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We watched two movies at the festival, and walked out of the third.

The reason we walked out of Combustion was because the festival chose to play a dubbed-in-English version of the film. The film is originally in Spanish and it was incredibly distracting to listen to that stilted voice acting. From what we gathered before we walked out, the film was some kind of Spanish Fast & Furious. Which might have been fun. Too bad they chose to show it to us the way they did.

The movies we did sit through were Mood Indigo and Tonnerre.

Mood Indigo

There is no polite way to say this: I am exhausted by Michel Gondry’s technique-based filmmaking. His early hand-wrought stop motion pieces worked exceptionally well as music videos. There was genuine imagination at work in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And even though I enjoyed The Science of Sleep the first time I watched it, my patience had worn thin by the time I saw the film again.

I thoroughly enjoyed the docudrama nature of The We and the I which we watched at the festival in Mumbai last year. And I entertained the idea that Mr. Gondry might be moving on with his career.

Mood Indigo is just too much. Of everything. It plays out like the rambling imagination of an attention-deficient child: there is very little wonder, and a lot of running about wildly showing off all the tricks the filmmaker was able to cram into the runtime of the film. And all those tricks cannot mask the fact that there is  really not much of a tale being told.

Colin (Romain Duris) falls in love with Chloé (Audrey Tautou), asks her to marry him, and then spends his life – and his savings – caring for her when she is diagnosed with a rare disease. Mr. Duris tries gamely to be a leading man worthy of Mr. Gondry’s quirky aesthetic. He is ably supported by Omar Sy and Gad Elmaleh, but the actors are no match for the filmmaker’s overactive imagination.

Incorporating stop motion animation, light painting, Rube Goldberg-esque prop design and sets that seem to have been derived from the director’s greatest music video hits did not deliver a satisfactory narrative experience. Perhaps he was trying to make the comment that every moment in life can be filled with wonder. I think it would help Mr. Gondry to realize that every moment in a life does not need to be filled with wonder. In fact, if any single life was wall-to-wall wonder with no time for quiet reflection, that wonder itself would become mundane.

So pardon Monsieur Gondry, I found no joie in this forced cross-pollination of jolie et mélancolie.


 

Tonnerre

Director Guillaume Brac was in attendance at the MIFF to present his first feature film Tonnerre, the story of Maxime, a moderately successful musician who moves from the big city to live with his dad for a while in the sleepy town of Tonnerre. It’s business as usual until he meets the young and charming Melodie who comes over to interview him for an article she’s writing about him. Very quickly the relationship progresses to something much more intimate and Maxime can’t get enough of the much younger Melodie. When passions run high, trouble is bound to follow and the honeymoon of sorts is soon marred by jealousy and conflicting desires.

Brac is a confident director, his actors are committed and the restrained use of score is highly appreciated. Maxime’s widower father (veteran actor Bernard Menez) and poetry-loving dog are a welcome relief from the increasing intensity of Maxime and Melodie’s relationship. The snow-covered landscape provides a breathtaking backdrop against which events play out. The film begins to feel very unsettling as things take a turn for the worse and this seemed to bother some of the audience. It is not pleasant to watch Maxime devolve into possessiveness. Melodie is young and confused and while that may be authentic, it makes her very unsympathetic.

Tonnerre’s measured pace lulls you into a kind of comfort that is jarringly unsettled once things go wrong for Maxime. And while no part of the final outcome seemed unbelievable, one couldn’t help shake the feeling of disappointment. As a portrait of a man consumed by a possessive love Tonnerre did very well, and if the statement by a French distributor at a talk about Indie Cinema earlier in the day – “France is a market for arthouse cinema” – holds true, it is possible that this movie will be well received in its home country.

Mumbai audiences were literally the first non-European audiences to watch this film–it debuted at the Locarno Film Festival–and I’m not entirely sure that they were prepared for events to play out quite in the way that they did.
   
So that was our second day at the 2013 Mumbai International Film Festival and we were prepared to call it a bust until we stepped out into the muggy night air and spotted filmmaker Costa-Gavras preparing to leave the venue. One hastily worded request later, he posed for this picture.

And just like that, our day was made.