Monthly Archives: November 2008

El orfanato Part 2

 

The UK poster for the film

The UK poster for the film

Nick posted his reaction to El orfanato a couple of months back and now that I’m teaching the film, I’d like to expand on his comments about one of the best films of the year in UK distribution. The DVD of the film offers a rich mixture of extras and commentaries which help to explain the director’s approach – and why it was so enthusiastically ‘presented’ by Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro’s name on the credits helps to sell the film in the US and UK, but it is a little misleading in terms of audience expectations. El orfanato is much more closely connected to Spanish cinema history/influences than El laberinto del fauno, even though the latter refers more directly to Spanish history. The different box office careers of the films are interesting – in Spain, El orfanato was the much bigger success, grossing over €24 million and taking top box office position for the year (by comparison, Pan’s Labyrinth took under €8 million). In the US, the fortunes of the films were reversed with Pan’s Labyrinth taking five times more at the box office ($37million to $7million). In the UK, Pan’s Labyrinth took slightly more. Overall, the figures show a very successful pair of films, which are both Spanish-language productions with a focus on children in various genre mixes that involve horror and fairy tales. The difference between the other genre repertoires involved in the mix is the means of separating them.

Perhaps the most interesting essay on El orfanato that I have read was published in Sight and Sound, April 2008. Maria Delgado situates El orfanato in terms of the lost children and families from the Spanish Civil War, making the observation that it is only within the last year that the Spanish government has finally passed legislation that allows families to finally come to terms with their losses:

Spain’s Law of Historical Memory was finally passed by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s socialist government late last year, with the result that the bodies of between 30,000 and 150,000 civilians who opposed the right-wing Nationalists during the Civil War and its aftermath can be exhumed from the mass graves in which they are believed to lie. The Orphanage adeptly explores the legacy of a buried past.

Delgado references a wide range of films in her persuasive account of how El orfanato is so deeply embedded within Spanish film culture. I haven’t seen all the films she mentions, but certain links – to Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others and to both The Spirit of the Beehive and Cría cuervos (Raise Ravens) are ones that struck me straight away. The last two titles both feature Ana Torrent, then aged 6 and 8 respectively. She made her name with these two films, becoming a child star right at the end of Franco’s domination of Spanish culture – when children were venerated in cinema and society at large. Both films were critiques of fascism presented in highly ambiguous metaphors. In Cría cuervos, Ana is a little girl who believes she has murdered her father – motivated by her mother’s death for which she thinks her father was responsible. (The father was an Army Officer and Ana’s family offers a kind of microcosm of Spain under Franco.) Ana’s mother is played by Geraldine Chaplin (director Carlos Saura’s wife) and she also plays the older Ana who is later revealed to be telling the story in flashback. In El orfanato, Geraldine Chaplin plays the ‘spirit medium’ who Simón’s mother hires when he goes missing.

None of these references will mean much outside Spain, but they clearly had resonances for sections of the Spanish audience. Some other aspects of the plot offer more universal symbols associated with 20th century wars – e.g. human remains hidden in ovens.

The extracts I have been using during an event analysing El orfanato are:

The Innocents (UK 1961)

The Others (Spain/US 2001) 

Dark Water (Japan 2002)

Kilómetro 31 (Mexico 2006)

What has struck me most is the repetition of quite specific elements across several films. For instance, drawings of ghosts by children occur in The Ring (US 2002), The Others, Dark Water and El orfanato. Children’s games such as hide and seek or ‘grandmother’s footsteps’ appear in The Innocents, Dark Water and El orfanato etc.

I’ll try to add to this over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here’s a useful fansite reference:

http://www.horrorphile.net/el-orfanato/

The Innocents (UK 1961)

 

Pamela Franklin (Flora) and Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens) in the folly by the lake in The Innocents – an example of foreground and background both in focus.

Pamela Franklin (Flora) and Deborah Kerr (Miss Giddens) in the folly by the lake in The Innocents – an example of foreground and background both in focus.

Over the last few years I’ve spent quite a bit of time teaching and writing about a cycle of films that have reworked the classic ghost story. I began with Ringu and The Others, dallied with Dark Water and I’m currently working with El orfanato. But, all of this time I’ve worked without seeing the original model for all of these films – or rather, the one film that they all owe something to. Now it’s available on a Region 2 DVD from the BFI, I’ve finally managed to catch The Innocents. What a treat!

Based on Henry James’ 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, the film adaptation boasts a script by William Archibald (who also adapted the story for a Broadway play) and Truman Capote, with contributions and advice offered by Harold Pinter and John Mortimer. Pinter’s brief initial involvement is discussed by Christopher Frayling on the DVD in his introduction. In his excellent commentary running throughout the film, Frayling suggests that up to 90% of the script ideas came from Capote (including touches of ‘Southern Gothic’ such as the decaying flowers).

It is clearly an ‘A’ production (at Shepperton and on location in Sheffield Park, East Sussex), directed by Jack Clayton, designed by Wilfred Shingleton and photographed by Freddie Francis (himself later a director of horror films for Hammer) for 20th Century Fox. Veteran French composer George Auric provided the score and the film stars Deborah Kerr in one of her best roles.

The story is set in the mid-Victorian period. Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) applies for a post as a governess to two orphans housed on the large country estate of their uncle (a cameo by Michael Redgrave). Miss Giddens is an unfeasibly beautiful spinster – a vicar’s daughter with no experience. (The novella suggests a young woman of 20 – Deborah Kerr was approaching 40.) When she arrives at Bly House, she is met by the girl, Flora, and the housekeeper (the ever-dependable Megs Jenkins). A few days later the boy, Miles, returns home from school – he has been expelled. The uncle’s clear instructions to Miss Giddens are that she must not contact him and that she must deal with any problems. Soon, however, she begins to be disturbed both by the children’s behaviour and by apparitions, which she discovers are likely to be of the previous governess, Miss Jessel and the manservant Quint. 

As the plot develops, the audience is invited to consider whether the ghosts are really present or just in the imagination of Miss Giddens. The brilliance of the film is that the ghosts often appear in broad daylight and that they do so without any form of contrivance save the use of music and sound effects and the use of cinematography and editing. Freddie Francis shot the film in B+W CinemaScope – for me, the ultimate film format. Christopher Frayling suggests that the reasons for this are institutional – Fox shot everything in the format that they had patented and promoted. This included the films that they thought inappropriate or not commercial enough for Technicolor (which at this time was more expensive than B+W). Frayling also suggests that it was unusual to use ‘Scope on horror films, but this seems wrong (I must listen to his comment again). He does point out that Freddie Francis had received an Oscar for Sons and Lovers, also shot in B + W ‘Scope for Fox in 1960. I think I must blog separately on B+W ‘Scope, but here I’ll just note that the late 1950s through to the early 1960s is the peak production period in Hollywood and the UK, but also in France (Truffaut and Dyaliscope), India (Guru Dutt) and Japan (Kurosawa and Tohoscope).

The issues about visual style in The Innocents are to do with Francis’ approach in pushing light levels up on set so that he can close the aperture and get great depth of field in order to explore Shingleton’s wonderful studio set of the house’s interiors. The depth of field allows both the long shots of Kerr moving through the house and the occasional and disturbing close-ups of the children in the foreground (also enhanced by lighting the faces from below). Frayling picks up the use of dissolves in the film and this was something that struck me quite forcibly. Virtually every scene begins and ends with a dissolve, helping to create a dreamlike quality and a slow pace.

All of these points about the style, as well as the setting and characters conjures up The Others. Alejandro Amenábar seemingly took characters, setting and central plot idea and then wrote a rather different story. There is no sense of a ‘copy’, but there are remarkable visual similarities between the two films. At one point Deborah Kerr even refers to the ghosts as “the others”. I had thought that my calling the Nicole Kidman character in The Others Grace, Amenábar was referring to Grace Kelly as a Hitchcock heroine, but there are certainly similarities to Kerr and I wonder about some of the casting decisions in The Others – an Irish housekeeper for a Welsh housekeeper etc.?

The children in The Others are less malevolent or ‘possessed’ and in this sense the comparisons work better with both Dark Water and El orfanato. In the former, the ghost demands attention and a mother’s love. In the latter, the children are not so much malevolent as mischievous. In both cases, the mother is seen by others as possibly losing control over her sanity and imagining the ghosts.

I think I should now go back and look at The Haunting by Robert Wise. I’ve never watched it all the way through. Although the storyline may be different it’s another B+W ‘Scope feature from 1963 and it will be interesting to look at the film in stylistic terms. I wonder too whether it will reveal the erotic undertones of horror, which are clearly evident in The Innocents, but not so much in the other three films referenced here. In that respect, it’s worth mentioning that a couple of shots in The Innocents reminded me of Deborah Kerr in Black Narcissus, especially when she is shown awake at night with an open window and the sense of disturbance in the air. I’ve also watched Picnic at Hanging Rock Again recently and I wonder if Peter Weir was conscious of the style of Freddie Francis in his treatment of girls ‘lost’ on an outing?

Parlez-moi de la pluie (Let’s Talk About the Rain, France 2008)

Agnes Jaoui and Jamel Debbouze as Agathe and Karim

Agnes Jaoui and Jamel Debbouze as Agathe and Karim

I’m not sure if Agnès Jaoui gets the attention she deserves (outside France) as one of the great filmmakers (taking the term in its widest sense). Certainly she wins the awards, stacking up Césars with regularity, but she doesn’t often get discussed as arguably the most successful woman in contemporary French Cinema – as actor, writer and director. Perhaps it’s because her achievements are always in conjunction with her partner, the droll Jean-Pierre Bacri. The couple have written two award-winning scripts for Alain Resnais (Smoking/No Smoking, 1994 and On connaît la chanson, 1998) plus Un air de famille (1997) for Cédric Klapisch. They then followed these hits with two of their own in which they both starred and Agnès directed, Le goût des autres (The Taste of Others, 2000) and Comme une image (Look at Me, 2004). In the meantime Agnès has continued to act in a range of other films.

I enjoyed these last two films a great deal (and Une air de famille, which I saw before I realised who they were) and I was looking forward to seeing their latest venture. It didn’t disappoint and I laughed more than I have for a long time. All the scripts the couple write seem to have the same basis – a group of people who come together for an event of some kind during which their relationships and personal issues will be exposed and challenged. Usually the protagonists are related as family members, partners or work colleagues. Parlez-moi de la pluie (a title taken from a chanson as I discovered from various reviews) takes place in an unusually rainy August in Provence. As several commentators have pointed out, the plot brings together several current concerns of French Cinema with two sisters, Agathe and Florence, meeting in their parents old house to sort out their mothers’ papers after her death. This recalls the Olivier Assayas film, Summer Hours which played earlier this year. The family came back to France from North Africa and Mimouna, the maid/nanny from their childhood is still with the family. Mimouna’s son Karim works as a clerk in a local hotel but he is an enthusiastic filmmaker who has yet to fulfil his potential. He teams up with Michel, his former tutor/mentor, an eccentric and not very competent journalist/filmmaker to make an ‘intimate documentary’ about a successful woman. They choose Agathe as she is a bestselling Parisian author, an avowed feminist now hoping to launch a political career. Michelis divorced and has begun an affaire with Florence. Karim is happily married, but also attracted to his co-worker at the hotel, Aurélie and Agathe, who doesn’t believe in marriage has a boyfriend in tow.

The set-up sounds more like a farce or a melodrama, but Jaoui and Bacri’s skill in writing dialogue and orchestrating scenes is such that it produces a social comedy, a humanist drama and a gentle political satire. This third film is more ‘political’ than the previous two. The North African connection recalls the dark ‘secret’ behind Caché (Hidden, 2005) and the political ambitions of Agathe, although she is never presented in situ as a politician, nevertheless allows a discussion about the urban/rural divide in France. This sequence offered me the funniest scenes I’ve seen this year, involving impeccable comic timing by a flock of sheep on a hillside. Jaoui has either the patience of a saint or a real empathy for animals.

Of course, the danger of this kind of approach is that the balance between farce and nuanced social commentary is very fine. I’ve read several reviews claiming the film is ‘unbelievable’ and ‘soggy’ (the inevitable references to the rain). But, for me, this is the genius of the film in that the comedy punctures the social defences that characters have constructed, revealing a truer self beneath. This is certainly the case with Agathe who at first seems like a self-centred and disciplined metropolitan, but later becomes humanised. Admittedly the situation is silly, but it is played with a seriousness that allows the trick to work. Bacri is magnificent as the incompetent filmmaker.

There are a couple of puzzling aspects to the character of Karim that I’d like to see explained a bit more (others have noticed the same points and as yet nobody has come up with an explanation). The first is a comment Karim makes about how his mother is treated when she visits a pharmacist. The subtitles translate the pharmacist’s comment as something along the lines of “take three blue ones in the morning and two red ones at night”. This is clearly intended to be taken as an institutionally racist comment directed towards an older North African woman. It strikes me as mildly patronising at worst and in the UK is probably common practice – I take medication regularly and I’m not offended if someone reminds me what the different coloured tablets do. I suspect I might be missing something here? (The other observation Karim makes is much more clearly an insult.) The second issue is the non-role given to Karim’s wife. She really only exists to have her name mis-remembered by Michel and to stand in the way of a possible affaire between Karim and Aurélie. This just seemed to me to be a rare mistake in an otherwise well-constructed script.

As Karim, Jamel Debbouze is excellent. He is a huge star in France, partly through television as well as film appearances. I’ve only seen him in Indigènes (Days of Glory, 2006) the terrific film about the French Army of Africa fighting in the Second World War and in Amélie. He must in some ways be the biggest film star with a visible disability working currently. I remembered this in the first few minutes of his screen time and then forgot about it completely. I mention it simply because this week the Guardian carried a short article about a comedy film made by a disabled director and cast in the UK. As arguably France’s leading comedian, Jamel Debbouze needs more exposure in the UK – for our benefit. He seems to be doing pretty well for himself, as do Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri.

Farewell China (Hong Kong 1990)

farewellchina1

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Ka-Fai in Farewell China

This is an extraordinary film with a shocking ending. In some ways it plays as a darker version of the later Comrades, Almost A Love Story. The premise is straightforward with Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Maggie Cheung as a young couple in rural China. They met during the Cultural Revolution, married and have their allowed one child. Their aim is to emigrate to America and eventually, after countless attempts, Hung (Maggie Cheung) is successful in getting a visa to study and sets off promising to send for Zhou and their son as soon as possible. When his letters are returned ‘undelivered’, Zhou decides to travel himself, leaving his son with the grandparents and by a circuitous route via Panama, he makes it to New York. Without English, how is he going to find Hung?

Directed by Clara Law, who made several features around this time, the film begins in a recognisable social realist style, but in New York, many of the scenes are set at night in different ‘Chinatowns’ in Brooklyn and the Bronx and also in Harlem. One IMDB user remarks that the film shows areas of New York that don’t usually appear in feature films. For me, the nighttime scenes were reminiscent of films like Scorsese’s After Hours, with the dark streets as very menacing.

The narrative offers a wealth of sociological detail about the different migrant groups. The ‘mainlanders’ occupy the lowest level of rented housing, whereas the Hong Kong and Taiwanese communities have been able to move out. I don’t want to spoil any narrative expectations, but there is an interesting use of an American-Chinese character. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are excellent and I don’t really understand why films like this don’t get picked up for UK distribution. It would be great to screen this next to Nick Broomfield’s Ghosts or Michael Winterbottom’s In This World – as well as Comrades, Almost A Love Story. (Available on an All Region DVD from Fortune Star, Hong Kong.)

Faat Kiné (Senegal 2000)

faatkine

Three independent women in Faat Kine

I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see a Sembène Ousmane film that has never been released in the UK. Sembène’s penultimate film before his death in 2007, the print (from America) was brought into the country by the Africa in Motion Festival based in Edinburgh and then made available for screenings in other parts of the UK. I was able to see it courtesy of Cornerhouse in Manchester. I’ve written about Sembène elsewhere on this blog – and now I must post the second part of our overall history.

Here is an edited version of notes given out in Manchester tonight:

Sembène Ousmane (1923-2007) was the father of African Cinema, as well as its prime social and political activist and its wisest counsel. He is a hard act to follow and it is encouraging to see him in Faat Kiné putting some faith in the younger generation. However, the central focus of the film is Kiné herself, a woman born in 1960 at the same time as Senegal’s independence – and therefore representing symbolically the trials and occasional joys of a country uplifted by independence and brought low by the hypocrisies of neo-colonialism.

The film covers an eventful two or three days. Kiné experiences great joy in the success of her two children in the Baccalaureate exams, but also discovers how she might be trapped by both the past and the future in trying to live as she pleases.

Anyone who has seen one or two of Sembène’s other eight features will immediately recognise some familiar characters, situations and social and political questions. Faat Kiné is a contemporary drama which perhaps most closely resembles Xala (1974) with its high angle shots of Dakar and its focus on the marriages and family disputes amongst the bourgeoisie. Twenty-five years on and there has been some ‘trickle down’ to a focus on business people less directly involved with high level corruption. Corruption and deception are still rife, but Kiné herself is a model of financial rectitude. In another link to Xala, however she enjoys what several startled men describe as ‘vulgar language’. The other contemporary films in Sembène’s back catalogue are all referenced in different ways, especially as in Guelwaar (1992), via the younger members of the family. Crucially, perhaps, the importance of ‘going to France’ is here something that has lost its power to enthrall.

Production background
Sembène began to make films in 1963 when he was already 40 and had established himself as a writer. Films are difficult to make in Africa – partly because money is hard to find and facilities not always available, partly because governments have not always taken kindly to the implied social and political criticism of Sembène’s work. It is also the case that Sembène spent much of his time working on the distribution of his films, attempting to have them dubbed into African languages for local, popular audiences and showing and discussing them at film festivals. In the circumstances, it is amazing that he managed to make as many as nine features over 40 years.

After Guelwaar, which was co-funded by various European film and television interests, Sembène appears to have tried to stay independent. The only production company listed in the credits is Sembène’s own Filmi Domireew and the film was edited in Rabat, Morocco. In an interview at the time of the release of Moolaadé in 2004, Sembène explained that he hoped to complete a trilogy about what he called the “Heroism of Daily Life”. Faat Kiné was intended as the first in the trilogy, followed by Moolaadé and Sembène suggested that the final part, focusing on government bureaucrats, would be called ‘Brotherhood of Rats’ (see the Press Notes for Moolaadé referenced below). Sadly, we’ll never have that film to enjoy.

In some ways it seems odd to have Faat Kiné before Moolaadé (although the problems of distribution in the UK means that much of the audience will have seen Moolaadé first). Moolaadé is a ‘timeless’ film set in a kind of idealised ‘green Africa’, albeit one afflicted by the barbarism of female genital manipulation. Faat Kiné is a thoroughly ‘modern film’.

Story and style
Faat Kiné resembles a familiar European family melodrama and I was reminded of Fassbinder’s ‘BRD Trilogy’ in which he uses the lives of three women to explore what was happening in German society during the Adenauer years. Here, Kiné, like Senegal, faces the 21st century with the legacy of the last 40 years. She is a single woman with two children by different men, both of whom abandoned her when the babies were born. She owes her own survival to her mother who protected her from the wrath of a traditional father presented with a daughter and her ‘bastards’ to house. There is plenty of emotional angst here, but Sembène chooses not to express emotion as melodrama – i.e. through camerawork, lighting etc. In the main, he sticks to a social realist aesthetic leavened by glorious colour and costumes and plenty of verbal humour.

Kiné, who wanted to be a lawyer or a judge, has to work her way up from petrol pump attendant to manager of a filling station. She has now surrounded herself with women she cares for and who respect her and she supervises men who respect her authority. If she wants a gigolo, she pays for one. Otherwise she is wary of men’s devious financial dealings.

Yet, the exam success of her children brings some problems – she has to reassert her authority over returning fathers and also suffer the suggestion by her children that they want to achieve more than just running a filling station.

Politics/feminism
For many, the central question about the film will be: what does it say about the politics of Senegal and about the condition of women in society?

In one sense, the film straightforwardly critiques the men who formed the generation who took power at the time of independence and failed the country in economic terms and then failed the women who worked so hard to make a better future a possibility. These are the men who abandoned a pregnant Kiné and who now pathetically expect her to help them financially (possibly via a marriage). More intriguing is what Kiné herself represents. Her home (with children, Mammy and a maid) is decorated with large portraits of the political figures that we suspect Sembène admires. (I recognised Mandela and Nkrumah, the others include Amilcar Cabral (Guinea-Bissau) and Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) according to Gadjigo.) Samba Gadjigo suggests that for Sembène, not only is it important to recognise revolutionary political struggle, but the situation for African women must be revolutionised too. In one magical moment, Kiné and her two female friends emerge from a ‘Sex and the City‘-style lunch at an upmarket ice-cream parlour, sweeping past two elderly men in traditional clothes and carrying staffs to signify their rural background. They look bemused rather than shocked by the sight of these three assertive women. One of the two men is played by Sembène himself.

Kiné is a modern woman, who has achieved materialist success through hard work outside the corrupt world of privileged public services. She wants the best for her children and will continue to sacrifice herself for their future university education. She rejects the chance to become a ‘userer’ by lending at a high interest rate, she gives to charity, but at the same time is sharp and clear-headed in dealing with banks and crooks alike. She looks after her staff. Overall, she is someone we would all probably like to meet – but are these the qualities that a revolutionary socialist like Sembène would hope to see in the new African woman?

Faat Kiné is not a simplistic film in social and political terms but some of the answers to the questions about politics and feminism might come in the last reel, especially when the ambitious son takes on his failure of a father and when Kiné finds a kind of resolution.

After a hesitant start, I found this film shifted up through the gears and produced an engrossing narrative. I was so caught up in its possibilities that time just flew by. I once worried that I might never see this film, so a big round of thanks to the Africa in Motion Festival in Edinburgh for bringing the American print to the UK (and to Cornerhouse for booking it on tour). Now, can somebody please screen Emitai and Ceddo and give one of the great filmmakers of the last forty years the kind of exposure he deserves?

Refs and reviews
www.africanfilmny.org/network/news/Rgadjigo.html
www.newsreel.org/nav/title.asp?tc=CN0125
seeingblack.com/x051701/faatkine.shtml
www.indiewire.com/movies/rev_010328_Faat-Kine.html
www.newyorkerfilms.com/nyf/t_elements/moolaade/moolaade_pk.pdf

Asiexpo Festival 2008

 

Cho Min-Sik gets an award

Cho Min-sik gets an award

Review of Asiexpo 2008 by Leung Wing-Fai

In years to come, I’ll be asked where I was when Obama was elected the first African-American president of the US and I shall recall Asiexpo (4-9 November 2008). I did hope that was not the only reason I would remember the festival. Asiexpo is a small collection of films, documentaries and other cultural activities in Lyon that celebrates all things Asian (given this is France, Asia doesn’t just mean the Indian subcontinent). This year was its 14th edition. Most of the films in competition were independent, rarely seen and edgy titles. They were complemented with anime, the odd commercial features and retrospectives. This year saw ‘Bollywood Story: Panorama of Indian Cinema 1949-2008’ and ‘Homage to Choi Min-sik’, the Korean actor most known for his role as the lead in Old Boy. Before you get excited, I missed Mr. Choi as he arrived the day I left. However, the loss was compensated by smaller gems.

US trained Lee Sang-woo’s debut feature Tropical Manila (South Korea/Philippines 2008) shows great promise. Set in a slum in Manila, a Korean fugitive waits for the day he can return to his native country especially since his mother is dying from cancer. The interconnected yet strained lives of the man, his Filipino wife and ‘Kopino’ son Philip are fascinating. The visceral, sexually charged and violent film is repulsive and poetic at the same time. Lee’s aesthetics are clean but vibrant: you can almost smell the Philippines through the images. It comes to no surprise that Lee was apprentice to Kim Ki-duk.

Tropical Manila

Tropical Manila

Feast of Villains (Pan Jianlin 2008, China) is a realist depiction of a poor young man from Beijing duped by an illegal organ donation ring. Technically naïve though socially significant, the film can be accused of perpetuating the stereotypes of the evil ‘Southerners’ that are often seen in the popular imagery of mainland literature and cinema. Vermillion Souls (Iwana Masaki 2008) is an oddity. Debut direction by a 63 year-old Butoh master now settled in France, the film is more experiential than narrative, and a philosophical contemplation about death, weaving between dream and reality and witnessed by a seven year-old boy. The actors are fellow Butoh dancers and their performance is often physical and lyrical, betraying the theatrical origin of the filmmakers.

It was great to revisit such a Bollywood classic as Mangala (Mehboob Khan 1952) not least because of it glamorous lead Nadira. Nadira was an Iraq-born actress of Jewish descent (at the time, it was still quite a taboo for Indian women to appear onscreen). Her rise to fame was due to her depiction of unusually strong female roles. Dil Se (Mani Ratnam 1998) proved to be more popular amongst the diaspora (such as in the UK) than in India perhaps due to its unconventional subject matter (separatist movement, terrorism) and ending. It now gets regular screenings on Channel 4 late at night and is well worth checking out.

You can imagine my relief to see Tokyo Gore Police (Nishimura Yoshihiro 2008) after several days of heavy subjects including human rights, sex tourism, suicide bombing and organ trade. TGP is what it says on the tin: wall to wall gore, a so-called police force led by Eihi Shiina from Audition, set in futuristic Tokyo. You don’t get murder weapons as subtle as needles here though: we are talking about severed limbs turning into chain saws and giant claws, and geysers of blood. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Asiexpo is small, bijoux and Francophile. Apart from one or two titles, all the films were subtitled in French only, hence the slight lack of international presence. One small gripe I had was the disorganisation, especially long queues and problems with subtitles. Considering the festival was run by volunteers (who were all trés gentils by the way), we had to make allowances. I met someone in Lyon who asked if Obama would really make a difference. Has Asiexpo got a part to play in the Asian cinema landscape? Well, it is more like one small step towards change . . .

Thanks to Asiexpo, Lee Sang-woo and Iwana san.

India and UK co-productions

The recent London Film Festival saw plenty of activity re film production involving the UK and India. I can’t wait for the release of Slumdog Millionaire from Danny Boyle, filmed in Mumbai and due out in January 2009 in the UK. The UK link to the announcement of Deepa Mehta’s next project is more tenuous, but she is now to adapt Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children for a shoot starting in 2010 as a Canada-India production. Rushdie himself appeared in a US film recently and also supported Nandita Das by introducing her film Firaaq at the Telluride Film Festival in September. He is reported to be interested in appearing in a small role in the adaptation of his book which was recently awarded the title of ‘Best of Booker Winners’.

On October 22, the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced a new UK-India co-production treaty. This means that Indian producers can get access to UK ‘soft money’, by-passing the so-called ‘cultural test’, by making co-production deals. A summit of Indian and UK producers was held on October 23 and Screen International estimates up to 10 new productions could benefit from the deal over the next two years.