If our last full experience at the Mumbai Film Festival is precedent enough, it appears that we tend to skip a day somewhere during the festivites. This time around it was because of exhaustion. Which is why there is no Day 5 entry. But we were back at the venue(s) for what is actually Day 7 of the festival, but we don’t count Opening Night because we haven’t (yet) been invited to attend. So on Day 6 we watched two movies: a Spanish film we’ve been aware of since its release in 2007, and the latest Takashi Miike thriller that debuted at Cannes earlier this year.
Wara no Tate (Shield of Straw)
A 7-year-old girl is brutally murdered. Her grandfather, a wealthy businessman named Ninagawa (Tsutomu Yamazaki) announces a billion-yen reward to anyone who finds and brings the killer – convicted rapist/murderer Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara) – to justice.
The minute the reward goes public, money-hungry vigilantes set out in search of Kiyomaru who escapes one such attempt by an acquaintance and turns himself in to the police. Now it is up to a unit of Security Police, led by Mekari (Takao Osawa) and his colleague Shiraiwa (Nanaku Matsushima), to safely transport him to Tokyo for his trial. From then on, it is a race to fend off bounty hunters from all directions – the stakes are high and everyone, from prison staff, hospital staff, and even police staff are potential suspects that have to be watched carefully by Mekari and his unit.
Japanese director Takashi Miike sets up tense action sequences at every step. The team transports Kiyomaru by road, bullet train and even on foot: each time with its own complications. The baby-faced Kiyomaru makes your blood run cold every time he is on screen, thus making Mekari’s dilemma about protecting a monster like this seem all the more relatable. Why shouldn’t his life be taken by any one of the people out for his blood? Why put resources and effort into protecting him until he is handed over to the justice system?
Because of the nature of the story – the little girl is already dead – there is no possibility of a happy ending. The film hurtles towards the climax after an intense two hours and you’re left feeling worn out by the despair of it all. Very watchable, but you better follow it up with some cheer or you might have trouble sleeping at night.
Los Cronocrímenes (Timecrimes)
The name Nacho Vigolando has been part of my consciousness for a long time. I read about his debut feature, I marvelled at all the cool art that was inspired by the film and a particular character in it, and I wanted very much to see it. So when I learned that Los Cronocrímenes was playing at the festival this year I knew I had to see it.
A clue to the kind of movie this is, is right there in the title: Los Cronocrímenes or Timecrimes. This is a low budget time travel movie and as such it features all the tropes, character confusions, and callbacks to previously viewed scenes — sometimes from different perspectives, and sometimes for the purpose of conveying a fresh batch of information.
The movie begins really slowly with Hector (Karra Eljalde) struggling to bring all his shopping back into the home he shares with Clara (Candela Fernández) – a woman who appears more concerned with her gardening than she is with her mate. Hector is tired and struggling to fall asleep and when that fails, he sits out on the lawn and stares into the woods in front of his home with binoculars.
While he is scanning the shadowy foliage in the fading light of the evening he spots a beautiful young woman (Bárbara Goenaga) undressing in the woods, for no apparent reason.
When Clara goes away to buy some supplies, Hector enters the woods to investigate, and that’s when his adventure really begins. An adventure that involves an unwarranted stabbing, a mysterious pursuer whose face is covered in a pink bandage, and an encounter with a scientist (Nacho Vigolando) who suggests he hide in a device that turns out to be a time machine.
Like most time travel movies, Hector is soon consumed with returning to the scenes of various events to try and reverse the effects of actions taken by previous (or later, in time travel logic it’s all circular isn’t it?) iterations of himself.
Los Cronocrímenes takes time to get going and if you happen to watch it in a less than fully alert state, you might miss something, or just nod off for a while. But it all comes together in as tidy a fashion as any of these movies ever can.
The director and his editor Jose Luis Romeu deserve commendation for keeping the narrative together. The performances are a little rough, but the narrative conceit more than makes up for any first-time filmmaking shortcomings that may be in evidence.
I’ve waited a long time to catch this film, and I’m glad I finally did.