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Saibal Chatterjee: An Arab kickoff for Kerala film festival
December 06, 2017
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Always known to spring surprises, 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala will open its 22nd edition with a Lebanese entry, Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult. Saibal Chatterjee has the details

 
It isn’t often that the curtains go up on an international film festival on the Indian subcontinent with the screening of an Arab entry. Lebanese-born director Ziad Doueiri’s “The Insult,” a riveting and provocative drama exploring socio-political fissures in contemporary Lebanon, will, therefore, make history of sorts on December 8, the opening night of the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).      

That definitely isn’t the only reason why the eight-day event promises to be every bit as exciting as it has ever been. Delegates attending the festival — it will screen 190 films from 65 countries — will not only be treated to some of the finest Malayalam and Indian films made in the past year, they will also get to savor an array of acclaimed films from across the world.

Among the latter lot are the Cannes winner The Square (by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund), Russian auteur Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland’s Spoor, Argentine-born Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch’s Razzia and Bangladeshi helmer Mostafa Sarwar Farooki’s Doob: No Bed of Roses, starring Irrfan Khan.

Irrfan also heads the cast of another World Cinema inclusion, Geneva-based Anup Singh’s Swiss production, The Song of Scorpions. Other off-mainstream Bollywood actors who will have their performances showcased at IFFK 2017 are Manoj Bajpayee (in Dipesh Jain’s In the Shadows), Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi (in Amit Masurkar’s International Competition entry Newton) and Sanjai Mishra and Ranvir Shorey (in Nila Madhab Panda’s Kadvi Hawa, also in the International Competition lineup.

Among the 13 films vying IFFK’s Suvarna and Rajatha Chakoram (Golden and Silver Crow Pheasant) awards are Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib (Duty), Semih Kaplanoglu’s Turkish film Grain, Rayhana’s Algerian entry I Still Hide to Smoke and the Mongolian film The World of Which We Dream Doesn’t Exist, directed by Ayoub Qanir. Besides films from Argentina, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, the Competition has two Malayalam-language contenders – Sanju Surendran’s Garden of Desire (Aedan) and Prem Shankar’s Two Persons (Randuper).  

Veteran Bengali actress Madhabi Mukherjee, the star of the Satyajit Ray classic Charulata, will be feted by IFFK at the opening ceremony. The film, too, will be screened as a tribute to her eventful career. The festival has invited Aparna Sen, actress, writer and director from Kolkata, to deliver the G. Aravindan Memorial Lecture. Sen’s latest directorial vehicle, Sonata, will be showcased. 

Furthering its known commitment to cinema at its purest, the festival will present a Lifetime Achievement Award to Alexander Sokurov and host a five-film retrospective of the Russian master’s work, which will be put in perspective by The Voice of Sokurov, a 2o14 documentary by Finnish cinematographer Leena Kilpelainen. The retrospective includes the 2015 film Francofonia, the Venice Golden Lion winner Faust, and the single-shot 99-minute tour de force Russian Ark (2002).

IFFK will also pay homage to the path-breaking Filipino director Lino Brocka, who died in a car crash in 1991. Three of Brocka’s films, Cain and Abel, Insiang and Manila in the Claws of Light, will be screened during the festival.

In a new initiative, the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, have spruced up the 2,500-capacity open-air Nishagandhi Auditorium in Thiruvananthapuram and added a laser phosphor projector to the facility to enable three shows a day, including a Midnight Screening on Day 4 of the Indonesian horror film Satan’s Slave, directed by Joko Anwar. Nishagandhi Auditorium will be the venue of both the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival.        

The IFFK opener, The Insult, Doueiri’s fourth feature, continues a festival tradition of a surprise selection for the inaugural. Last year, IFFK opened with the Afghan film Parting; in 2015 with French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s China-set Wolf Totem; in 2014 with Eran Riklis’ Dancing Arabs, about an Israeli-Palestinian boy grappling with issues of religion, language and culture in a Jerusalem boarding school; in 2013 with Amos Gitai’s Ana Arabia, an 85-minute single-sequence film; and in 2102 with a special screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film The Ring to the accompaniment of a new score composed by a sextet led by British jazz musician Soweto Kinch.

The Insult is clearly in good company and deservedly so. It is a superbly orchestrated, thought-provoking film that centers on a violent dispute that erupts between a Christian Lebanese man and a Palestinian Muslim and quickly snowballs into a national cause celebre.

The Insult is an apt opener for a film festival that is always alive to contemporary political realities. The combative spirit of the event will also be highlighted by a package of films to be screened in a special section named ‘Uprooted: Identity and Space’. These entries probe the ramifications of forced migration of populations and the proliferation of refugees.

On December 12 and 13, the 22nd IFFK will host an ‘Empowerment of Women in Cinema’ workshop, reflecting the growing concern the world over on the continuing and widening gender disparity in the business of filmmaking. 

Delegates looking to sample new Indian films, IFFK offers two sections – Malayalam Cinema Today and Indian Cinema Now, comprising seven films each. In the Malayalam-language selection are two films that have already earned their share of critical accolades and commensurate commercial rewards – Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Angamali Diaries and Mahesh Narayanan’s Take Off, which recently fetched lead actress Parvathy Thiruvoth an award at the 48th International Film Festival of India in Goa.

Also in the section are Heart of a Dog, director Sreekrishna K.P.’s adaptation of the Mikhail Bulgakov novel of the same name, Satish and Santosh Babusenan’s Lost/Maravi, Prasanth Vijay’s The Summer of Miracles and Salim Kumar’s The Black Jew.

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