We skipped Day 5 at the festival: a combination of too much work, exhaustion, and it being too hot to go outside without feeling like we were actually melting.

And we caught just one film today, but it was a pleasant surprise.

The We and the I
The freshness of the untrained actor is a great seduction in filmmaking because the established actors and stars have their unique (or developed-over-years-of-trial-and-error) tics, quirks, and moves that make certain types of cinema distracting to watch.

But the untrained actor cannot be lacking in certain qualities if (s)he is to be a watchable presence on-screen: charisma, attitude and a certain lack of inhibition are definite requisites for this type of movie/performance.

The We and the I by French auteur Michel Gondry employs the service of untrained school kids for a narrative that unfolds over a single bus ride en route from school to the various passengers’ stops home, on the last day of school before summer vacation.

We meet cool kids, nerds, bullies, social rejects, a few token adults, class clowns, mean girls hiding the truth about themselves, and even a girl who attempts a disguise so totally inept it could only have been invented by a schoolgirl. We get a sense of their relationships to each other. We learn about their issues, realize that some of them have family members on the bus, and discover that some of them are in relationships that much older people with more world experience would find daunting to manage.

But we don’t really get to ‘know’ any of these kids. All we get is a slice of their lives, and the way those slices intersect, overlap, and coexist for the duration of that bus ride.

The We and the I is simultaneously voyeuristic, and familiar. Stylized, and free-form. Fictionalized documentary, or docu-fiction. Make what you will of it but the film is thoroughly engrossing while it plays. This is storytelling that engages as much as it frustrates (several stories stop–often mid-sentence–when a character steps off the bus), but it rarely lets up.

Mr. Gondry’s visual inventiveness receives able support from the nimble cinematography by Alex Disenhof, and the performances by actors who mostly retain their real world names. Seek this one out whenever it plays in a theatre near you. This has got to be one of the unsung gems at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival. And I’m glad I shook off a food coma to go see the film.