Some of the most interesting films include ‘Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes’, ‘Midnight’, ‘Wonderful Paradise’ and ‘Glasshouse’.
For the first time, I had the honour and privilege of being invited as accredited press to Fantasia Festival (Aug 5 – Aug 25), one of the largest genre film festivals focusing on various Asian films as well as some of the most mind-blowing, eye catching premieres from across the world. The pandemic has opened new ways of hosting film festivals. Many of the premiere film festivals, including Marche du film, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca International Film festival, International Film Festival of Rotterdam are following a hybrid model, with both in-person theatrical screenings as well as virtual online screenings. The good part is that you can watch the premieres directly from your home, but the challenge is that there will be too many films to watch within a short time. Well, that is how film festivals are meant to be. That feeling of chaos and confusion on what to prioritise is one of the primary concerns for the festival-goers.
Fantasia’s portal provided a great catalogue set with some films, shorts and documentaries available throughout the festival and some premieres which were timed and had an expiry. The synopsis and the trailers helped in prioritising the titles, many of which were totally brand new. The alerts on the restricted timed films really helped with the planning. This year marked the 25th edition.
The first film that caught my attention was Junta Yamaguchi’s directorial debut Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, a low budget high concept film executed in a single take, reminding one a lot of One Cut of the Dead, the 2018 zombie comedy. The film explores the aspect of time travel in a very simplistic yet puzzling narrative. Kato, a coffee shop owner who stays in a shabby room a floor above the cafe, accidently makes connection with his future through a computer monitor kept in his room to monitor the coffee shop. He discovers that the version of himself in the monitor is two minutes ahead. Kato, who is searching for his guitar pick, gets to know where exactly it is, from his future self. He runs downstairs to the coffee shop to check if the past version of himself is in the room above and the whole sequence gets repeated from the other way, where his past self is now seen in the monitor kept in the coffee shop.
The time travel device is quite innovative in creating a worm hole of two minutes delay between the monitor in the coffee shop and the monitor at the room above. A coworker in the coffee shop and Kato’s friends who visit the coffee shop get to know about this, and things get crazier as all these people get involved. A brilliant idea of putting in more monitors to extend the time from two minutes to infinite is brought in. Just like when you have a mirror opposite to a mirror and create the infinity mirror or “Droste effect”. The film never goes overboard with high-fi graphics or gadgets. Within the limited area of just a coffee shop, staircase area and the room above, Yamaguchi has masterfully handled the screenplay so that it is simple enough for him to shoot it in a single take. Many questions arise while watching the film and the more you think about what is happening, the more you get drawn to possibilities of the narrative. This film bagged the audience award and for the Best Asian Feature.
Midnight, directed by Kwon Oh-Seung, a fast-paced Korean thriller, is another film that I highly recommend. Although I had watched this earlier as a part of market screenings in Marche du, I still felt like revisiting this film for its fast paced and immensely well-choreographed action sequences. When it comes to making a simple looking narrative engrossing, Korean filmmakers do a neat job. The film is about a deaf and dumb teenage girl who happens to witness a serial killer killing a woman and gets chased by him. This cat and mouse game gets more and more thrilling as it takes twists and turns. The film had a theatrical release in July and has attracted very positive reviews.
Sweetie you won’t believe it, directed by Yernar Nurgaliyev from Kazakhstan, is one among those weird genre bending films. It all starts off quite trivially, with a young married couple’s quarrel. The husband decides to get away with two friends: a hapless businessman and a local cop. But instead of a peaceful day of fishing, a series of mysterious events awaits them. They accidently happen to see a trio of notorious gangsters in the act of killing. A mysterious one-eyed bald guy suddenly appears from nowhere and starts killing people around. Plenty of insane action sequences blended with comedy makes this film quite a treat to watch. An unforgettable moment for me was when one of the gangsters starts playing the song “Ae Oh Aa Zara Mudke” from Disco Dancer, mimicking the steps of Mithunda. The song is almost played full length with fights showcased on the screen.
Kin Long Chan’s neo noir crime drama Hand Rolled Cigarette showcases the dark side of life in the Chungking Mansions in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Kwan Chiu, a former Hong Kong Military Service Corps who isn’t granted British citizenship, becomes caught in a triad manhunt when he helps an Indian man carrying a bag of stolen drugs. Circumstances lead the duo to live under the same roof where they fight out the cultural and racial differences. The film reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. Hand Rolled Cigarette was one of the stronger films that released after theatres reopened.
Masashi Yamamoto’s Wonderful Paradise is perhaps one of the wildest and weirdest films to screen at this year’s Fantasia. A family of father, son and daughter is moving out from their mansion and the daughter accidently tweets that she is holding a party. Friends, strangers pop in and it goes on to become a small sort of carnival. The film gets crazier and crazier during its runtime with unexpected things happening. Though some sequences felt disgusting due to the bloodshed, the film is a hilarious watch.
Brazilian film King Car by Renata Pinheiro reminded me much of Stephen King’s Christine and Bollywood film Tarzan: A wonder car because car plays a very prominent role. A taxi company owner’s son Pato has an extraordinary connection with cars; he can converse with them. The connection becomes quite evident to the viewer as the car saves him from a traffic accident as a child. When the law of banning cars that are over 15 years old from the roads is enforced, Pato teams up with his uncle to convert the cars in the junkyard into futuristic vehicles that interact and speak. Little does Pato know that what he has created can turn out to be evil and dangerous for humans. The film follows a predictable path and was probably the weakest of the films that I caught upon.
Kelsey Egan’s dystopian fairytale Glasshouse proved to be an exhilarating watch. A mother, her three daughters and son, stay in a glass building which has been completely sealed off to protect its occupants from the poisonous air. The members guard the glasshouse, grow vegetation and perform sacred rituals. The arrival of a mysterious stranger changes all the equations. What seemed to be a pleasant narrative changes track to something strange, sensuous and mysterious with a surprising and unexpected ending. The film is shot entirely in South Africa’s gorgeous Gqebera (Port Elizabeth).
Pascal-Alex Vincent’s Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist, a documentary focusing briefly on the iconic manga artists and their work, gives great insights on the process of how Satoshi San created the characters and magical images that have become cult. Paprika and Perfect Blue are two popular features. The documentary brings in animators, voice-over artists, producers, and directors – including Darren Aronofsky, Marco Caro, Rodney Rothman to depict Kon’s contributions and career.
Tiong Bahru Social Club is a narrative of our times. Most of our day to day activities depend on digital data, media and gadgets. The AI gives you directions, hints on what to eat, what to watch, how many calories to burn. The happiness quotient almost seems to be driven by these factors. An upscale apartment which advertises to guarantee happiness for its residents with quality services is at the centre of the plot. The employees in the apartment ensure that the customers get the best of the services. The employees are rated again by how much happiness the customer carries within himself day-to-day. What do we miss when we are controlled by all the digital statistics, and do the numbers carry any meaning in the real world? This conflict is explored through an apartment executive Ah Bee who joins and struggles to be at the top of the organisation pyramid rating but eventually realizes that it is all an illusion that the world of marketing and advertising has created.
Apart from these films, there were many shorts, documentaries, animation and masterclasses featuring Phil Tippet, award-winning visual effects supervisor, producer and Stephen Sayadian, creator of underground classic DR. CALIGARI.
Fantasy genre-based film festivals are quite unique and significant, if you have a liking towards such films. Most film festivals are quite generic and showcase a wider genre of films. In India, we lack events or communities that concentrate on films of the kind that are showcased in Fantasia. There are films which fit the genre but aren’t discussed much either in mainstream or festival circuits. This year, Adithi Krishnadas’s Malayalam short Kandittund won the Satoshi Kon Award for Excellence in Animation. Hoping that the future has a space for such films in the Indian region too.
Harish Mallya, a software engineer by profession, is a script consultant and film critic in the Kannada film industry. He curates films that get screened in the Cinema of the World section at the annual Bengaluru International Film Festival. He has also worked as a creative executive for Ondu Motteya Kathe released in 2017, Arishadvarga which premiered at the London Indian Film Festival in 2019, and a few other upcoming films.