was arrested in March 2010 on charges of creating an anti-Islamic propaganda. He was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from making films for 20 years. However, it didn't stop him from making films covertly. In the past five years, he has made three films, including Taxi. Set inside a taxi that Panahi himself drove on the busy streets of Tehran, the film gives an insight into the life of ordinary Iranians, their concerns, fears, hopes and expectations.
From Iran to Taiwan, our next pick draws heavily from Chinese history. Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin belongs to the wuxia genre of Chinese fiction that has martial arts warriors as its central characters. It is loosely adapted from a short story titled Nie Yinniang by 9th century writer Pei Xing. The film tells the story of a princess, who is trained in martial arts. She is given the ultimate test of choosing between her lover and her calling as a vigilante.
In Mountains May Depart, one of the main characters, Shen Tao, faces a different kind of predicament. Tao has to choose between two suitors—a rich guy who owns a petrol pump and a poor miner. She chooses the rich guy and regrets it later after her family life crumbles. Directed by Jia Zhangke, the film gives a microcosmic depiction of China’s rapid transformation by focusing on one dysfunctional family.
In The Measure of a Man, director Stephane Brize highlights the plight of the ordinary people who are pushed to the corner by circumstances. The central character, Thierry Taugourdeau, faces a moral dilemma—to what extent is he willing to go to keep his job? Vincent Lindon, who played Taugourdeau, won the best actor award at IFFI for his convincing portrayal of a man desperately trying to survive in a capitalistic world.
In Taugourdeau's case, survival is all that matters, but for Karamakata, the lead character in Colombian director Ciro Guerra’s film Embrace of the Serpent, the guilt of being the last surviving member of his tribe becomes a force that eats into his existence.
Inspired by the journal kept by first explorers of the Colombian Amazon, Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, the film has been shot entirely in black and white, which lends it an intense feel.
Another beautifully shot film is Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s Our Little Sister. Adapted from a graphic novel, the film has the trademark stylistic touches of Yasujiro Ozu, who is considered to be the master of Japanese cinema.
It tells the story of three sisters, who travel to the countryside for their father’s funeral where they meet their half-sister. The sisters decide to adopt her. The story then revolves around the changes that come about in their lives because of that one decision.
Peruvian actor Salvador del Solar makes his directorial debut with the film Magallanes, a thriller that focuses on one man’s quest for redemption from a tainted past. An adaptation of the short story La pasajera by Peruvian author Alonso Cueto, the film won the Films in Progress Industry Award at the 62nd San Sebastian Festival in 2014.
Another award-winning film at IFFI was Mexican director Michel Franco’s Chronic, which looks at the relationship that a male nurse shares with his terminally ill patients. The film, which shows the emotional and psychological toll that the job takes on the caregiver, won the best screenplay award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Like Franco, Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas looks at human bonding that arises out of necessity. However, he does it in a very impersonal way. In Desde Alla/ From Afar, Vigas tells the story of a middle-aged man, who seeks the company of young men, but not for fulfilling his physical needs. The film smartly avoids explicit psychological analysis of its characters, and yet there are layers of complexity to each of them. Vigas won the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice Film Festival this year.
After last year’s Caligari: When Horror Comes To Cinema—a documentary that talked about the rise of expressionism in the postwar world—German film critic and director Rudiger Suchsland returned to the festival scene with a follow-up documentary. Called Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses, the film looks at the history of German cinema in the 1920s with the help of carefully selected clips from old films and a narration by Suchsland himself.