Meenakshi Shedde: Critic as activist

Film lovers are already gearing up for the Cannes Film Festival, that runs from May 11 to 21. The festival, which opens with Woody Allen’s Café Society, promises a strong line-up this year. The Competition includes Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s The Unknown Girl, Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End of the World, Cristian Mungiu’s Bacalaureat, Sean Penn’s The Last Face and Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon. The official selection includes Steven Spielberg’s The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant), Jodie Foster’s Money Monster and Jim Jarmusch — who actually has two features at Cannes —Paterson in Competition and Gimme Danger in a Midnight Screening. The Asian features in official selection include Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden, Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’Rosa, Kore-eda Hirokazu’s After the Storm and Rithy Panh’s Exile.

A still from Raman Raghav
A still from Raman Raghav

India has a good showing at Cannes: Anurag Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0 (Psycho Raman) starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal, is in the Directors’ Fortnight. Inspired by the real life serial killer, this fascinating thriller explores the fine line between good and evil. Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s documentary The Cinema Traveller, on the touring talkies, is in the Cannes Classics. Saurav Rai’s 28-minute short Gudh (Nest) produced by the Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, is in the Cannes Cinefondation. Rai told the press his film is a “recollection of my childhood in a very raw and bold form,” when he was brought up by his grandparents, and could visit his mother only during vacations.

Moreover, K Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird is in the Critics’ Week section. It is a Singapore/ French co-production, but features Indian actress Seema Biswas, with Sivakumar Balakrishnan. When Siva is released from prison for smuggling contraband, his mother (Seema Biswas) won’t forgive him, and his ex-wife and daughter have left him, but his life turns when he meets a Chinese woman. Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s project Memories and my Mother (India) and Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet’s project The Whole-Timers (Nepal) have been selected in the Cannes Atelier, which helps filmmakers find producers and distributors for their films. A restored print of Jago Hua Savera (Day Shall Dawn, 1958) by Aaejay Kardar, a rare collaboration between the governments of Pakistan and East Pakistan, for which Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote the story and dialogues, will be shown in Cannes Classics.

Most Indian film critics promote good cinema by writing good reviews of films they love in the media. But French critics’ activism for good cinema is way ahead. The Critics’ Week (La Semaine de la Critique), headed by Charles Tesson, is a parallel section at the Cannes Film Festival, created by the French Union of Film Critics in 1962, to promote new talent by showcasing first and second feature films. The debut features of Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wong Kar-Wai, Bernardo Bertolucci and Ritesh Batra were introduced here. The Critics’ Week subsequently organises screenings of its film selection in France and in six countries worldwide, to help filmmakers find distribution and audiences — Paris, Corsica, Martinique, Lebanon, Peru, Brazil, the Czech Republic and Mexico. Its short film programme will also be available online on FestivalScope (www.festivalscope.com) from May 20-27. It would be wonderful if Indian film critics also turned activist, going beyond words, to fight for good cinema.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com.

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