The 8th Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), boasting of over 171 films from around 56 countries, successfully came to a close on 14th December 2011, once again emphasizing the power of cinema in making the world a small community. The festival, as always, brought together gems from across the world, showcasing not only some of the best talents out there, but also highlighting some of the most topical political and regional issues to the wider audience.
The festival has been instrumental in providing a platform to the aspiring film makers of the arab and african region, voices that get drowned in the glitz and glamour of the bigger and more established players of the film world.
This year too, the Dubai Film Festival had its share of usual glamour. They played proud hosts to the world premiere of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and were delighted to get Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Anil Kapoor and Brad Bird to grace the red carpet. The film, currently raking in the moolah at box offices worldwide, is one of the few Hollywood movies that has the city of Dubai as its backdrop, and the festival was honoured to kickstart this year’s festival with such a big blockbuster.
The other popular movies that the Film Festival chose on its gala line up were the Indian flick, Ladies V/s Ricky Bahl, The Muppets, The Descendants, W.E and My Week With Marilyn.
But the real pulse of the festival lies beneath these glitzy flicks for that are where you unearth the true treasures and pleasures. And this year was no different. Staying true to its tag line, it was an experience that lead you to the ‘unexpected’.
Though it is virtually impossible to cover all of these films on the screening list, MadaboutMoviez shall bring to you some exclusive look at some of the cine magic that was on display at the fest in a three-part coverage.
The first part of the series shall look at the animation films that brought colour to the film fest this year. Also we feature two highly raved movies from the west, one a part drama part horror flick from UK and a French film that is a nod to a classical era of cinema.
A LETTER TO MOMO (original title: Momo E No Tegami)
Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura
Screened at DUBAI INTL FILM FEST – AsiaAfrica competition
A Letter to Momo is an animation feature film that took director Hiroyuki Okiura and the studio, Production IG, seven years to make. Insisting on a hand drawn approach rather than the CGI way out, Okiura knew what he wanted to achieve and looks like he has achieved all that and much more.
Though it might look like yet another family friendly anime feature, this one has the depth and sensitivity that many such movies essentially lack. The film besides being a visual feast also caters to the audiences in more ways than one. And therein lays the movie’s eventual success.
Momo is a young girl who is shifting bases from Tokyo back to her ancestral village after the untimely death of her father. Despite the best efforts of her mother to cheer her up and get her accustomed to the place, Momo remain elusive and reserved. She is yet to recover completely from the loss of her father, and to make things worse, she finds a letter which her father had addressed to her, but left incomplete.
As Momo tries to overcome this loss, there are other things too that begins to distract her in the house. Her curiosity leads her to discover the three spirits that lives up the attic. In fact they have been following the girl the whole time. Scared out of her wits, Momo is unsure on what to make of them. Despite her attempts to get rid of them, she realizes that they ain’t going anywhere. As she tries to go one up on these mischievous spirits, she begins to break free and come to terms of her own identity and her loss.
The real life of the film lies in those three spirits. The trio of Iwa, Kawa and Meme are a hilarious bunch, reminiscent of the Three Stooges and does their bit to keep your spirits up. The hand drawn animation brings the characters to life, and the hard work that went into getting the project done is evident. The facial expressions and the model rendering are all neat and crisp and do not leave room for complaints. The makers have managed to infuse a great deal of humour which is well balanced out with ample doses of emotions and creative imagination.
The film does overstay its welcome at 120 minutes, and may be almost thirty minutes too long. The middle portions do drag a bit, and a tighter running time would favour the film’s chances. Still, a Letter to Momo is a great animation treat that is certain to captivate your senses and capture your heart!
- The film is scheduled for a theatrical release in Japan only by April, 2012
The 99 UNBOUND
Featuring voices of Aris Athanasopoulos, Erich Boehm, Bruce Hayward
Directed by Dave Osborne
Country: Kuwait, UK
Genre: Comic book based, CGI animation
Screened at DUBAI INTL FILM FEST – Arabian Nights
Being the sucker for the animation genre, I also happened to check out the premiere of the new animation film The 99 Unbound, which is based on a comic book series that is garnering a huge fan base in the Arab countries.
99 is a group of superheroes that are based on Islamic values as each of the super hero character is based on the 99 attributes that constitute the sacred 99 names of Allah.These characters derive the power from the magical ‘Noor’ stones, which is said to possess powers and knowledge gained from the Baghdad’s House of Wisdom library, before the library was destroyed in the Mongol invasion during the 13th Century.
The comics essentially take this concept to work out a tale where each of these 99 stones are scattered across the world, and how 99 young individuals each possessing one unique stone come together to form an elite superhero team.
The film takes off from the point where Mr Ramzy Razem, a Professor X like figure, is gathering the first few elite members of a superhero team that he wishes to assemble. This includes a Hulk- like man of strength from Saudi- Jabbar, a girl from UAE with the power of light – Noora, a hi tech whiz kid from Hungary –Jami and a cripple from USA – Darr. They all come together for a noble cause and most importantly, to stop the evil Rughal who has been a force unsuccessfully trying to get his hands on the noor stones for centuries.
This rather ambitious venture is the brain child of a Kuwaiti Dr Naif Muttawa who started the comic series when he felt that the young children of the Muslim countries needed a role model to look up to. He realized that they were in the danger of falling for the false notions and wanted to highlight what the true values of the Islamic religion are.
It has not been an easy journey for Dr Naif though , faced with opposition at every turn. But now, years later, he has managed to carve out a fan base for the comic and with a TV deal with Endemol, he is hoping to take this to the next level. Though it has its first season sold to Cartoon Network for Asian markets including India, it may be a long time before the US broadcasters take the bold plunge with this.
However to clear off certain accusations, just because it is based on the Islamic teachings, there is nothing Islamic about the story that unfolds. The characters are never revealed as Muslims, nor is there any mention of religion at any given point. It just tells the tale of a bunch of superheroes just like any other superhero tale out there.
Then again, that seem to be the problem that this film, directed by Dave Osborne, is facing. The superheroes just seem pale versions of other most established superhero flicks. So you may feel like you are watching a Marvel comic tale all over again. Except for the fact that it has 99 members from each country, like a beauty pageant, there is little uniqueness on display to set it apart from the rest of the bunch.
Also rather than being a movie, this is basically the first four episodes of Season One knitted into one full length. So it feels like episodic in nature. So what may work as a 20 minute short fails to impress as a full length feature. And lastly, the animation (from Chennai based Sanraa Media) is too weak to compete with the major full length animation features out in the market. The artworks from the original comics are way more appealing, and this CG imagery just does not do justice to the idea and the concept. A hand drawn approach would have been more fitting.
Though it may be too plain and cliché-ridden for the older folks, there are chances that it may still appeal to its primary target – the younger ones. And it would be great if it really kicked up a storm globally, because Dr Naif has already managed to get a crossover with the Justice League of America. That in itself is a major achievement for any comic project.
Featuring voices of Tetsuya Bessho, Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Directed by Eric Khoo
Creative animation director: Phil Mitchell
Genre: Animation, adult themed, biographical, part documentary
Screened at DUBAI INTL FILM FEST – AsiaAfrica competition
The film is a glance into the life of Yoshihiro Tatsumi who became the pioneer for the ‘gekiga’ genre, a more dramatic form of manga for the adult audiences, in a time where comics in Japan were fashionably restricted to the popular ‘manga’.
The autobiographical portion of the artist’s life is blended with five short stories of his. The impact of these art works shows us why Tatsumi is a revered figure in the history of graphic novels, because not only is he an artist, but a great story teller. The stories are dark, bold and are mostly filled with sexual tones. These are very adult themes being explored here and we realize why there was a need for this genre to be differentiated from the more kid-friendly manga ones. Dealing with topics as varied as guilt, betrayal, murder, prostitution, incest, these uncompromising stories keeps you hooked.
Director Eric Khoo, however, fails to balance the overpowering shorts and its impact with the biographical elements of the subject artist. We never really get to know more about the man beyond his works, except for the brief outlines fed to us. We do learn of his rise to that of an artist but an average audience fails to grasp the extent of his impact and popularity, except for the references to how jealous his own idol Osamu Tezuka was of Tatsumi’s success. So for non-Tatsumi fans, it helps if you do a little bit of reading up on this man. If not, the film will make you still look up the man and his legacy in Japanese comic circles.
It is obvious that some may be put off by the animation style employed here. The palettes stick to the techniques of the comics themselves, though they may not always work as beautifully as moving pictures in contrast to the still comic images. Yet a biographical documentary told via comics, that too in the artist’s own style, is a novel approach and it remains an intriguing one, though it never really gets into a particular rhythm with the varied stories it narrates.
- The film is Singapore’s official entry to the Oscars this year. It also won the Best Film and Best Music in the competition category at the 8th Dubai International Film Festival.
Cast: Andre Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel
Directed by Aki Kaurismaki
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
Screened at DUBAI INTL FILM FEST – Cinema of the World
Le Havre is a tale that embodies the upbeat spirit that dwells in the harbour city, from where the film derives its title. A shoe shiner by profession, Marcel Marx is a bohemian brimming with optimism even though he has issues at his domestic front, especially with an ailing wife.
But when a young Gabonese refugee kid Idrissa lands up at his home seeking help, Marcel knows that he needs to go the distance to help the boy. And with the authorities closing in on them, the friendly folks around the town also steps in to assist Marcel in this deed.
Finland’s official entry to the Oscars is a charmer, all right. Brusque and sweet, director Aki Kaurismaki, known for The Man Without A Past (2003) has come up with a flick that plays out more like a ‘fairy tale’. Kaurismaki’s folks are simple people, upholders of moralistic value and ones untouched by the consumerism driven modernism nor adheres to the political norms. This is a town where time seems to have stood still, and adding to this quality are the deliberate fogy elements that seem an obvious references to some of the ‘classics’ of European cinema. More references come by the name of the characters.
Relying on the strength of its dark humour, it gets through without playing the emotion-heavy card, despite the numerous situations that warrant it. Instead the director deliberately keeps the message subtle and the tone light. It does brush upon the topic of illegal immigration, but does not go overboard in its approach.
Blondin Miguel playing young Idrissa may be a weak link, but the rest of the cast puts in a spirited performance and ensures Le Havre remains the breezy light hearted feature that the makers intended it to be.
- The film is Finland’s official entry for this year’s Oscars.
Cast: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Genre: Horror/ Drama / Suspense
Screened at DUBAI INTL FILM FEST – Midnight Mayhem
Kill List is a British film that has been making quite a splash at the various film fests it has been screened. So I was eager to have the same checked out, but for some reason I felt like the movie I saw was a totally different one from the ones that the Brit Press saw.
One of the reasons for that could be the way they are marketing it as the best horror flick from Britain in quite some time. That would have worked but Kill List is never a horror film, at least not until the third act. Having said that, this is is a beast that is difficult to be pinned down to a particular genre. The film may seem like Get Carter at one point, and then you realize that this is more like Wicker Man. Director Ben Wheatley deliberately toys around with the narrative structure and is quite contend to merrily hop between genres, while leaving you gasping for answers. The film that slowly starts off as a domestic drama, soon flows down to the hit man action genre before settling in for the nightmarish horror act. This change of moods and genre may be a little unsettling and for some, quite a put off. So eventually it all rests on how the third act appeal to your senses.
Jay has been out of work for months now, and finds himself at the receiving end of his wife’s constant bickering. So when his friend Gal puts up an offer, Jay decides to take it up. So soon Jay and Gal are out their doing their jobs- as that of hit men. With a kill-list of targets that needs to be taken down, the duo goes about their missions. Except they begin to go deeper down the tunnel than what they were to dig. And with that, they stumble upon hell.
One needs to also need to look beyond the surface to catch on with the various subtexts at work here. The kill list that consists of a Priest, Librarian or MP all hints at the authorities that one needs to kill off in modern society to be considered successful and the price one pays for it.
The film is certainly not without its obvious merits. Irrespective of what works and what does not, the performances here are top notch. Neil Maskell powerfully brings out the various nuances of his character, and is wonderfully supported by Michael Smiley as his partner in crime.
The movie really comes on its own in the middle ‘hitman’ section where the violence is put to some good use and the two leads get to bond big time. The scene in the restaurant is a definite stand out. The third act is done to good effect but fizzes out with a climax that looks forced in.
All in all, Kill List is a movie that will split the audiences. Some may dig it, some may not. , for certain, belong to the latter.