Calcutta Film Festival

Abhijit Ghosh Dastidar


Out of competition, the Sixth Calcutta Film Festival, organized by the Government of West Bengal, proposed a selected films tribute to Jean-Luc Godard (France) and Luis Bunuel (Spain). Along with a section on international cinema, the festival dedicated a focus on the cinema of Luxembourg, German films of the last decade, a retrospective of Eliseo Subiela (Argentine), a homage to G Aravindan, a tribute to actor Chabi Biswas, and an Indian selection made in India and abroad. In the absence of next January DFF's film festival, there was a marked increase in the recently acclaimed world films.


"Phoorpa—The Cup" (Bhutan-Australia, 1999) by Khyentse Norbu, revolves on a Tibetan monastery, with young Tibetan monks in exile, in the foothills of India, sometime in 1998. Teenaged novices play football with empty coke tins, and read letters from Tibet, where it is a crime to possess photos of the Dalai Lama. Prayers and religious teachings are interrupted by childish pranks. The glow of candle light on an empty can, merges with the face of Buddha. Led by fourteen year old Orgyen (Jamyang Lodro), four teenaged monk novices, jump the monastery boundary walls and take flight to the nearly town video parlour, to watch 1998 World cup football, where France play Italy. They are driven out of the screening for talking and creating a noise. While returning back to the monastery in darkness, they are caught by Geko (Orgyen Tobgyal), the abbot superior.


The drama unfolds in the Tibetan monastery, revealing the contrasts between the old monks and the young monks, ancient times and modern epoch, and tradition and modernity. Realizing that it is two civilized nations which fight over a ball, and there is no sex, the head lama Kempo (Lama Chonjor) grants permission for hiring a TV set. Buddists precepts on a problem if it can be solved why remain unhappy, and if a problem cannot be solved why remain unhappy, ring out as the young novices raise funds for hiring a TV set. Small savings are pulled from tin boxes, watches are pawned with an Indian shopkeeper, and donations are obtained from an old blind monk and from the head lama. There are humorous gaffes as the TV antenna is hauled to the roof, and the deadline is touched for the world cup football finals. The excitement of TV screen football is matched by the bustle of the young monks raising the money and fixing the TV set. Paul Warren's camera is mobile and follows closely the nimble feet, the shifts of hands, and the gestures of the entire caste of non professional actors, who are monks from a monastery.


Mike Leigh's "Topsy Turvy" (UK, 1999) follows the career of William Gilbert, (Allan Corduner), opera lyricist and Arthur Sullivan, (Jim Broadbent), piano composer in London and Paris of 1884. From on stage performances of "Pirates of Penzance" and "Sorceror", the scenario moves off stage. Actors are under pressure, performing "King Leap". Arthur seeks recreation at a night club in Paris, while William has a quiet dinner with his wife, at home. There are tensions between Arthur and his father, and he experiences dental pain while working. Endeavours continue on "Lost corps" and "Pinafore". Arthur finds it difficult to put to music any piece which is uncongenial. The proprietor of the opera company and the lady manager press on for profits.


Arthur searches for subjects with tender, human interests. The composers visit a Japanese exhibition at Humphrey's



Hall in London, and are startled by Kabuki dances, non drama, and samurai martial arts. In 1885, there are famines in Ireland and killings in Khartoum. The composers write a  burlesque, "Mikado", with Japanese costumes and songs in English. There is criticism that Japanese natives are good for Japan. The pantomime in costumes and stockings, re-constructs Japanese opera with Mikado songs, bringing back success. Arthur is exhilarated and delighted. The composers realize that nature rejoices in loneliness. William is childless, and there are family concerns. Actors take heroin, and some are disappointed when their songs are removed. Mike Leigh's film abounds in impeccable construction and consistent excellence of dialogue. The screenplay is never formulaic, and Dick Pope's mobile camera never allows the film to veer to nostalgic filmed theatre.


Carlos Saura's "Goya in Bordeaux" (1999, Spain) presents Francisco de Goya (Francisco Rabal) as an 82 year old painter, but past his artistic prime, and settled in Bordeaux. The film's protagonist, Goya, the painter surveys his life and times, in a series of flashbacks, where the city of Bordeaux serves only as a vantage point. Commencing with motifs of a beheaded bull, the carcass of a bull, and the face of Goya emerging from the internals of the bull, memories are drawn in red sepia. Love for a Spanish provincial girl, Cayetana, strolls along Paris streets at night wearing a cloak, the patrons at the court of Charles IV and an undying love for the Duchess of Alba are recalled from paintings and lithographs of portraits, courts and concerts. The listener on screen is Goya's daughter, Rosarito, and a lover, Leocadia.


Episodes from Goya's memories merge into his paintings. Played out on pointedly artificial sets, the scenes approach a dreamlike quality, acquiring colour and intensity from the paintings. The faces which peer at the viewer from Goya's paintings become the protagonists. Every moment of tension and passion within the painter is presented in an idyllic manner. The ordinary and marginal life of the painter, drifting in a salon in Osona, with ambitions of becoming a Court painter, is revived with an absence of engagement with documentary. Deafness isolated Goya from the world; he became more lonely and solitary. He could no longer hear children's or women's voices, songs of birds, and music.


Goya believed that imagination without reason brings out the worst monsters, and imagination joined with reason is the mother of all marvels. He accepted influences from Velasquez, Rembrandt and Nature. He painted "Life of San Antonio" for the Church, and his paintings reflected music, dance and the disasters of war. Allowing imagination and thoughts to enter his mind, Goya's paintings gradually became dark and sad, as times were not happy. He painted at night, with candle light, sorrounded by whirpools of white cloth. His paintings were dedicated to a Spain free from tyranny, and Goya always supported liberty and the 19th Century liberals of Bordeaux. His wife, Josephina remained close to him, but Cayetano, the Duchess of Alba would pose for his paintings, till she was poisoned by the Queen Maria Luisa of Spain. As Goya lies in bed, there are lengthening shadows of refugees, soldiers, miltiary executions from 19th Century Europe, and the imposition of Napoleon's brother as monarch. End of war brings snow and church bells. Life goes by like a gust of wind for Goya in bed. Saura allows the protagonists the sensation of improvisation from paintings to real life, with a spatial tempo, multiplying the painted portraits.


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