BIFF 2013 Day 2

Raja Harishchandra (Ind) (wiki)

As a warm-upto A Throw of Dice, we were treated to a screening of the only surviving fragment of the first ever Indian film.  It was 12 minutes long, a mere quarter of it's original length, and choppy, slanted and entirely without sound.  The intertitles were halfway off the edge of the screen and in some variant of English which didn't help either.

A principled king gives up his kingdom to a sage who he interrupted while hunting, right in the middle of some sagely summoning of spirits.  Not satisfied with his new wealth, the dastardly sage bumps off a prince and frames the ex-kings' wife for the murder.  All looks lost until the God Shiva turns up and starts the king back on the road to recovery.  Unfortunately, the film ends pretty abruptly there.  I can't properly review something that is more an important film artefact than a piece of entertainment, so I won't, other than to say I felt privileged to see it and found the experience of looking back a hundred years to another culture and world fascinating.

Side note: I'm not sure the festival organisers did much homework on this - they said this was bit was all that was left, but a quick look on YouTube brings this up which, although it is in even worse condition than what we saw, appears to be the whole film (or at least most of it) plus some behind the scenes footage - they were thinking about DVD extras even then!

A Throw of Dice (Ind) (wiki)

Barely five seconds after the abrupt end of the genesis of cinema came a digitally restored print of a classic of Indian cinema.  Sharing the common narrative source of the Mahabarata with the previous film, the intervening sixteen years made for a considerable leap in the quality of film and production quality.

It centres around the affluent lives of two kingly cousins Ranjit and Sohat who share a passion in hunting big game and gambling with dice.  All is not rosy however, as Sohat is secretly plotting to have Ranjit bumped off so he can take both kingdoms.  When an attempt by a faithful manservant to 'accidentally' poison him with a dart meant for a Tiger, Ranjit is taken to a healer living out in the jungle with his beautiful young daughter, Sunita.  Predictably, both fall in love with her, but Ranjit gets the upper hand on recept of increasingly affectionate bedside manner.  When it becomes clear that the king will not only make a full recovery but also take Sunita as his willing queen, Sohat conspires to ruin their lives and have his 'friend' as his slave.

A Throw of Dice is a very early prototype of a romantic action film. You would expect that an Indian film from 1929 would not have much to offer, especially as it was also silent.  But for the time, it had big ambition.  A cast of extras numbering ten thousand or more, some pretty nifty pan and tracking, fade-ins and outs and even some composite imagery with cameras of a size and weight akin to pointing a grumpy rhino at the actors.  As the tension builds and Sohat's dastardly deeds are discovered, the final minutes could be taken from the climactic scenes of a modern-day epic.

I found myself enjoying it much more than I thought I might.  Nitin Sawhney - who created the bafflingly out of place soundtrack for the digital re-release of The Lodger last year - also got his hands on the soundtrack but I am thankful to say that he was having a subdued day, and has kept the more jarring tunes mostly at bay.  The film doesn't bear up fantastically to the latest and greatest out there, how could it?  But it is entertaining, and has stood well against the 80+ years it has existed for.  It leaves my hopes high for some of the other choice films chosen in the strand.  7/10

Dysmorphia (UK) - A short film introduced by the screenwriter herself to launch this years' Bradford After Dark strand.  Dysmorphia is a known mental condition where some sufferers find parts of their body so repulsive that they want to have them removed.  So we meet a man who is about to do just that to his arm.  We know what is going to happen, as we are introduced to his bag of cutting tools, and part of the power of this gruesome films is in the build-up.  It cuts to the bone of our own repulsion that someone could even consider this.  But that is the power of the film, and if you like to be disturbed, repulsed and feel a need to get out of the cinema then this is the short for you. Disturbingly, disturbingly powerful, but certainly not for everyone.  7.5/10

Memory of the Dead (Arg) (review)

After waking from a dream where her husband Jorge commits suicide in front of her, Alicia finds her husband actually dead, or at least croaking his last.  It's at this point she decides to do something about it.  She has his closest friends around.

So people from Jorges' varied past come over to stay a night.  They are touched by his post-death letter to them all, and settle in for the night.  But Alicia, aided by shadowy occultist Hugo works some spells and surrounds the house in fog, and more importantly, the ghosts of the dead.  Some of them have unfinished business with the various guests, and it soon becomes clear that everyone has something to hide.

Memory of the Dead was actually a more sedate affair than the short film before it, although not by much.  The blood still splattered and it all got a bit uncomfortable, especially when the little girl with no face came on and proceeded to make herself a face using the eyes and teeth of someone else, while they still had use for them.  Being Argentinian, the acting was pitched somewhere around the comedic opera level but without the warbling and a fair bit of fan service, and the over-the-top acting did get a little off-putting when the characters seemed to be concentrating on themselves and somehow ignoring the latest victim being dragged across the floor just out of shot.  Fortunately by the time most of them have tasted the actions of the mischievous ghouls they become a little more focused towards their impending demise.

It was entertaining and unpredictable, with plenty of gore but perhaps not as much horror as you might be looking for.  It is a good example of the horror genre mixed with a bit of family drama which is enough to make it stand out a little further still.  7.5/10

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