The annual Pune International Film Festival is the first such event in the calendar, but it tends to behave as though it is the last. The world cinema section is usually a round-up of the best films of the previous year. For festival regulars, this is the final chance to catch titles they might have missed in Mumbai, Goa and Thiruvanathapuram not just in the previous calendar year, but also from several months ago. Here are some of the highlights of PIFF 2016, which runs at various venues in the city between January 14 and 21.
Indian cinema Marathi films have always been given a pride of place at PIFF. This year’s Marathi Competition section includes Sairat, the sophomoric effort of Nagraj Manjule. The Fandry director’s new movie is a love story set in a village in Maharashtra. Umesh Kulkarni’s Highway, about journeys on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, is also a part of the Competition, as is Aadish Keluskar’s experimental Kaul, about a descent into madness, and Mahesh Manjrekar’s box office hit Natsamrat, based on the well-regarded play. Kaushik Ganguly’s Cinemawala pays tribute to single-screen film culture through the stories of a projectionist and an exhibitor. More nostalgia emerges in Hari Vishwanath’s Radiopetti, about an old man and his radio. Malayali director Jayraj’s Ottaal, which explores child labour, will also surface in Pune. Raam Reddy’s picaresque rural comedy Thithi is a part of the International Competition. Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City, a triptych of three stories set in Mumbai, will be shown at PIFF, as will be Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot, about militancy in Punjab in the 1980s.
World cinema picks Among the noteworthy titles in the international competition section is the Colombian movie Embrace of the Serpent, which is one of the nine finalists jostling for the Foreign Language Film Oscar. A shaman in the Amazon, the last of his tribe, is the link between separate stories set in 1909 and 1940.
There are a few official Oscar entries from around the world, such as Theeb from Jordan. This visually vivid movie, set in 1916, is the tale of a cherubic Bedouin boy who tags along when his brother takes a British officer on a mission through the desert. Enclave, Serbia’s official entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, is about the Serbian-Kosovar ethnic conflict as it plays out in United Nations-protected terrain.
In the acclaimed Risk of Acid Rain from Iran, a 60-year-old former tobacco company employee sets out on a journey to Tehran to find an old friend.
The biopic Anton Chekov –1890 examines one of Russia’s greatest writers during the period when he emerged as a major force to rehearsals for his play, The Seagull. Sealed Cargo explores the events that follow the discovery of a cargo of toxic waste in a Bolivian village. From Germany comes The Bunker, routinely described as an outré and twisted yarn about a lodger who is saddled with the family’s eight-year-old, who thinks that he is going to grow up to be the President of the United States of America. Pikadero maps the frustrations of two lovers in a Basque village.
The precarious state of the Mexican economy is examined through the efforts of five men to paint a centre stripe along a stretch of a highway in The Thin Yellow Line. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor is a typically enigmatic account of a mysterious epidemic that falls over the filmmaker’s country, Thailand. Experimental British director Peter Greenaway’s Eisentein in Guanajuato follows the non-making of Russian master Sergei Eisenstein’s never-completed film ¡Que viva México! The consensus on this one: “Greenaway Goes Loco in Guanajuato.” From Poland comes the thriller A Grain of Truth, in which a prosecutor reluctantly gets involved in a murder investigation.
There’s more from the veterans. The Taviani brothers have adapted the classic Italian novel The Decameron as Wondrous Boccaccio (pictured above). Israeli director Amos Gitai’s Rabin, The Last Day follows the final hours of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by an ultranationalist in 1995. Jafar Panahi’s brilliantly tricky Taxi is an ode to cinema, subversion, and the people of Tehran. Hirokazu Koreeda’s reputed Our Little Sister is a drama about four sisters. Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart, set in the 1990s, the present and 2025, has also fetched up in Pune. Walter Salles’s documentary on Zhangke, A Guy from Fenyang, makes a worthy companion piece to the movie. Robert Guédiguian’s Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad is set in the 1970s and explores the Armenian genocide
Among the documentaries is Carlos Saura’s Zonda, folkloric Argentino, about folk and contemporary Argentinean music. Alexander Sokurov’s wondrous Francofonia is an unusual documentary about the state of the Louvre during Germany’s occupation of France during WWII. Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story introduces us to researcher Lillian Michelson and her husband, storyboard artist Harold Michelson, who made vital but unsung backroom contributions to such films as Spartacus, Marnie, Fiddler on the Roof, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate.
National Film Archive of India’s treasures From the vault of the state-run film archive emerge seven Indian classics: Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome, Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan, Tapi Chanakya’s Rojulu Marayi, PL Deshpande’s Gulacha Ganpati, Tapan Sinha’s Kabuliwala and K Balachander’s Thaneer Thaneer.
Ritwik Ghatak It’s fitting that Pune is hosting a retrospective of Bengali director Ritwik Ghatak, who taught at the Film and Television Institute of India in 1966. The films that will be shown are his best-loved: Subarnarekha and Meghe Dhaka Tara, both of which personalise the effects of the Partition of Bengal, Bari Theke Paliyey, about a runaway, and Komal Gandhar, a controversial exploration of politics and passions among members of an Indian People’s Theatre Association group. Also being screened are the short film Rendezvous, which he made while at the FTII, and his documentary Amar Lenin.
The films of Hector Babenco The Brazilian director’s most widely known titles are on the list, such as Pixote, his drama about street children that influenced Salaam Bombay!, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a leftist and a homosexual who share a prison cell. Carandiru is Babenco’s account of life in Latin America’s largest prison, which was the site of a riot in 1992 in which 111 inmates died. Missionaries, explorers and members of an indigenous tribe clash in At Play in the Fields of the Lord.
Nils Malmros’s realism Film festivals are places of discovery and learning. Presenting Nils Malmros, the Danish director whose acutely observed films are described as minor studies in cinematic realism. Six films will be screened. Tree of Knowledge is a coming-of-age drama that follows 17 teenagers and set in the 1950s. The self-reflexive Arhus by Night recounts the travails of a first-time filmmaker. Aching Hearts is another coming-of-age tale of 15-year-old boys. In Barbara, a vicar falls for a woman whose two previous husbands have died. For Facing the Truth, about a neurosurgeon battling a lawsuit, Malmros, who is a trained surgeon, performed the brain surgery sequences himself. In his most recent movie, Sorrow and Joy, a director grapples with the murder of his son by his wife.