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French actress Marion Cotillard poses as she arrives for the screening of the film ‘L’Homme qu’on Aimait Trop (In the Name of my Daughter)’ at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France
Two worlds explored in ‘Titli’ Indian men confused: director

CANNES, France, May 22, (AFP): Some Indian men are confused and struggle to understand changes to their patriarchal society, amid growing opportunities for women and awareness of sexual violence, film-maker Kanu Behl told AFP in an interview in Cannes. “The times that we live in create a really confused state for the Indian man because he’s used to being patriarchal,” the first-time director said. “He’s used to being the dominating person; he’s used to being the breadwinner; he’s used to having a wife who’s performing a certain role and there’s a lot of role playing that happens and suddenly there’s the whole shift in the world outside.” Behl’s directorial debut, “Titli”, tells the story of a young criminal trying to escape his oppressive family, especially his violent elder brother Vikram who works as a security guard at one of the many new shopping malls springing up all over India. The film is being shown in the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious new talent section, along with films by other first time directors such as Canadian star Ryan Gosling.

Behl said the fatal gang-rape of a young student in New Delhi in December 2012 had an influence on his film as it happened as he and co-writer Sharat Katariya were putting together their first draft. That crime, which sparked an international outcry, had been a watershed in terms of public awareness of sexual violence against women, he said. A series of mass protests following the rape prompted the government to amend the law, allowing for harsher punishments for rapists, including the death penalty for repeat offenders. Behl said it prompted him to ask where such violence might come from. He and Katariya found themselves exploring the two worlds shown in the film — India’s burgeoning shopping malls and the family, which he called a “fire-breathing monster” in which violence was often as much psychological as physical.

Stressing that he was not making excuses for anyone, he said it led them to reflect on “the world of the consumer, the world of ‘the haves’ and the ones who are on the fringes and the anger and frustration that is built by seeing that shiny polished world for eight hours a day as a security guard and then going back to that other world (of home life in a poor neighbourhood). “The anger builds up because he wants all that for himself too,” he said, referring to his character Vikram. Behl’s film is the only Indian movie at Cannes in what has been a thin year for Asian films with only one — “Still the Water”, by Japan’s Naomi Kawase, competing for the top Palme d’Or prize.

Last year, Cannes feted a “new generation” of Indian film-makers. Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox” and Anurag Kashyap’s “Ugly” were shown on the sidelines of the festival in the independently-run Critics Week and Directors Fortnight respectively. They were joined by fellow directors Karan Johar, Dibakar Banerjee and Zoya Akhtar, who along with Kashyap presented four short films to mark the centenary of Indian film. The Mumbai-based film-maker said a growing number of movies that did not fall into the Bollywood category were being made. “There are young brave film-makers who are doing some really, really interesting work. We are just about beginning to find our voice, a voice that is uniquely Indian, that is about us, that is not borrowed European, that is not from any other cinematic influence like the Koreans, like the Iranians,” he said.

“We are finally coming into our own and we are telling stories that are really rooted to our own culture and come from the language and from the milieu. “I think how these voices get refined will be interesting. I’ll be really keenly waiting for all these guys’ second films including my own,” he added.

He is either adored or hated. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, film legend Jean-Luc Godard had critics scratching their heads over his latest “exasperating and mad” 3D extravaganza. Described by the maestro himself as his best film, “Goodbye to Language” is a frenetic patchwork of vivid scenes and philosophical musings interspersed with stirring music, brutal edits and voices talking over other voices. The 83-year-old himself was noticeably absent from the premiere of his film, sending the cast in his place, but he provided festival organisers with a typically cryptic video message. “Being elsewhere than here, it is not possible for me to be with you, dear comrades, on May 21, in fact it is no longer a film even though it is my best,” he said.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described the plot as “incomprehensible”, The Hollywood Reporter understood it as an exploration of the dynamics in a couple’s relationship. But for the official description of the film in the festival booklet, “the idea is simple”. “A married woman and a single man meet. They love, they argue, fists fly,” it says. “A dog strays between town and country. The seasons pass. The man and woman meet again. The dog finds itself between them. “The other is in one, the one is in the other and they are three.” One scene sees  couple talking about having a baby — the man wants one but the woman would rather have a dog.

Another sees a man defecating on a toilet while talking to the woman about equality. Shots of a bath filling with blood, autumn leaves and old black-and-white films recur, while gun shots are occasionally heard in the background. “Is society ready to accept murder to scale back unemployment?” one woman asks. Godard turned European filmmaking upside-down in the 1960s with his “New Wave” cinema that shunned studio sets in favour of outdoor shoots, improvised scripts and natural sound. He has never won an award at Cannes where his films have sometimes been panned. This year his film, “Goodbye to Language” is one of 18 competing for the top Palme d’Or prize. Critics described the film experience as “curious and funny”, “mad, choppy”, “breathtaking”, or “chaotic, eccentric, exasperating and mad”. They seemed particularly taken with the performance of Roxy the dog, who makes frequent appearances in the film barking, playing in snow, lying on a sofa or whining.

“Loved Godard’s Goodbye to Language — the opium dream of a dyslexic dog. Other interpretations are available,” Kate Muir, chief critic of the London Times, tweeted. Like others, Muir suggested the dog should take the unofficial Palme Dog award, handed out each year for the best canine performance. In an interview with France Inter radio earlier Wednesday, Godard also saluted Roxy, saying his osteopath had told him that dogs do not communicate, they “commune”. “And with the experience I have with Roxy, it’s completely true,” he said. The original use of 3D in the film, while sometimes slightly nausea-inducing, was also praised.

“Godard’s Goodbye to Language is his best in decades. Most interesting use of 3D ever. Different shots in either eye!” tweeted The Irish Times film correspondent Donald Clarke. But while most viewers were left scratching their heads in bewilderment, the mere fact that a film by the legendary Godard had been made was enough to satiate their appetites. “Finding out about a new Godard movie is like discovering that Che Guevara survived the CIA assassination attempt in the Bolivian jungle, and has just pulled off another bank robbery in some La Paz suburb, raising cash for the imminent revolution,” Bradshaw wrote.

Eight years after winning the new talent prize at Cannes, Chinese director Wang Chao is hoping to renew the feat with his new film about a family that falls apart over the father’s cancer. Set in the heaving, foggy metropolis of Chongqing, “Fantasia” delves deep into the ills of modern society in the world’s most populous country — a lack of universal healthcare, prostitution and a fading sense of community as money conquers all. The film is competing in the Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, a category that seeks out new talent and encourages daring work that Wang already won in 2006 with “Luxury Car.”

“Fantasia” revolves around Xiao Lin, a boy whose father is diagnosed with terminal leukaemia, turning the family’s life upside down. The factory his father works for initially takes care of hospital fees but eventually tells his wife that they can only pay half of future medical bills. She goes around asking for money from friends, one of whom is wealthy but refuses to lend her any — as does her own father, who needs to keep the cash in case he too falls ill. Xiao Lin’s elder sister turns to prostitution to help her father, while their mother sells blood to earn some extra cash.

As for the boy himself, he starts skipping class after being bullied at school and escapes into his own fantasy world. The film is set against the backdrop of Chongqing — an industrial city like no other in China where forests of skyscrapers look over the mighty Yangtze River, the bright lights of the city centre shining onto decrepit shacks. Long, lingering shots of the murky river, horns blasting as barges sail through, soak in the unique atmosphere of this pulsating city.

From a working-class family himself, Wang laboured for several years at a steel mill before enrolling in the famed Beijing Film Academy when he was laid off and becoming a movie critic. His critical prose caught the eye of veteran director Chen Kaige who took Wang on as an assistant, and both worked on what has become one of the most famous Chinese films abroad — “Farewell My Concubine.” Wang eventually branched out on his own into the difficult world of independent film-making, joining the illustrious club of the so-called “Sixth Generation” directors in China who focus mainly on social issues, and include this year’s festival jury member Jia Zhangke. He said in production notes that he had written the script for “Fantasia” in 2003, several years after shooting his first feature movie “The Orphan of Anyang.”

“Ten years later, there has been no fundamental change in the real difficulties that the Chinese working class faces, and so I still wanted to shoot it,” he said. One of the main themes of the film is access to medical care in China, which has become a huge problem since universal healthcare collapsed in the early 1980s along with the country’s modernisation drive. While the government has been working to provide affordable basic care for all, many families cannot meet soaring medical costs when someone falls ill and end up spending all their savings until they have nothing left. Wang said that apart from these domestic issues, facing death was “a kind of universal human suffering” which would have resonance with all.

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