Reviewing The Best And The Worst Movies Of The 54th International Film Festival Of India

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Last week, the 54th International Film Festival of India, which takes place in Goa, came to a close. It featured around 250 films from India and all over the globe. So, without a time machine or a cloning machine, it was technically impossible to watch every single film, even though it seemed like all of them (barring the propaganda films that catered to majoritarian sentiments, of course) deserved the attention of film enthusiasts. I managed to watch around 20 of them and published the reviews for Farrey, Kadak Singh, and Rautu Ki Beli during the festival. And now I am here with the mini-reviews for the rest of them. I am not sure when they’ll be released to the rest of the world, but I assure you that you won’t regret putting the good ones on your watchlist and avoiding the bad ones like the plague. Therefore, without further ado, let’s talk about the best and the worst of IFFI 54.


Yannick

French director Quentin Dupieux’s film tells the story of the titular character, who attends the stage performance of Le Cocu (which means The Cuckold). At one point, he gets angry and explicitly tells the actors—Paul Rivière, Sophie Denis, and William Keller—that he isn’t getting his money’s worth from this show. The actors try to pacify him and empathize with his plight. But when Yannick refuses to reciprocate that, they request that he leave, and he obliges. As he leaves, he hears the actors mocking him, and the audience enjoying it. That’s when he decides to hold the entire theater hostage at gunpoint and change the entire act to his liking.

You don’t need to be a genius to know that Yannick is a commentary on the constantly evolving relationship between the audience and the artist. However, the way Dupieux explores a complex topic seems very organic and spontaneous. There’s not a second in the whole film where it feels “scripted.” Everything feels improvised, and I mean that as a compliment aimed at Dupieux’s writing, direction, editing, and cinematography (yes, he has done it all). The performances from the entire cast are top-notch, with Raphaël Quenard definitely stealing the show. There’s a moment with a printer that made me belly laugh. The ending is quite bittersweet and leaves you with a lot of thoughts about the role of the audience, critics, and artists and how easily it can be tarnished if either party refuses to be respectful towards each other and art in general.


Eureka

The Lisandro Alonso film, which he has co-written with Martín Caamaño and Fabian Casas, opens with a film within the film that depicts the Wild West in the most typical fashion possible while portraying the Native American community in a cliche manner. The focus then shifts to a police officer, Debonna, who seemingly helps the director (and actor) of that film within this film and assigns Sadie to look after her. Sadie helps in the rehabilitation of juveniles, especially those who belong to her community. But she is apparently suffering from depression, which causes her to transform into the titular migratory bird, following which she proceeds to travel all across North and South America, through various time periods, in search of stories of oppression and freedom for the indigenous peoples.

I won’t beat around the bush and just state it as explicitly as possible: Eureka is a slow movie. It’s such a slow movie, and since nothing really happens over the course of its 146 minutes of running time, a lot of people walked out of the screening. But I stayed seated and understood what Alonso was trying to do. I am sure that it wasn’t the intention, but the film ended up silencing all those crying about the “Native American” perspective that was absent in Killers of the Flower Moon as he quietly showcased the various shades of the lives of communities that are indigenous to the entirety of America. One of my favorite moments from the movie is when a trio of teens from a tribe are playing in the river, and it is disrupted by a stray can of soft drink. They observe it and discard it. Nothing is said verbally, but that little gesture speaks so much about the intrusion of white Americans into the lives of Native Americans and how the latter wish they could trash the influence of white America while giving you the true Native American experience, which is unlike anything that Hollywood has shown for decades. In short, the movie requires patience because it deserves it.


Close Your Eyes

Victor Erice’s Spanish-Argentine film, which he has co-written with Michel Gaztambide, opens with an unfinished fictional film called The Farewell Gaze. The reason why it remains unfinished is because its lead, Julio Arenas, decided to disappear without a trace. Two decades later, a TV show looks into this case and brings in Arenas’ friend and the director of the unfinished film, Miguel Garay, to speculate on the disappearance. This prompts Garay to not only look for more footage from the film with the help of editor and archivist Max but also reunite with Ana (Julio’s daughter) and a friend and former lover, Lola, to get a better understanding of what went through Julio’s mind before arriving at that fateful decision. And when Garay hits a dead end, he learns about the existence of a man who may or may not be Julio Arenas himself.

At first glance, Close Your Eyes can seem like a “searching for a missing person” kind of mystery thriller. But upon closer inspection, you can see that Erice is talking about resurrecting a period of filmmaking that can serve as an antidote for the poison that is “content creation.” Erice even pinpoints the genre of “content” that he abhors, i.e., true crime dramas. And he is correct because it’s such an easy way to make money by mining the trauma of people without doing anything necessarily productive. Fortunately, there’s so much of it that it’s attracting a lot of criticism. But is it enough to shut the subgenre down and bring back the focus on real films? I don’t know, and Erice doesn’t either. In terms of the technical aspects, it looks and sounds beautiful. There’s a film projection sequence that’s so heartwarming. The performances don’t even feel like performances, and that’s a compliment. It’s very slow, so you have to be patient with it.


The Peasants

DK Welchman and Hugh Welchman’s The Peasants is based on William Reymont’s novel and tracks the downfall of the village of Lipce over the course of one year. The film’s protagonist is Jagna. She is in love with Antek. Now, Antek is the son of the wealthy Maciej, and he is the husband of Hanka, thereby making Antek and Jagna’s relationship the talk of the town in the worst way imaginable. Things get more complex when Maciej decides to marry Jagna and gives her access to his wealth, while everyone else has little to no access to it. On top of that, there’s the threat of invasion by the landowners, who are looking to cut down the forest around Lipce in order to expand their reach. All this rising tension somehow makes Jagna the punching bag of the village because when people can’t blame the actual villains, they choose the easiest target.

Much like Loving Vincent, The Peasants is an unparalleled work of art. According to Hugh Welchman, who was present at the IFFI screening, they’ve used digital painting for the Polish film, but just for the in-betweens. The rest of the film is made of oil paintings, and it’s mesmerizing to look at. It’s so engrossing that you sometimes lose focus of the story, which is undoubtedly great as it talks about sexism and internalized misogyny and how “pretty privilege” isn’t a boon but a curse. But, more than that, I think the film serves as a tight slap to all those idiots who think they can use AI to create art, because no AI can make this. Only human hands and minds can do this. The phrase “Animation is not a genre for kids; it’s a medium for all kinds of stories” is usually used for movies and shows that have some topics that are meant for adults and are filled with crass jokes. But The Peasants is truly a “made for adults” animated film. In addition to that, it takes things back to the classic, hand-painted era of animation, thereby adding some texture to the landscape of animated films that are deviating from fully CGI animation.


The Other Shape

Diego Felipe Guzmán’s dialogue-less Colombian film takes place in a dystopian future where humanity is trying to get to the Moon (which is square in shape, for some reason) as Earth continues to become inhabitable. And the only way to get there is by fitting oneself into blocks that are shaped like the pieces in Tetris. Once all the blocks in a column are filled, they jet off into space and land on the Moon. Once all the columns are gone, then the Earth is going to shut down. Now, each human has about a hundred days to physically transform into the shape that’s assigned to them. They are given access to a specific apparatus that’ll stretch their skin, compress their head, or bend their body in a weird way, and if someone really wants to go to the Moon, they have to adhere to this 100-day routine or risk elimination.

Much like The Peasants, The Other Shape is also a piece of art that has been animated with the help of over 60,000 drawings, and, let’s just say, it’s not meant for kids. There’s something Cronenberg-ian about the character designs and how they contort themselves to achieve their goal. The depiction of the “free-spirited” nature of the people and the planet, who don’t want to become squares, is so ethereal and akin to Hayao Miyazaki’s portrayal of the same. And it feels like the perfectly grotesque spiritual successor to The Matrix and, weirdly enough, The Lego Movie. If you have seen a lot of “adult animation,” I don’t think that the visuals are going to disturb you. It’s actually the sound design that is going to make you cringe. To be clear, that’s a compliment because that’s the purpose of the sound design. The score is fantastic! So, yes, it’s an amazing film and worth a watch.


Dhai Aakhar

Praveen Arora’s film, which is written by Asghar Wajahat and based on Amrik Singh Deep’s Tirthatan Ke Baad, tells the story of Harshita, an elderly woman who has lived through an abusive marriage. After the death of her husband, she decides to go to her pen pal and lover, Shridhar, under the garb of attending a pilgrimage. Harshita’s family, which is made of her two sons, their wives, and the daughter of the elder son, comes across the letters that have been exchanged between Harshita and Shridhar and decides to shun Harshita or kill her for bringing shame to the household. Meanwhile, Harshita enjoys her time together with Shridhar in a secluded area of Haridwar, cleansing her soul of the dirt that has been slapped on her by her deceased husband, unaware of what’s unfolding back home.

You know how people on the internet keep saying that they want a simple, soft romantic film where Shah Rukh Khan and Tabu spend the entire runtime in the hills? Yes, this is that film, and it has Mrinal Kulkarni and Harish Khanna as the leads, and they are fantastic. This is one of the most soothing romantic movies I have ever seen. When the moments of conflict kick into high gear, it gets really anxiety-inducing. But other than that, it’s a calming viewing experience. The cinematography, the songs, the sound design—it all works so perfectly. Chandan Anand, Neer Rao, Rohit Kokate, Smriti Mishra, Prasanna Bisht (who is wildly different from her turn in Farrey), and the kid who plays the daughter of the elder son (her name isn’t credited anywhere) are excellent. Given how Three of Us got a theatrical turn, I believe that Dhai Aakhar will get its day in the sun as well.


Pradakshina

Prathamesh Mahale’s short film was presented along with Dhai Aakhar, and just by looking at it, you won’t be able to say that it was made by a 22-year-old film student from the MIT Institute of Design. The maturity and poise with which he tells the story of a widowed girl, Suma, and her father-in-law are nothing short of impressive. Mahale actually doesn’t give a lot of insight about what has happened and merely gives a glimpse of what is about to happen in Suma’s life, and yet it’s an engaging viewing experience. Based on the performances of Dilip Angre and Isha Joglekar, their costume design, the cinematography, and the pacing, you just know that they needed this detour from their regular life. And even though second marriages are still treated as taboo, especially in conservative families, the young filmmaker hopes for a better future where a woman and, by extension, her family aren’t restricted by one undoubtedly life-altering incident.


Neela Nira Sooriyan

Samyuktha Vijayan’s Neela Nira Sooriyan (alternatively titled Blue Sunshine) is about Aravind’s transition into Bhanu. Aravind belongs to a conservative family where the father and the mother want Aravind to get married to a girl. Aravind’s father is in a lot of debt, and Aravind’s uncle comes up with the idea of getting Aravind married to the daughter of the guy who lent him the money in the first place. Although Aravind has been undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT), he decides to be who he has always wanted to be, i.e., Bhanu. And while the pushback from the parents is expected, the school’s regressive stance is shocking, as they refuse to let Bhanu teach there. Parallel to this story, we see the son of the financier struggling with their gender, thereby making the school more hostile towards Bhanu.

Personally speaking, Neela Nira Sooriyan is the best film of IFFI 54 and, obviously, one of the best movies of the year. Samyuktha Vijayan, a transgender woman herself, and her whole team have made a perfect movie that covers almost everything there is to be said about transitioning while keeping things intimate enough to feel like a biography. By her own admission, Neela Nira Sooriyan, at times, functions like a documentary as it shows the tiring process of changing one’s name and gender due to the insensitivity of government institutions. Despite debuting as a director, Vijayan’s work is confident and incredibly mature. The performances from the entire cast, with the actress playing the VP aiming for the “villain of the year” award, are spectacular. And I appreciate the fact that Vijayan goes for a bittersweet (more bitter than sweet) ending to echo the reality of trans women. I’ll also say that watching the film days after the death by suicide of a queer artist, Pranshu, made it all the more poignant and pointed out how much we’ve got to evolve as a country to make it a habitable space for the LGBTQ+ community.


Lumberjack The Monster

Takashi Miike’s Kaibutsu no Kikori, which has been written by Hiroyoshi Koiwai and based on the novel by Mayusuke Kurai, is centered around an emotionless lawyer, Akira Ninomiya, who works with an equally emotionless doctor, Kuro Sugitani, to mercilessly kill people in the name of experimentation. One day, Akira becomes the target of a serial killer who dresses up as the Lumberjack Monster from a picture book and scoops the brains of his victims. Akira luckily survives and starts looking for the killer while suddenly falling in love with his ex-fiance, Emi. Simultaneously, an investigation is launched by the police, which is headed by Ranko Toshiro, and the number one name that pops up is that of Takeshi Kenmochi.

As someone who has grown up watching Miike’s Crows movies and has loved everything he has made since, I was beyond excited to watch his latest project. But I was a little confused going into it because IFFI isn’t synonymous with Miike’s level of debauchery. The festival has featured some films this year that are out there, but they aren’t as messed up as Miike’s stuff. That said, as the story of Lumberjack The Monster unfolded, I understood why it made the cut. It’s Miike’s most timid and accessible film yet. It is a very regular Japanese mystery thriller with some shades of Miike’s macabre vibes. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable. The cinematography, the editing, the music, the action are heavily stylized. The performances from the cast, especially those of Kazuya Kamenashi, Nanao, and Kiyohiko Shibukawa, are splendid. And those final moments are a head-turner for sure! I hope that helps you with your expectations.


Deep Fridge

Arjunn Dutta’s fourth film dissects the relationship between Swarnava and Mili five years after their divorce. Mili lives with her son Tatai and is in a relationship with an artist named Asif. Swarnava has married Ronja, who is currently pregnant. When Swarnava learns that Tatai is sick and Mili is drowning in work, he drops in on a stormy night to take care of Tatai. As they begin to reconnect, we get glimpses of the fateful night when Swarnava and Mili’s 10-year-long stint came to an end.

If you aren’t privy to the state of the Bengali film industry, Deep Fridge will seem like typical fare. But if you have seen countless recently released Bengali films which are not synonymous with “good filmmaking,” you’ll understand its importance. Arjunn and his team’s technical prowess is reminiscent of the late Rituparno Ghosh, as they layer every frame and every edit with so much subtext and emotion. The dialogue written by Dutta, Ashirbad Maitra, and Atmadeep Bhattacharya has a level of spontaneity that I haven’t seen in a Bengali film in the past few decades, while also having metaphors that move you deeply. The sound design, which subtly changes to indicate the perspective from which we are perceiving the drama, is magnificent. The use of the titular refrigerator is so smart. And while every member of the cast knocks it out of the park, Tnusree Chakraborty ends up being the main attraction. The range that she displays absolutely floored me.


Utsavmurti

Abhijeet Arvind Dalvi’s short film was presented along with Deep Fridge, where we saw a boy named Kanha expressing his envy at an idol of Lord Ganesha for hogging all the attention during Ganesh Utsav. So, in a supernatural way, Kanha’s wish of getting the same kind of attention was fulfilled, but sooner rather than later, he realized that there was plenty wrong with the religious festival. Without revealing too much about the plot, I’ll say that Dalvi and his entire team are really brave for commenting on such an important and obvious aspect of religion in a religious-political climate that’s extremely volatile. I can totally see this particular story existing as a feature film in the ‘60s. But now, even a short film on this topic feels monumental. On top of that, it’s competent in terms of filmmaking! What else can I ask for? Well, an audience with an open mind and a sense of awareness about what’s happening in this country in the name of religion.


Chorus

No, this isn’t a new film. It’s a restoration of the 1974 Mrinal Sen classic. So, everything that needs to be said about its subtext, its text, its visuals, and more has probably been said already. I watched it because, as a Bengali, it’s essential viewing. But as I stared at the big screen, hypnotized by the sheer power of the filmmaking, I realized that Chorus is way more relevant than every other modern Indian film, has way more bite than every other modern Indian film, and feels more visually dynamic than every modern Indian film. Nowadays, filmmakers, critics, and audiences are so scared to say that politicians, the police, and bureaucrats are the villains of Nu-India, even though it’s a fact. And back in the day, Mr. Sen made several movies where he stated this very universally applicable fact as explicitly as possible. In the 21st century, a lot of discourse around art has become about how it should be non-political and how artists can’t speak truth to power because they’ve got mouths to feed. And there was Mrinal Sen and his team boldly being political and risking everything because art was the most important thing for them. So, the question arises: what has changed? Have we become more spineless, or have those in power become more dictatorial? Or is it both? Either way, watch Chorus and grow a spine, because we can’t expect the fascists to be less fascist.


The Zone of Interest

Jonathan Glazer’s film, which is based on Martin Amis’ novel, is about the real-life Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, who built a life for his family near the concentration camp. So, in the foreground, you have a Nazi household going about their daily activities like it’s nothing, and in the background, you have hundreds of Jews being killed every second. Sometimes the background bleeds into the foreground, but it’s rarely impactful enough to cause any kind of real alarm in the lives of these Nazis. The biggest conflict that takes place in the film is when Rudolf has to be transferred from Auschwitz, and his wife, Hedwig, doesn’t want to move with him.

Now, look, I understand what the movie is doing. Glazer and his team’s subtle depiction of the normalization of fascism is harrowing. But it’s harrowing for the people who know that fascism is bad. Given the current rise of right-wing nationalism and the normalization of various kinds of fascism, this subtlety feels kind of ineffective. I am pretty sure that the pro-fascists sitting in the audience are simply going to take gardening, fashion, and cheating-on-your-partner-through-a-secret-tunnel tips from the film instead of realizing how they are doing what the objectively horrible villains have done in the past while being complicit in the deaths of minorities. So, that begs the question: Who is this film for? I understand the film’s intent, and I appreciate the execution, but given the polarized climate in which it is being released, I feel that it’s going to have the exact opposite effect.


Hurry Om Hurry

Despite liking this Nisarg Vaidya film, which has been written by Vinod K. Sarvaiya, Vaidya, Viral Shah, and Hardik Sangani, I think it’s unfair to talk about it because it refuses to acknowledge that it is a remake of Ashwath Marimuthu’s Oh My Kadavule. Both the Kannada remake and the Telugu remake have properly credited Marimuthu for his work. But, at the time of writing this article, Hurry Om Hurry’s Wikipedia page has no mention of Oh My Kadavule. A cursory Google search and social media search also has not yielded any results of the makers of Hurry Om Hurry admitting that it’s a remake. I was there at the film’s IFFI screening along with the makers, and they didn’t utter the words Oh My Kadavule even once. As someone who has watched both films, I think that they’re equally mediocre. However, if Hurry Om Hurry is a rip-off or an unofficial remake, then it’s worse than Oh My Kadavule in my books.


Moro

Brillante Mendoza’s film, which has been written by Honeylyn Joy Alipio, is about the displacement of the Maguindanao people by the violent Philippine government forces. This highly relevant topic is explored through the estranged relationship of two brothers, Jasim and Abdel, who are fighting over a piece of land and their mother’s nightmares about their eventual demise. However, it’s the crude and borderline amateurish execution that sours the whole viewing experience. After a certain point, the whole film becomes a cacophony of sounds and jarring visuals that aims to shock the audience but only manages to achieve a sense of dullness. If this would’ve been a Wakaliwood film, I would’ve understood that the roughness is part of the aesthetic and reflective of the fact that movies are still being made in the harshest of conditions. I don’t think that’s the case here, and what we are seeing is simply Brillante’s “vision,” and subjectively speaking, it’s not good.


Rabindra Kabya Rahasya

Sayantan Ghosal’s conspiracy thriller imagines a world where an Illuminati-esque group is trying to destabilize India by targeting Rabindranath Tagore because Rabindranath Tagore is synonymous with the country’s “soft power.” Also, there’s a serial killer who is killing those who are tarnishing Rabindranath Tagore’s name while leaving verses from Gitanjali and a fake Nobel Prize on the victims, thereby repeating the pattern of killings that had happened hundreds of years ago. And it’s up to a poet-detective, Abhik Bose, to solve this mystery before things get too serious. Despite being a Bengali who hasn’t rigorously read Tagore’s work and doesn’t worship him on a daily basis, I felt like this movie was an insult to my very surface-level intelligence about literature and murder mysteries in general. So, I can’t even imagine what it’ll be like for everyone else. To put it simply, I’ll willingly unleash this film only on my worst enemies.


Kathabor

Given how Keshar Jyoti Das is a budding filmmaker, I don’t want to dunk on his short film. I’ll use this opportunity to say that Das and his work exist somewhere in the realm of entertainment, and I hope that he continues to make films and improve his ability to convey emotions through the medium of cinema.


Grey Games

Gangadhar Salimath’s latest film is about a boy who is living the dream life. He has the perfect girlfriend. He has access to the Metaverse. And, even though his parents are protective, they allow him to do whatever he wants with his life. But one day, after a weird gaming session, the girlfriend dies, thereby causing the boy to spiral out of control. The parents request an unorthodox therapist to help the boy, as do the grandfather of the deceased girl and a police officer who is looking into a string of killings. Therefore, a seemingly self-contained case about unpacking the trauma of a kid who relies way too much on his virtual lifestyle turns into a manhunt that’ll test the mettle of everyone involved.

No matter how you cut Grey Games, it simply doesn’t work. If you look at it from a “virtual reality is rotting young minds” perspective, it falls apart. If you treat it as a case of heightened misandry, it doesn’t really stick. The portrayal of therapy is hilariously bad. There are long stretches of the film that are made of footage from Fortnite or PUBG, and the gameplay isn’t even engaging enough to give it a pass. There are lighting inconsistencies throughout the film. There are glitches in the sound design. The movie has a scene where a guy fires a gun, and there’s no VFX or SFX to suggest that a gun has been fired. And just when you think that Salimath has purposefully kept the identity of the girl’s killer a mystery, he explains it bluntly in a post-credits sequence. It’s actually so bad that it’s kind of enjoyable. I hope that what I’ve seen is an early version of the film that was cobbled together for the film festival, and they’ll rectify all of the aforementioned issues before it’s released nationwide. If they don’t, well, I won’t be surprised.


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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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