As the 22nd edition of the IFFK (8-15 December, 2017), closed without the usual dancing shows, to mark the terrible cyclone Okchi that hit Kerala just days before the IFFK , the general impression of the festival - under the artistic direction of Mrs Bina Paul - was roughly the same as usual: a unique opportunity for the Kerala crowds to discover a number of foreign films from major festivals (Cannes, Venice, Berlin, etc) that they couldn’t have otherwise watched on a big screen, and - for foreign visitors - to see films from India and Kerala that never reach our shores. The organization and hospitality are still the best among Indian film festivals, and this made it easier for the juries to watch a fairly large number of films in less than a week. A very special thanks to Bandhu Prasad (hospitality), Tony Xavier (our jury coordinator) and all the precious volunteers.
The Netpac jury, comprising Mrs Nandini Ramnath (India), Mr Ji Hoon Jo (South Korea), and Max Tessier (France/Philippines, Chairman) had to watch 11 Asian films from the International competition . Besides these, seven Malayalam films were added for the local competition. This separate competition should be questioned, not only because of the extra number of films we had to see, but also because of their artistic quality. For instance, we wonder how a film like Lost/ Maravi, which was below the average technical and artistic standards, could be selected for competition. Mystery…
Among the Asian films in our section, the ones we considered were Pomegranate Orchard by Ilgar Najaf (Azerbaijan) and Wajib by Annemarie Jacir (Palestine). Both films dealt, in different ways, with the familiar theme of a young expat who returns home to his family, and the conflict that the return creates. Both films address our minds and feelings on the more or less open discords engendered by these ‘returnees’. This is also evident in The Returnee by Sabit Kurmanbekov (Kazakhstan). There is an uneasy propagandist tone to this film, as a former Mujahidin from Afghanistan returns to his home country, and ends up building a mosque…
From quite a different world came Malila (The Farewell Flower), by Anucha Boonyawatana (Thailand) - a daring film that mixes Buddhism, a symbolic flower, death and homosexuality in a strange and sometimes disturbing style, reminding one of some scenes from Apitchapong Weerasethakul’s films. Garden of Desire by Sanju Surendran (India) and Dark Wind (Kadvi Hawa) by Nila Madhab Panda (India) are ambitious tales that confront contemporary problems with real talent, but are not altogether convincing.
Our unanimous choice went to Newton, by Amit Masurkar (India), the stunningly filmed story of an idealist young man confronted with the democratic process of conducting elections in a remote jungle area, where all the unavoidable contradictions of India’s democracy are revealed. This outstanding second film (it was the Oscars candidate from India, but unfortunately it didn’t make it to the finals) shows up the exceptional talent of a director whose future work needs to be followed.
Once again, the Malayalam competition section was quite uneven, to say the least, with huge disparities among films, budgets, styles, and interests. The only common feature was that they were almost all too long (well over two hours), which is the average in Kerala and India. Among the more appealing was Angamaly Diaries, a tough and energetic gang war story set within a mafioso meat business circle in a small town in Kerala. In a way, it reminded one of the Brazilian classic, The City of God.
The exact opposite of the above-mentioned film was Heart of a Dog (Nayinte Hridayam), by Sreekrishnan K.P., a failed and rather tiring attempt to make a non-narrative experimental film out of M. Bulgakov’s eponymous novel. The Black Jew(Karutha Joodhan) by Salim Kumar Gangadharan (who also stars in the film), is a rare and honest venture into Jewish destinies in India, all the more interesting for its unusual topic. Finally, The Summer of Miracles (Athisayangalude Venal), by Prasanth Vijay, a very low key and slow film, deals with a young boy who dreams of becoming invisible. In spite of some artistic qualities, however, it fails in the end to deliver the magic. Our choice in the Malayalam section was Booty and the Witness (Thondimuthalum driksashiyum) by Dileesh Pothan, an intriguing comedy/drama about a thief (played by the excellent actor Fahad Fazil) caught stealing a necklace in a bus – a not uncommon incident - which leads us to a portrayal of the local society and to the relativity of truth in a surprisingly well crafted tale. Quite a remarkable exception.
All in all, in spite of some flawed films, we can always find a Netpac pearl in the Kerala oyster, which, after all, is our main goal.