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Day 6: Biffes, 2009

It isn’t a good sign if I sit an entire festival in the theaters and not see even one of the main retrospective director’s film. So I went to Dan Woolman’s Foreign Sister.

Well, it is a small film in terms of production values and fairly low-key in reach. Its well-acted and has nice, sketched characters. The thing about these kind of films is that they can be shot on celluloid, video or even acted as a play. It hardly matters. About the immigrant community in Israel, there is sadness in the film, but it is not melodramatic. It is easy for a film like this to break with too much unnecessary detail. It is a small film and it respects itself for it.

The second film I saw was a major disappointment. Gubbachigalu, Abhaya Simha’s debut feature falls into the trap great masters have set and many ordinary men have fallen into. To make a difficult film must be difficult anyway, but to make a simple film cannot be any easier. Gubbachigalu has a simple appearance but it muddles itself with too many complicated bedfellows.

It is at once a wannabe Children of Heaven, sometimes plays as a beacon for clean environment and in-between quite disastrously indulges in slapstick. It could have been all this, and a great children’s film to boot, had there been a decent premise for the story, had children been treated a bit above the level of idiocy and had there not been any great films by Majid Majidi at least.

There is a tremendous amount of influence of foreign films here. Not at all a bad thing. But the point is, a Children of Heaven need not inspire a similar film. It isn’t a blueprint for future successes of other movies. Children in Indian films are far smarter in commercial films than in the so-called “good cinema”. Strange, but it appears true. Like in last year’s Moggina Jade (which was just atrocious), the kids here are like teddy bears. They are meant to be cute.

It wouldn’t have felt as bad with Gubbachigalu had the next film not been Majidi’s Song of Sparrows.

This is a simple film. But the amount of work to arrive at this simplicity can only be imagined. A worker in an ostrich farm loses his job after an ostrich runs away. He, through luck and ingenuity, begins making money in the city and starts providing better for his family. As his money grows, he grows away from everyone else. His children and wife have their feet firmly on the ground and feel uneasy at the his behaviour.

A few mishaps later, the man begins to see his better side, more or less each time ostriches, in some way, bring him back.

The images Majidi conjures up here are outstanding. The bike rides in the city and the ostriches in the farm are excellent. He uses a couple of aerial shots which are quite surprising.

It is a very nice film, and is told with such simplicity that you know there are already many wannabes lined up to attempt to emulate and fail.