FilmFest DC — day 1 capsules
LOST MOON — Sudhir Mishra, India, 6
I don’t know that “discovers” is the right word, but I want to say this is “Bollywood discovers post-modernism” — taking its original title, KHOYA KHOYA CHAND, from a classic song (available here; hopefully that’ll work, leaving you to choose the player) and essentially telling a behind-the-scenes story that has some parallels to the stories of Hindi pop cinema from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, including the making of the original movie that contained that song (imagine a fictionalized Donald O’Connor in a “Behind the Music” biopic titled “Make Em Laugh” covering the MGM 1950s for the general idea). The performances are appropriately broad for their archetypal characters — Saurabh Shukla as a fretting money-conscious producer (“it will be a hit”) and Sushmita Mukherjee as a middle-aged actress-vamp (“if you can’t have the wedding, who says you can’t have the wedding night”) are both total hoots. As Camille Paglia has noted on more than one occasion, Bollywood is the only place in the movie world where unapologetic glamor, beauty and sumptuousness-for-its-own-sake can still be found. LOST MOON not only has Soha Ali Khan and Shiney Ahuja as its leads, but its “movie-set” premise uses every excuse to indulge in escapist frippery in the sets and costumes — flowers garlanding a bed and petals spread over sheets: that sort of thing. However, Bollywood movies are like Toyota Corollas — consistently enjoyable and watchable (i.e., “functional”) while rarely being great (i.e., “exciting”). In the case of this particular movie, as I implied, Khan and Ahuja both have glamor to spare, but neither can really act. I also got a strong sense that the plot of LOST MOON would have been at least more fun (if not exactly “more sensible” or “less rambling”) for Indians, who can get all the movie in-jokes than any “firangi” like myself who, though obviously a fan of the genre, has seen fewer than 50 “Hindi pop” movies. But while the fun songs are playing … really, who cares?
TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey, 8
This film is teetering on the edge of a 9, held back only by my utter ignorance of the details of certain (apparently) small Muslim sects. Like with LOST MOON and Bollywood history, it’s the kind of “mother’s milk” stuff for a film’s domestic audience, but which went over the head of this Polytheist Crusader and seems vital to understanding what this film is “saying,” though it’s a tribute to TAKVA that it did make me want to find out and never left me in doubt that I was watching a great film, albeit one I couldn’t quite grasp as firmly as I’d want. A small (in several senses), late-middle-aged man, Muharrem is shown to be one of the most devout members of a Muslim group in Istanbul that seems (sorry for these comparisons, but I can only speak “Christian”) to be a kind of Pentecostal or Charismatic Shi’ite sect, with prescribed liturgies. He performs regular ablutions, greets everyone with prayer formulations, prays before every meal and clearly lives only to please God. His very faithful naivete, the sheik decides, makes him the ideal man to handle the group’s worldly goods (“the wise try to trick”) and he moves in to the seminary and becomes a rent collector, and is given clothes and baubles to look the part, even though the threads are rather ill-fitting no matter the body sizes. A kind of existential crisis comes, though it’s not resolved exactly as I’d expected. And TAKVA is richly and minutely observed for its entire length — moments like Muharrem’s ex-boss telling him to get coffee (I’ve heard more than one priest note how people act differently in the presence of a collar, for good and ill) and attitudes that can only come from an honor culture with contempt for worldliness. Erkan Can is like a Semitic Paul Giamatti in build and gait and schlubiness, and, like a man who knows God’s greatness lies in his nothingness, he gives Muharrem not an ounce of self-regard (look at something as simple and second-nature as how he repeatedly handles, or rather mishandles, a cell phone). By the end of the film … speaking vaguely but SPOILERS … Muharrem the humble pious man is destroyed like Norman Bates at the end of PSYCHO, but this is not a Turkish Dawkinsism, because the manner in which this happens is a kind of Satanic (temporary) victory.
THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay, 5
Forget it, Adam … not only does the Pope not take a dump, but there’s hardly even any scatology in the film (none that I recall specifically right now), though the title does make it mandatory for me to say that the Digital Video used here looks like crap — all blurry and muddy and primary-color-free (I thought the film was out of focus several times), as if this movie was for posting on YouTube. An oddly uncompelling movie because it never really settles down into either “black comedy” or “caper movie” or “small town pluck” or “family drama/dramedy” territory, instead kinda falling in between all the chairs. POPE’S TOILET is certainly watchable, never really boring and occasionally funny. Lead actor Cesar Troncoso, as the man with the idea to make a fortune by charging tourists to use an outdoor toilet that he’ll build, and lead actress Virginia Mendez as his reality-principle wife are both credible and inhabit the roles quite well. My favorite bit was the family rehearsing “the pitch script” for how they will deal with the customers. And I enjoyed hearing some of the Pope chants that find their way into every language (“Juan Pablo, amigo / El pueblo contigo”). The film has a bit of an Ealing vibe, like a TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT, PASSPORT TO PIMLICO or WHISKY GALORE, also about small plucky communities with plans to get ahead. But it’s neither as featherweight as the first two (there are scenes of domestic violence and drunkenness) nor as venal as the third (the people of Melo are more naive than anything) — so the comedy never consistently takes off.