MAMI Film Festival - Day 7Nov 2, 2018
We have arrived at the final day of the week-long Jio MAMI Film Festival 2018. There's been some great movies, some strictly average and thankfully, some absolute brilliant ones so far. But it's not over yet. The lineup for the 7th and last day boasts of some promising prospects. Here they are:
Nobody does better opening credits than Gaspar Noe. And they're literally just the beginning of his films. After no less than 3 (!) opening credits for Climax, the film finally begins. A dance film from Gaspar Noe was not going to be anything like the Step Up films and true to his reputation, Climax turns out to be a horror film that is part drug-induced frenzy, part abstract expressionism through dance, full mental workout.
Noe has made a film that talks about the collective experience that dance is and turns it into a collective waking nightmare for his characters when they are unknowingly drugged at a dance rehearsal and start to lose their shit. The way Noe expresses himself and his art through camera choreography and demented lighting arrangements is unique to the point that anyone else who attempts something like this would be instantly torn down by the audience (as Noe himself is at times) and this film is no different. Long takes, steadicam shots that track characters as they let their demons out, colorful lighting that changes effects according to situation, a camera that goes up and down and round and round and upside down, Climax has all the trademarks of Gaspar Noe film, except that it's a much more focused film than his usual work and hence rises above some of the pitfalls that some of his films have fallen into.
Crisp, horrifying and featuring a set of great performances by his dancers (rather than actors), Climax is going to haunt your dreams for days to come.
Leave No Trace
The penultimate film of this year's fest is director Debra Granik's PTSD/father-daughter drama that impresses with the complexity of its emotions and the remarkable angle from which the topic is approached. Following a young girl looking for something more than her beloved war veteran father to call a home, the film drops us right in the middle of the jungle without explaination and the background is filled in slowly in organic ways rather than through exposition (especially in the PTSD test scene that is heart-wrenching).
Granik, who also wrote the screenplay, has deep empathy for both the characters instead of choosing just one to hinge the narrative on, something lesser creatives would've done, and she somehow makes the audience relate to both as well, whether or not you have been in similar situation. She also understands that sometimes there are no easy solutions in life, with the resolution being a best case scenario for all involved rather than a happy ending and one that will have you on the verge of tears.
Leave No Trace is one of the better dramas at this year's fest. It's been out online for some time now and anyone looking for a few tears to shed should catch it.
For a film directed by Steve McQueen and written by him and Gillian Flynn, Widows turns out to be a relatively straight-forward heist film with little to no fucked up-ness that both of them are known and loved for. The fact that they're at their best when working with cold characters also doesn't work well with the emotional core of women screwed over by their piece of shit husbands. It's not the seamless, singular creative work that we've come to expect from these 2 brilliant creators.
Nonetheless, Widows plays out its central themes of black power and women empowerment with enough honesty and commitment that you don't feel like making a big deal out of its occasional predictability and trappings (the wife-beating SoB, racist police, double crossings, etc). McQueen brings his formalist and technical sensibilities to this caper film and makes it distinctive enough to rouse constant interest. It helps that he and Flynn give stereotypical characters enough fresh shades to keep us rooting for them or against them, depending on which side they are.
Daniel Kaluuya steals the show as a ruthless henchman that makes you want to turn back home if he crosses your path. He plays the only purely negative character of the whole film with utmost glee and keeps the proceedings fun between all the serious talks of survival and sexism. The rest of the cast, led by Viola Davis, play well off each other and their own particular characters' inner turmoils.
The closing film of this year's MAMI fest under-delivers on expectations a little bit but still delivers enough crowd-pleasing entertainment that had the audience in my theater laughing and applauding throughout. If that's not an ideal way to close out a fest, I'd like to see them better it in 2019.