By Gautaman Bhaskaran
The Beijing International Film Festival — whose fifth edition is to begin its roll this Thursday — will screen 900 movies from 90 countries. The numbers are impressive for a festival as young as Beijing. And so is the selection at first glance, but with Marco Mueller heading the festival, this is only to be expected. Eight years at the helm in Venice, he had literally lifted the world’s oldest film festival out of the Adriatic Sea and pumped oxygen into it, giving it a fresh lease of life.
Beijing may well benefit by Marco’s presence as we can see from the titles this year. The festival will open with an Italian work, Maraviglioso Boccaccio (Wondrous Boccaccio), by renowned auteurs, the Taviani brothers Paola and Vittorio. Honoured for their Caesar Must Die at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival with the top Golden Bear — a movie about convicts in a prison outside Rome rehearsing to stage Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” — the Tavianis have also won awards at Cannes.
Maraviglioso Boccaccio has been adapted from a 14th century Italian literary work, Decameron, penned by Giovanni Boccaccio. A collection of 100 short stories, Decameron was the first known example of prose in Italian literature, and is said to have influenced Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (about pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral).
Set in Florence during the dark days of Black Death or plague in 1348, Decameron follows the lives of seven young aristocratic Italian women and three men who flee to the countryside hoping to escape death. To while away their time, they tell stories that are both witty and erotic, stories that let us take a peek into their lives. Some of these stories are sexually explicit, and because of this Decameron was banned during the centuries.
The Taviani brothers have chosen five of these 100 short stories for their film. While an earlier interpretation of the literary work by Pier Paolo Pasolini was a celebration of pleasure and love, the Tavianis’ movie centres on the horrific tragedy brought about the plague.
The brothers have said that Maraviglioso Boccaccio is as relevant today as it was centuries ago. There are all kinds of “plagues” now — in several forms. They were obviously referring to human greed, consumerism, killer competition and spiritual famine.
Maraviglioso Boccaccio will be one of the 15 entries competing for the Tiantan prizes. MS Prakash Babu’s Fig Fruit and the Wasps from India — about two documentary moviemakers who savour the beauty of the countryside while they are waiting for a couple of musicians — will also be part of this prestigious section.
Apart from these, two Chinese works — Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain and Jean- Annaud’s Wolf Totem (French-Chinese production) — will vie for the Tiantan trophies.
The competition line-up also includes Italian director Michele Placido’s La Scelta, German helmer Marie Kreutzer’s second feature Gruber Geht, Japanese auteur Sono Sion’s Love & Peace and US filmmaker Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter among others.
Some of the gala screenings — held in the evenings with red carpet presentations — will have India’s NH10, Russia’s Downshifer and Holland’s The Admiral.
NH10, helmed by Navdeep Singh, has Anushka Sharma essaying a modern girl whose holiday with her husband, Arjun (Neil Boopalam), goes horribly wrong when he in a mindless ego trip, pursues a gang of murderers into a desolate jungle. Despite being armed with a revolver, the couple get so jittery that they let the ruffians get an upper hand with tragic consequences. A woman centric movie that sees Sharma — in the end — grappling with the ruthless men.
The celebrated French auteur, Luc Besson, will head the competition jury. Other members of the panel will include such eminent personalities as Russian actor, director and producer Fedor Bondarchuk; Hong Kong helmer and producer Peter Chan; American screenwriter and filmmaker Robert Mark Kamen; South Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk; Brazilian producer, director, and screenwriter Fernando Meirelles; and Chinese actress Zhou Xun.
Besson is well known not just in Europe and America, but also in China. His 1994 classic, Leon: The Professional, was a huge hit in China, and his 2014 work, Lucy, made a whopping USD 44 million at the country’s box-office. Six Besson masterpieces will be shown at the festival as a tribute to him.
About 930 movies from 90 countries — including 122 from China — were in the race for selection in the Competition section. Fifteen made it to the final list, and several of these will be world premieres.
The festival runs till April 23, and will close with a crime thriller from Hong Kong, Helios. The work focusses on a team of military experts from China and South Korea which helps resolve a nuclear weapons crisis.
Isabella Rossellini to head Cannes jury
Italian actress Isabella Rossellini will chair the A Certain Regard Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, which runs from May 13 to 24. This section — only next in importance to the main competition — will screen about 20 movies that will be experimental, novel and visually different. A Certain Regard has often introduced debutant directors to the world, men and women who have gone on to become renowned and masters of the art.
The list of A Certain Regard films — in fact the entire official selection, including Competition entries — will be announced in Paris on April 16. The other jurors in Rossellini’s team will also be named then. The main competition jury will be presided over by the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan, from America.
Rossellini, daughter of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and Italian auteur Roberto Rossellini, never attained the kind of fame her parents did. Who does not know Bergman, and who does not know the kind of unforgettable classics she had acted in. In fact, this September, she would have turned 100, and the festival’s official poster has her smiling that spellbinding smile which one saw in movies like Notorious, Gaslight and Casablanca. Also, a documentary on her will be shown as part of the Cannes Classics, and Isabella will introduce it. A daughter’s tribute to a mother!
Roberto was well known for his neorealist cinema as he was for the scandal he caused when he was in India during the late 1950s on an invitation from Jawaharlal Nehru to make a documentary. Though married to Ingrid then, he had an affair with a Bengali screenwriter, Sonali Dasgupta, who was married to filmmaker Hari Sadhan Dasgupta. The relationship caused such an uproar in India and in the West that Nehru had to ask Roberto to leave. Later, he married Sonali, but not before he had separated from Ingrid.
Isabella’s career began with modelling assignments, and the one with Lancome caught the eye of many cinema celebrities. Her first role was in the The Meadow by the Taviani Brothers (1979). She hit the international arena with White Nights by Taylor Hackford (1985), Tough Guys Don’t Dance by Norman Mailer (1987), Les Yeux noirs (1987) by Nikita Mikhalkov, Blue Velvet (1986) and Wild at Heart (1990) by David Lynch, for whom she played a number of mysterious and tortured characters.
After a stint with television, Isabella returned to art-house cinema with Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral (1996) and Two Lovers by James Gray (2008), parts that were intense. In 2010, she appeared in The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Saverio Costanzo.
She was once married to Martin Scorsese.
* Gautaman Bhaskaran will
cover the Beijing International
Film Festival, and may be e-mailed
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