After a long dry spell, world cinema returns to Mumbai for its annual downpour. The 21st edition of the Mumbai Film Festival kicks off on 17 October, with screenings from 18-24 October across the city. There are around 190 films this time, from 53 countries and in 49 languages. And though Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or-winner Parasite and Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire will be missed, the selection ranges far and wide and includes most of the arthouse heavies released this year. To help (or complicate) your scheduling, we’ve picked 15 titles that should be worth your time.
Before 2019, a handful of ardent cinephiles might have known Mati Diop as the star of Claire Denis’ 2008 film, 35 Shots Of Rum. Then, earlier this year, Diop became the first black female director to premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Not only that, her debut feature, Atlantics, a supernatural love story set in Dakar, Senegal, was a critical smash, eventually winning the Grand Prix.
With Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan and Chauthi Koot, Gurvinder Singh established himself as a director with a unique, rigorous aesthetic. After two Punjab-set features, Singh has opted for a change of setting with Bitter Chestnut. The film, set in Bir (where the director lives), in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra valley, is about a 17-year-old caught between his family’s wish to see him become a carpenter and his own desires.
The big Hollywood premiere of the festival is Martin Scorsese’s gangster saga The Irishman, with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. If you are not fussy about watching films on the big screen (it will release on Netflix in November), you might want to skip the mile-long queues and opt for the James Gray-directed Brad Pitt-starrer, Ad Astra. Even more than his last feature, The Lost City of Z, this tale of an astronaut who heads to Mars to see if he can re-establish contact with his lost father is the biggest canvas Gray has worked on. Still, you can expect it to be as emotionally draining and immaculately designed as his best work.
Alien & Memory: The Origins Of Alien
A tantalising double bill for fans of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic, Alien. First, there’s the 4K restoration of the film—likely the first time most attendees will be seeing it in any version on the big screen. Then there’s Alexandre O. Philippe’s feature-length documentary, Memory: The Origins Of Alien, which looks at its making, legacy, and cultural and philosophical inspirations.
The intense bond between a young drifter and a woman he meets becomes complicated when he finds out she’s transgender. Danielle Lessovitz’s film is an exploration of the LGBTQ+ ballroom culture in New York and a heady love story, starring Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk) and former model Leyna Bloom.
Pain And Glory
The one auteurist no-brainer at this year’s festival. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar caps close to four decades in cinema with his most widely praised film in a while. Pain And Glory stars Antonio Banderas as an ageing director looking back at his life. Part of the fun for Almodóvar fans will be spotting the moments where character and creator converge.
Archana Atul Phadke turns the camera on her family in this intimate, jostling and often scabrous documentary. As the Phadkes prepare for her brother’s wedding, the director introduces us, through observed moments of daily life and on-the-fly interviews, to her bellicose grandfather and idiosyncratic father, both of whom drive their partners up the wall. The result is a loving but sharp look at extended families and gender mores being passed down the generations.
Robert Eggers sets his second film, The Lighthouse, in a bygone era in New England—just as he did his first feature, The Witch (2015), one of the most compelling horror films of the decade. In this darkly comic film, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play lighthouse operators in the 1890s. Shot in nightmare black and white, written in the same ornate register as The Witch, Eggers’ Gothic drama should see some of the festival’s longest lines.
Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms could well be the unpredictable floor-burner of the festival. In this French-Hebrew-English film, an Israeli man, played by Tom Mercier, absconds to Paris, where he tries to escape his national identity. Synonyms won the Golden Bear at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.
Animation fans have a lot to choose from: Hong Kong director Yonfan’s No. 7 Cherry Lane, with its star-studded voice cast of Sylvia Chang, Zhao Wei, Ann Hui and Fruit Chan; from France, Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body, in which a hand wanders through Paris; and the Latvian film Jacob, Mimmi And The Talking Dogs, by Edmunds Jansons. And there’s a rare Indian animated feature: Gitanjali Rao’s Bombay Rose, which premiered at the 2019 Venice International Critics Week, and whose flowing, sensuous style seems tailor-made for the big screen.
At the start of the year, Lounge included The Truth in its list of 10 non-blockbuster films to look forward to. It’s finally here, overflowing with pedigree: director Hirokazu Kore-eda, fresh from his 2018 Palme d’Or win for Shoplifters, French acting legends Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve and American indie mainstay Ethan Hawke. The film is a family drama, as is often the case with Kore-eda, though this is the first time he has made a film outside his native Japan.
Varda By Agnès
As with Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames in 2017, Varda By Agnès offers attendees a chance to pay tribute to a departed master. French director Agnès Varda died earlier this year, leaving this documentary as her final work. She will be sorely missed, but this look back at her life and legacy, by turns playful and contemplative, is a fitting farewell.
What She Said: The Art Of Pauline Kael
Rob Garver’s documentary celebrates the long and influential career of American film critic Pauline Kael, whose pugnacious reviews appeared in The New Yorker from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. He mixes excerpts from Kael’s writings in voice-over and her TV and radio appearances with a starry cast of talking heads, including veteran critics Molly Haskell and Greil Marcus and directors Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell. The 90-minute film breezes through the highlights of Kael’s career—the Bonnie And Clyde and Last Tango in Paris reviews, her storied rivalry with auteurist critic Andrew Sarris, her championing of New Hollywood directors. Longtime readers might find the glimpses into her personal life most intriguing, such as her early frustrated attempts to write a play before finding her métier in cinema, or her daughter’s bittersweet remembrances of her.
Bacurau appears to be a continuation of Kleber Mendonça Filho’s critiques of modern Brazilian society but a departure from the understated style of his last film, Aquarius. Co-directed with Juliano Dornelles, this is a quasi-Western mixed with elements of horror and sci-fi, set in the Brazilian outback. The trailer promises something bloody and weird, and it should come as no surprise that Euro-schlock legend Udo Kier is in the cast.
Pradip Kurbah’s Khasi film Market is a quiet triumph. Set in a teeming Shillong bazaar (Ïewduh, the film’s original title), the film follows a handful of interconnected lives: Mike, in charge of the public urinal; Hep, a bright boy he takes in after rehab; Edwina, whose domestic troubles are obliquely, but starkly, rendered; Lamare, an old man with dementia convinced that his son will come for him. Mixing long one-takes with scenes cut into bright fragments, Kurbah captures the rhythms of Shillong life. And at a time when the syncretic fabric of the nation might be seen to be under threat, the film points to the beauty of a multicultural society.
The Mumbai Film Festival is from 18-24 October. Visit Mumbaifilmfestival.com for more details.