Mughal-e-Azam (Urd) (wiki)
Most non-asian people's knowledge of Bollywood probably starts and ends with Slumdog Millionaire, which isn't even true Bollywood anyway. I would place myself in such a group, which, when you consider that I am trying to attain a wide breadth of film-related knowledge, means in this area I am seriously lacking. So when I saw this film showing as part of the festival, it went down in the schedule. It's 50 years old this year, a Romeo and Juliet style epic tale of forbidden love, some 3 hours in length featuring some of the leading names in Indian cinema from the time.
The love affair between rebellious prince Salim to one of his maid girls sparks conflict with his traditionalist father, Emperor Akbar the Great, who absolutely will not allow love to come into the argument if it means deviation from tradition. Father feels great conflict inside and detaches his fatherly side from that of emperor when he can bear to so as to maintain a clear mind, a basis for some of the strongest scenes in the film. When Salim refuses to stop carrying on with the girl, Akbar calls for her death, and so the prince defects and rallies an army for the ensuing battle, complicated by the machinations of a jealous femme-fetale who wants Salim for herself.
Supposedly a new print, the film had been round the wheels a few times prior to our screening, with some jumpy, scratchy visuals at several points in the film. However this does not spoil the enjoyment too much, especially when, halfway through the black and white format changes to full colour, which accentuates the beauty of the lavish sets the scenes are filmed in, which for the first hour had only been shades of grey. I was pleasantly surprised and liked the film much more than I thought I would, especially considering the LOTR-style runtime and the potential for large amounts of singing (of which there is a healthy but not excessive amount). It does get rather melodramatic at times as maidens flop and faint whilst father and son exchange stony glances across the hilt of a sword, but there is also an enjoyable, complex tale of relationships, tradition, love and betrayal which is universal. It's a film crying out for a proper digital restoration. 6.5/10
The Taste of Tea (Jpn) (wiki/site)
Apparently only shown once before on the big screen in the UK (5 years ago, at Leeds), The Taste of Tea is a deeply unusual but lovely film. It spends it's time rambling quietly through the lives of the Haruno family, living quietly and happily in the countryside just out of Tokyo. Their lives are not about to be turned upside down, or any great tragedy occur; instead the film concentrates on the little things that happen, with a degree of Japanese craziness mixed in. Little Sachiko is the youngest, maybe 8 years old. She goes to school, eats with the family and goes searching through the undergrowth for new places to play. Oh, and she has a 40-foot version of herself constantly hanging around her for no reason she can find. Her older brother Hajime is just heading into raging hormone territory, and has trouble getting over the departure for another town of the love of his life he never talked to, until he meets new student Aoi and its all systems go again. Grandpa holds the family together, when he's not having one of his loopy turns, playing peekaboo with Sachiko, modelling crazy poses for anime artist and mother Satomi, or even taking part in a song and dance number about mountains, he's locked away in his study creating secret things.
A Taste of Tea really does ramble; it's well past 2 hours of your life, and it doesn't pack that time with non-stop action. As with many of these sorts of films they go at life pace and if you go in expecting a traditional western-style comedy or guns and explosions, you will come away seriously disappointed. It's a zen piece celebrating the beauty of community, family and how a little craziness in the world can make things more interesting. Dim the lights, make sure there's nothing to do buzzing around at the back of your mind, and sit back and enjoy the beauty of a contented existence. A great big steaming pot of lovely. 7.5/10
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thai/UK/Fra) (wiki)
Boonmee is an ageing man who has decided to move to the country to live out his final days as his liver packs up. Along with him is Jen, the sister of one of Boonmee's girlfriends from years previous, and a couple of workers from nearby Lao to help them get sorted. On the night after moving in, various ghosts and spirits from his past are alerted to Boonmee's imminent death and come to visit him, sitting quietly at his side and answering any questions the group might have between nervous gulps. On request, Jen follows him into the forest where he wants to die, led by the spirits on a path strewn with hazard as he tells her of aspects of his life long forgotten until now.
I'm sure I must have fallen asleep or something in this film. Apparently it won the Palm D'Or at this years Cannes, but I am at a loss to work out why. What promises to be a spiritual and beautiful journey of one man with issues to resolve disintegrates partway through and becomes haphazard and meandering, only briefly reminding the viewer of the expected outcome every so often. 2/3rds the way through, I just gave up attempting to extract a progression, let alone a storyline, and just waited for the film to end. If I missed something about this film that would have explained everything, it must have been a bloody big bit. 3/10
The Silent House (Ur) (review)
A horror film with a very simple premise. Father and daughter team Wilson and Laura take on a job to tidy up an old house in preparation for it's sale. Nestor, the owner meets them and then leaves them for the night. Noises begin to occur upstairs where they have been told not to go, and when Wilson does, shortly followed by a scream and a thud, Laura is left in the darkness to survive on her own as Mischievous Ghostly Poltergeist Child comes to say hello.
The selling point of this film is it's use of one single take to do the entire movie. Shot on handicam, the action takes place in real-time with no cutting and thus plenty of well-rehearsed positioning of the cameras as we travel with them from start to end. It's all pretty impressive, until you realise that for much of the film you are concentrating on how they managed to put it all in one take, rather than getting into the story and being scared. It also doesn't help that (due to the single take dynamic, I guess), Laura does an awful lot of shining lights at various ornaments and effects in the house, supposedly in morbid curiosity of the next piece of terror awaiting her, but with the sort of passing interest afforded by a tourist in a souvenir shop. There were some jumpy moments, but not many, and the half-time twist felt like it had just been added because Laura had run out of things to shine her torch at. 5.5/10