Mumbai Film Festival 2013: The Best and the Worst

At the Mumbai Film Festival 2013, I managed to watch exactly 25 films from all over the world in 7 days. The lineup of 2013 was impressive, mirroring the exceptional leap in the number of quality films produced this year. Over the last few years, MFF (or MAMI, as it is more commonly known) has gained immense popularity amongst cinema lovers in the country. Apart from the Mumbai folks that dedicate every waking hour to devouring great cinema over 7 days without a break, film aficionados from all over the country travel to the city in October to do the same.

This year, MFF had its chief venues at Liberty cinema at Marine Lines, coupled with the multiplex Metro Adlabs. The secondary venue, commonly visited by most of the film industry, was Cinemax Versova. The workshops/lectures/guest sessions were all held at Liberty though, and for those willing to make the trek to town, it was well worth it. 
 
Asghar Farhadi, the Oscar winning Iranian filmmaker for last year’s gem ‘The Separation’, graced the festival as Chief Guest to present his new film ‘Le Passe (The Past)’. Apart from that, the enigmatic French filmmaker Leos Carax was present for a special tribute section, and legends Costa Gavras and Kamal Hassan were conferred with Life Achievement Awards. 
 
Some of the famous films to be screened at the fest in 2013 were Cannes, Sundance and Toronto winners, already creating a great amount of buzz around the world.  
 
Here is my list of the top 5 (out of 25 watched films) in MFF 2013:
 
The Amazing Catfish (Mexico) 
Los insolitos peces gato, Claudia Sainte-Luce’s feature debut, may not have been watched by many at this year’s festival. The few that were lucky enough to choose this unknown film from the famous list were exposed to a moving tale of a quirky single-parent family and a directionless drifter girl absorbed by them. 
 
 
 
Claudia, played by the striking Ximena Ayala, is struck with appendicitis and finds herself next to a noisy bunch of 3 teenage daughters, a youngest son and a dying mother in the hospital. Much of the film’s effectiveness depends on Claudia’s struggle with her own emotions, her lack of expressiveness and her inherent loneliness. She lives a dark, aimless life until she finds a purpose. Her entry into their lives is so seamless, pure and natural that one doesn’t question her motives in these increasingly cynical times. Martha (Lisa Owen), the dying mother (HIV), is a powerhouse even while she is fading- trying hard to keep her dysfunctional young family together. Claudia is the inspiration she needs, a daughter she never had, and the film is made up of moments that bring a reluctant Claudia closer to hyperactive family- they need her as much as she needs them. Andrea Baeza, who plays the eldest Mariana, is supposed to be the new matriarchal head, but obviously struggles with her siblings. 
 
The terrific ensemble cast forms a lump-in-throat journey that ends with the inevitable, yet manages to be gloriously uplifting. Easily my best film of the festival, a family I wanted to hug and help. 
 
Blue Is The Warmest Color (France)
Irrespective of the ugly controversy and verbal spats between auteur director Abdellatif Kechiche and stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulus, the Palme d’Or winning film is well worth the hype. All over the world, it is currently known for its explicit sex scenes between the onscreen lesbian lovers. 
 
 
 
Under it all though, BITWC (based on a graphic novel Blue Angels) is nothing but a very real passionate love story between two human beings that struggle to keep afloat like many conventional couples. 
 
15 year old Adele (played by Adele) discovers that she prefers girls to boys quite early, and the filmmaker illustrates her sexual awakening brilliant through a series of well-acted incidents that brings us closer to the confused girl. Soon, she finds Emma (Lea), an older arts-college girl, who shows her a world she has always wanted to see. The sex scenes only make us invest deeper into their emotional upheaval, and makes us part of their initial ‘taboo’ romance. Adele gives one of the greatest male or female performances of all time in a role that squeezes her dry of her innocent teenage years- and she startles us with her mature understanding of lust and heartbreak. Lea provides a great foil, playing the ‘man’ in their relationship with alarming ease, creating chemistry with Adele that needs to be seen to be believed.
 
This 3 hour long epic love story deserves much more than a single paragraph, for it demonstrates every single aspect of a first love with painstaking assuredness. 
 
Mr. Morgan’s Last Love 
Sandra Nettelbeck’s film, based on a French novel, is about a lonely retired American widower in Paris, who comes across a young endearing Parisian girl. Michael Caine, despite his dodgy Texan accent, manages to put years of experience into an emotional portrayal of a lost man struggling to stop loving his dead wife. Clemence Poesy (In Bruges) is the young dance teacher that changes the man’s life by just existing on the cold streets of a beautiful Paris. On the face of it, many would expect this to be the usual older man-younger woman love story, but this film is much more than that. It is about two polarizing characters and their individual lives. Whenever Caine appears on screen, you feel like reaching out and holding his hand. Of course, he wants the same, and wants to end it if he doesn’t get it. 
 
Their relationship is handled so charmingly that one is not sure if it is more of a father-daughter bond or a nameless platonic bond. The only thing we really know, thanks to Caine’s heartbreaking performance, is that they need company. Desperately. They are missing a chunk in their lives, and force eachother to become that chunk until reality cannot be ignored any longer. 
 
Worth a watch, and quite a tearjerker. 
 
The Rocket
The Australian entry to next year’s Oscars, this film is a Laos-based drama directed by Kim Mordaunt. Ahlo, a 10 year old boy (played confidently by Sitthiphon Disamoe), is forced to move villages with his poor family consisting of a loving mother, a gloomy father and an annoying grandmother. He is a twin, but his father is unaware that the other sibling died at birth. Being a twin in the particular part of Laos means that one is good, and the other is evil. Ahlo spends the entire film trying to prove that he is not the unlucky kid that everyone thinks him to be- especially after his mother is killed in a freak accident. On their gloomy disastrous journey, they come across an 8 year old girl Kia and her James-Brown inspired eccentric uncle Purple. And yes, a rocket competition for the rain Gods. 
 
The Rocket is hell of a crowd pleaser, and had the crowd in ruptures after going through dreary dark European films for days. It has all the elements a usual Bollywood potboiler has, much like Lagaan did, and comes as a fresh festival surprise with competent kid actors and a beautiful soundtrack. It ends with the rocket competition of course, and the build-up- though ridden with convenient flaws- somehow pulls through the chaos of expectant crowds and a family aching for victory and relief. 
 
Jeune and Jolie (Young and the Beautiful)
A competitor with BITWC for the Palme d’Or this year, Jeune and Jolie is an elegant portrayal of a sensuous teenage prostitute and the repercussions of her lifestyle on her liberal-thinking family. Marine Vacht is ethereal as Isabelle, an insanely attractive 17 year old girl that caters to all sorts of ‘older’ posh clients in fancy Parisian hotels. Why, even she doesn’t know- because she belongs to a rich family with a creepy curious younger brother. But she genuinely begins to love what she does, until no boy her age can ever mean anything to her. She falls into trouble while one of her old clients, a gentle old man, dies while she is on top of him. 
 
It is also the moment of the film that provides nervous laughter- because it is a glorious way to die, of course. She is every male’s fantasy- a schoolgirl seductress- and she forms the backbone of a subdued fragile drama- an extremely good looking film about a frisky young girl’s aimless experimentation. 
 
Apart from these five exceptional films, a number of good films that didn’t make it to my list would include: Matterhorn (Denmark), Before Midnight, Don Jon (Joseph Gordon Lewitt’s sassy directorial debut), the Indian documentary (and best Indian film) Katiyabaaz, The Armstrong Lie, a Versova indie Sulemani Keeda, Le Demantelment, The Face Of Love, (In the name of)Wimie and Wajma. 
 
Don Jon
 
Katiyabaaz
 
The disappointments: My Dog Killer, Mood Indigo (Gondy’s worst), Tom At the Farm (Dolan’s ordinary thriller), La Plage, The Fifth Estate and A Strange Little Cat. 
 
There were other remarkable films that I did not manage to watch, namely: Inside Llewyn Davis, Fandry, Ilo Ilo, Short Term 12, Heli and Picasso’s gang. 
 
 

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