The Language of Cinema
By Chitra Ahanthem
If one comes to think about it, the language of Cinema and what it sets out to do can never be contained on a set parameter. Cinema can be about escape, it can only be about technique or about propaganda or it can just transport audiences to a world of fantasy/violence/magic and what have you. At the recently concluded 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa where there were as many as 200 films from across the world being screened on less than 10 screens, young and old thronged the festival trying their patience to get tickets to the movies of their choice. Alas! With a lot of the film festival delegates trying their luck, one did not always get the tickets of their choice but rather, opt for what was available.
At IFFI this year, one could book tickets with just a 48 hour advance notice either at the booking counters or with the same condition in place via online booking. Anyone not lucky to get the tickets would have to sweat it out in the rush-lines, which would start queuing up an hour before film screening time. I was able to make it to the screening of the critically acclaimed Shoplifters, a Japanese film directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda only because I was prepared to stand in the sun an hour before the film started. An earlier screening was fully packed and saw angry scuffles over ticketing issues. Considering the many accolades the film has garnered, including the Palme d’Or and the Best International Film at the Munich Film Festival, Shoplifters was selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards was a huge draw and is being pegged as a huge favourite alongside the Alfonso Cuarón directed Roma, which has won a fair share of critical acclaim and awards.
But to come back to the language of cinema and what it delivers to the audience for whom the film is made: it took me about 5 days at IFFI to realize that by some strange co-incidence, the films for which I had managed to get tickets were centered around death or contemplations on dying and what illness does to people. The first film was Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, which looks at introspection over life choices and situations through the memories of an old and grouchy physician. The second film with death playing a huge backdrop was Cai Chengjie’s ‘The Widowed Witch’ (Mandarin) that looks at a ‘serial widow’ whose husbands die one after the other and is branded a witch in the village. The film stood out for me with its cinematography caught in monochrome that adds to the somber mood of the films and the landscape of the story. Shunned by the villagers and in need of warm shelter, the main protagonist is almost hoisted with the blessings of mystical powers that can ward off diseases and chase away dark spirits. Life seems to be looking up for her but there is a heavy price to pay with more deaths lining up in the narrative.
The third film I caught up at IFFI 2018 was the Ingmar Bergman directed ‘The Seventh Seal’. Awarded the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, ‘The Seventh Seal’ which almost always features in various ‘Best Films’ lists is a mix of history and fantasy with the backdrop of the Great Plague in Denmark and an almost down and out knight who has fought in the Crusades on whose heels, death follows. Filled with religious symbolism, this Bergman film is clearly how different people follow death or is followed by death and the reactions that follow: indifference to dying and living, a death for a purpose, death when least expected and so on.
One film that triggered intimate memories of illness, death and dying was Shoojit Sircar’s October that follows the arc of a young life affected by looking at a slow death (brought on by a fatal accident) and how family and friends cope with the journey. This film made me relive my own memories of being around my father who lived with a chronic health issue for close to two years and who passed away after being in a coma for 11 days but I am sure that even if someone goes for this film without having had an experience of someone ailing to draw references with, it will make the person take a breath and contemplate a bit on life.
I caught another Bengali film ‘Uma’ in the Indian Panorama section based on a real life incident in which residents of a small town in Canada came together to recreate Christmas for a small dying boy who would not have lived to see the real Christmas. The director Srijit Mukherji adapted this real story to that of Uma who lives with her father in Switzerland and who has only a few months to live and who wants to take part in the Durga Puja festivities in Kolkatta. Watching this film was not a painful experience as the film narrative also brought in the elements of why filmmakers make films: ‘to create stories even if it is for one person’ as opposed to being ‘the supreme creator’.
I caught a few other political films as well that looked at themes of right wing extremism, student politics at IFFI and must say this: cinema cannot be straight jacketed into forms and structure and with set objectives except the most important one: to tell a story that audiences can engage with or escape with. Yes, there is the matter of films that rake in money and films made for propaganda, the later was much in practice during the Second World War and during the Cold War Era. But the magic of cinema is not in the star system or in the gloss and glamour of it but in the way a stranger walks into a screening and comes out carrying the film with him/her.
The writer was a Delegate at IFFI 2018, sponsored by the Manipur State Film Development Society (MSFDS)
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