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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Siraj Syed’s IFFI 2016 diary, XIV: Catching what you can!

Siraj Syed’s IFFI 2016 diary, XIV: Catching what you can!

If you really want to notch up six films a day, you can. All you need is luck, in terms of show slots and seats, an insatiable appetite for cinema of all forms from all countries, no appetite for food of the eating and drinking kind, an alarm clock body that can turn off on demand and turn on at will, and no commitments or engagements that you cannot skip or postpone during the festival period. Well, I might score high in terms of appetite for cinema, or soul curry, but on all other counts, my rank would be rock-bottom.

With no commitments, I can make it up to five; with one brief commitment a day, four. Once I had agreed to cover 11 events over eight days for the Festival’s official Daily Bulletin, Peacock, it immediately brought the projected tally down to four a day. Wait a minute! Attending takes away one slot, writing about the event costs another. So, I was sadly down to three films a day. I tried getting up early (8 a.m.) or sleeping late (3 a.m.), for ‘daylight saving’, but neither option worked more than once. No, not just two films! Heck, why did I go all the way to Panaji to watch two films a day? Wiser and regretful, I will hope NOT to write for the daily bulletin next year onwards, and concentrate on films, Films and more FILMS. At the International Film Festival of India, gimme a 5 every day, at least!

There were six screenings a day on many days at most venues, and managing to watch two films a day was still worth the while. Of course, you realise you would have missed 36 films by the end of the festival. But, by perverse logic, you end up feeling not so guilty, because the festival has been curtailed this year to 8 active days, from the routine 10. Had that been the case, my loss would have been 42 films!!

This is what I saw.

1.      Afterimage/Andzrej Wajda/Poland/Opening film

Brilliant imagery, mature direction (what else can one expect of the Master’s last film?), apt selection to flag off the festival. Strongly political, yet able to entrance on its own brilliance.

Rating: *** ½

2.      Tamara/Elia K. Schneider/Venezuela/Mid-Fest film

Sexuality and bi-sexuality are the themes of this amazingly bold film, where a star plays a real-life inspired character, involving explicit nudity. Ambitious, but does not quite get where it set out to go.

Rating: ***

3.      Daughter/Raza Mirkarimi/Iran

I thought it fell slightly below the mark, in terms of Iranian excellence benchmarks, when it comes to treatment of familial sensitivity. Fantastic performances helped it bag the Golden Peacock.

Rating: *** ½

4.      Mellow Mud/Renars Vimba/Latvia

Slow, dull, dragging films have been the bane of film festivals since 1976, at least. Not too long into the narrative, I found the film getting stuck in the mud, mellow or not did not matter. I did not sit through this one, so no ratings. 

5.      Scarred Hearts/Rado Jude/Romania-Germany

Set in 1937, the film is about a sanatorium and the patients who keep dying there. Jude proves that there can be genuine humour, love and compassion in the most morbid of circumstances. At 141 minutes, it is grim viewing, but good cinema.

Rating: ***

6.      Bench Cinema/Mohammad Ramanian/Iran

You’ve got to give it to them, and give it to them in this case, surely. Where do they dream up such realistic subjects from? ‘If foreign films are banned, as they were in Iran during the Cultural Revolution, try memorising the lines and render them before an audience, as a form of para-dubbing’. How’s that for a premise? A tad too long though.

Rating: ***

7.      Like Cotton Twines/Leila Djansi/Ghana

Noblesse of cause is just not enough. Harsh reality does not, in itself, make for engaging cinema. ‘Slaves to the gods’ (read priests) is a condemnable practice of sexual slavery thrust upon some girls entering puberty that still exists in parts of Ghana, and a lot of Western do-gooders are working hard to eradicate it. NGO stuff, mainly.

Rating: ** ½

8.      Malaria/Parviz Shahbazi/Iran

When an Iranian film is named Malaria, rest assured it will have nothing to do with the mosquito borne disease. A girl runs away from home and ends up with a street band called...ok, you got it....Malaria. Usual Iranian ambience, plus some unusually un-Iranian scenes.

Rating: ***

9.      We Are the Flesh/Emiliano Rocha Minter/Mexico

Indeed. Genitals are flesh, aren’t day? A surreal nightmare, there is very little to redeem the film, which is full of sex overdrive, grotesque images and dystopian nonsense. I saw it more than halfway through, hence the rating.

Rating: ½ *

10.  Godless/Ralitza Petrova/Bulgaria-France-Denmark

Godless and listless. A nurse looking after the old and infirm steals their id cards to make money on the side, to meet her morphine addiction. Drudgery, both on and off the screen. I escaped early, so the film goes ratingless.

11.  Death in Sarajevo/Denis Tanovic/France-Bosnia-Herzegovina

Layered and full of historical references, Denis Tanovic’s latest outing is not quite in the same league as the classic No Man’s Land. It is one of the most ‘moving’ films in recent history, with the word ‘moving’ translating as ‘endless walking’ within a hotel’s premises. If you can see more than I did, add half a star more.

Rating: ***

12.  Graduation/Cristian Mungiu/Romania-Belgium-France-UK

Very Iranian in terms of subject and socio-moral conflict, Mungiu, who wowed IFFI seven years ago with 4 Weeks 3 Months and 2 Days (Golden Palm and Best Director winner at Cannes, the first ever Romanian to win this big) serves us a reflective story of parental dilemmas and corruption as means of attaining goals, not out of greed, though.

Rating: ***

13.  I, Daniel Blake/Ken Loach/Belgium-France-UK

Old-fashioned is not dead. Straight, polished, compelling story-telling of the Kenneth Charles Loach (now 80) kind was a treat at IFFI, and, for me, the pick of the lot. The Wind that Shakes the Barley also fuels the never-say-die spirit of the lead character. Beating the system might be a pipe dream for a billion laymen, but they will all find their spirits soaring as they watch Daniel Blake confront British high-handed, uncaring bureaucracy. Why did it not win the Golden peacock? It wasn’t competing!

Rating: ****

14.  The Salesman/Asghar Farhadi/Iran-France

You cannot help expecting anything but a masterpiece from Asghar Farhadi, and you cannot then help being just a wee bit short-changed, even if a film is as good as The Salesman (Best Screenplay at Cannes). The man who gave us A Separation (Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director at IFFI) is still in great form, though. Must see.

Rating: *** ½

15.  Paterson/Jim Jarmusch/USA-Germany-France

Paterson is about an American small-town bus-driver, who is madly in love with his Iranian wife, and is also a poet of considerable merit. Adam Driver (eponymous role?) and Golshifteh Farhani work magic. James Roberto ‘Jim’ Jarmusch is of German, Irish and Czech descent, and at 63, he captures the sensitivities and sensibilities of a minor universe. Call it art-house, call it Indie, just let it grow up to its 115 minutes, and you will cherish the ride.

Rating: *** ½

16.  Tunnel/Kim Seong-hun/Republic of Korea

Quite simply, this is what an honest natural disaster movie should look like. A strong commentary on capitalism, undying faith in human spirit, resilience, and, above all, the politico-media spectacle that that side-steps the core issues while lives are being lost. Tunnel is a Korean film bereft of any Big Brother Hollywood trappings.

Rating: ***

17.  Office/Hong Wan-chan/ South Korea

What if an office executive is unscrupulously victimised, targeted and sacked? In Office, he kills his family and commits suicide. That’s the prologue. Now begins a series of gory and unexplained deaths, with a touch of the super-natural. Amazingly slick and full of twists, this thriller leaves a few knots unravelled. Or, did I not watch it with requisite attention and missed the revelations?

Rating: ***



About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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