Writer Juhi Chaturvedi and director Shoojit Sircar are successfully able to transfer the wit, sarcasm and humour associated with Bengali language cinema to Hindi cinema. The key to pulling off their script is the acting of the three main actors whose characters ensure a balance is maintained on screen. Amitabh Bachchan’s character of Bhaskor is loud and always looks to dominate every conversation in the room with his own problems, which are always the worst in the world. On the other hand, Irrfan Khan’s character of Rana exudes a calm collected demeanor and is the exact opposite of Bhaskor in the volume index. Rana quietly observes events yet manages to interject in a timely manner to diffuse anything from blowing up. Then there is Deepika Padukone’s character of Piku, the core of the film, the engine that keeps everything running. Her performance reminds of traditional Bengali actresses and she has put in one of the best acting displays seen in the last few years in Hindi language cinema.
Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order):
Adrien (Canada, Renée Beaulieu)
This assured debut film recalls Denis Côté’s cinema mixed with some lovely shots reminiscent of the Dardenne brothers. The brave decision of Renée Beaulieu to let some of the film’s crucial events play out without any dialogues results in a remarkable payoff as the on-screen tension builds before the steam is calmly let out.
Bleak Street (Mexico/Spain, Arturo Ripstein)
In the traditional of Luis Buñuel’s Mexican films, BLEAK STREET depicts a realistic view of street life without any filters. Ripstein doesn’t hold back and plunges the viewer into a cruel and filthy world yet infuses the film with plenty of heart.
Dog Lady (Argentina, Laura Citarella/Verónica Llinás)
Finally, a female counterpoint to Lisandro Alonso’s lonely male cinema. However, Citarella and Llinás add a societal layer to their film on top of Alonso’s structure. The characters in Alonso’s films are situated in nature and his films are about individuals. Citarella and Llinás’s film follows a lonely female character but by setting their character on the fringe of society, balancing the line between urban-rural life, they create a social commentary which makes the main character universal. As a result, their film raises questions about society and poverty.
Happy Hour (Japan, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
A beautiful mature work that focuses on four friends who depend on each other’s support in order to cope with their lives. When one of the characters confides that she is seeking a divorce, it sets in motion a sequence of events which unravels their friendships and impacts the remaining character’s family relationships. The running time of just over 5 hours will restrict this film’s distribution possibilities but that is a shame as this film achieves a level of depth that most TV shows fail to do in over 10+ hours.
In Jackson Heights (USA, Frederick Wiseman)
A remarkable film which manages to highlight the rich diverse cultural history that exists within a few blocks of this famous New York neighbourhood. The film truly shows the sense of community that exists in the neighbourhood while the patient camera captures the sparkle of life that exists in every street corner in Jackson Heights. It is clear there are thousands of stories that can be found in Jackson Heights and Wiseman lets us listen in to some remarkable stories. The film also smartly depicts moments which dive into the dollars and cents involved when comparing small businesses vs big corporations, struggles that are taking place not only around North America but around the world.
James White (USA, Josh Mond)
Shot with a raw intensity, Josh Mond’s film depicts its titular character (Christopher Abbott) who is just trying to get his life together. James is lazy and wants to enjoy his life. However, after his father passes away, he learns his mother has cancer. That thrusts a huge weight of responsibility on his shoulders, something he is not ready for. The camera doesn’t shy away from observing James in his moments of weakness while the story doesn’t try to glorify James or give his character any heroic redemption values. As a result, we are left to view the character with brutal honestly and are free to form our own views.
Mediterranea (Italy co-production, Jonas Carpignano)
The debut of this film along with DHEEPAN at Cannes could not have been more timely. Both DHEEPAN and MEDITERRANEA show the social integration problems that await a new wave of refugees and immigrants coming into Europe. While DHEEPAN goes off in a different dramatic direction, MEDITERRANEA continues following a more neorealist path in letting events unfold.
Ninth Floor (Canada, Mina Shum)
A timely documentary from a Canadian perspective. The film depicts a horrible incident of racism that took place in Sir George Williams University (Montreal) back in 1969 against a group of Caribbean students. The real strength of the film is the inclusion of archival footage which lets viewer see the full extent of racism and discrimination that once existed in Canada. The film is highly relevant today as every wave of new immigrants to Canada have likely faced similar sentiments when they first arrived.
One Floor Below (Romania co-production, Radu Muntean)
A masterful work that is another shining example of the recent Romanian New Wave which depicts human behaviour and emotions in a realistic manner.
Poet on a Business Trip (China, Ju Anqi)
Originally shot in 2002 but not edited until 2013, POET ON A BUSINESS TRIP is part documentary and part poetry. Structured around 16 poems, the film depicts travels in Xinjiang, the western-lying Uyghur province of China. The images and people seen on screen are hardly familiar sights in Chinese cinema, thereby making this a genuinely independent film that is a rarity in China.
Taklub (Phillipines, Brillante Mendoza)
Similar to what he did with SLINGSHOT and FOSTER CHILD, Mendoza embeds his actors in a real life location with non-actors thereby achieving a level of realism where the line between reality and fiction disappears. The film also raises worthy points about how aid is distributed to areas impacted by natural disasters such as typhoons and floods.
Talvar (India, Meghna Gulzar)
Last year, the Indian film COURT showed the Kafkaesque legal system in India. TALVAR takes a step back and depicts the police investigations which can result in an endless loop of court trials, thereby paving the path to events shown in the film COURT. TALVAR is based on a real life court case and Vishal Bhardwaj’s script coupled with Meghna Gulzar’s direction ensures the audience gets to witness alternate view points,Rashomon style.
The Smalls: Forever is a Long time (Canada, Trevor Smith)
This film throws out the rule book when it comes to music documentaries and rewrites the script. Even though the film is about one band called The Smalls, its smart editing and overall framework gets to the essence of why people fall for a certain band and why a piece of music resonates with some individuals more than others. Werner Herzog has mentioned how he loves letting the camera run a little bit longer after a scene is over in order to capture a magical moment. Such a magical moment takes place in THE SMALLS as well, where the camera stays a little bit longer at one of the band’s concerts. This magical scene depicts the trance like impact music has on people and why people pour their heart out when listening to their favourite band. The entire film is also enhanced by some beautiful contemplative shots which allow us to get a sense of the wider universe around a musical band and how ordinary objects and venues spring to life when musical notes fill the air.
The Wakhan Front (France/Belgium, Clément Cogitore)
An extraordinary film that deceives expectations. Starts off as a war film but moves into another genre with the mysterious disappearance of soldiers which points towards supernatural occurrences. There are also some lovely nods to Claire Denis’s BEAU TRAVAIL.
Under Construction (Bangladesh, Rubaiyat Hossain)
Rubaiyat Hossain smartly uses her main character as a lens to explore both female identity in Bangladesh and also her city, Dhaka, which also plays a prominent part in the film.
Viaje (Costa Rica, Paz Fábrega)
Filmed in gorgeous black and white, VIAJE is an honest, charming and mature depiction of relationships.