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Hidden gems at Habitat

World cinema returns to Delhi. Our guide to the deep cuts in the Habitat International Film Festival line-up

A still from ‘Armi Alive!’
A still from ‘Armi Alive!’

Ever since Osian’s Cinefan moved from Delhi in 2012, the Capital hasn’t had an international film festival to rival the ones in Goa, Mumbai, Kolkata, Pune, Kochi and Chennai. Cinephiles in the Capital get their world cinema fix in dribs and drabs, through screenings at the India Habitat Centre, the India International Centre, and the French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Iranian cultural houses.

Thankfully, things are set to improve. The Habitat International Film Festival (Hiff) is screening more than 40 titles from 30 countries, over 10 days till 2 April. These include festival favourites from the past couple of years: Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning The Salesman, Hirokazu Koreeda’s After The Storm, César Acevedo’s Land And Shade, Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune, Claude Barras’ My Life As A Zucchini and Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria.

Many of these titles will be familiar to those who’ve attended recent international festivals in other Indian cities. Nevertheless, for an inaugural edition, Hiff has a strong, eclectic line-up. Apart from the obvious festival circuit heavyweights, here are a few films that may not be on your radar:

The Similars

Isaac Ezban’s The Similars, set in 1968, unfolds on a rainy night at a desolate bus station in Mexico, where a group of strangers begin to experience increasingly bizarre symptoms. This is a retro-styled, knowingly campy film which pays tribute to classics like Eyes Without A Face and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and particularly to the seminal TV series The Twilight Zone. As is often the case with the genre, horror is used to suggest a larger societal malaise, alluded to here in radio news bulletins.

Poet On A Business Trip

In 2002, director Ju Anqi travelled with the poet Shu to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur region. There, Shu—ostensibly on a “business trip"—was filmed as he interacted with locals, hitched rides, visited prostitutes and composed poems. Ju and Shu then fell out, and it was only in 2013 that Ju, a Beijing-based independent director, could begin editing again. This grimy, elliptical documentary, released in 2015, is a rare look at life in barren Xinjiang prior to the racial unrest in the region and the subsequent crackdown by the government towards the end of the last decade.

A still from ‘Embrace Of The Serpent’.

Embrace Of The Serpent

Embrace Of The Serpent begs to be seen on the big screen. Shot in black and white, this film by Colombian director Ciro Guerra tells the story of two journeys the shaman and tribesman Karamakate makes along the Amazon. The first is in 1909, with a German ethnographer; the second, in 1940, is with an American botanist. Guerra based his film on the writings of two real-life explorers, and creates a fictional quest for a sacred plant called the yakruna. With its echoes of Werner Herzog, Tabu and Apocalypse Now, this is a heady, hallucinatory film.

Armi Alive!

Jörn Donner is a Finnish director, critic, writer, politician, and the producer of Ingmar Bergman’s late masterpiece, Fanny And Alexander. He was also on the board of the Finnish fashion company Marimekko, which allowed him to observe over time its founder, the charismatic, complex Armi Ratia. In 2015, he directed Armi Alive!, a film about Ratia, her idiosyncrasies, and her vision in shaping Marimekko into a global success. This is no straightforward biopic—Donner structures it as a play within a film, and, fittingly, offers up some truly delicious production and costume design.

Train To Busan

Not an obscure film by any means, but Delhi audiences might be the first in India to see Train To Busan as it was intended: on the big screen, in Korean (a dubbed version was released in theatres last year). This lean, unrelenting 2016 zombie action film by Yeon Sang-ho showed yet again that nobody does unadulterated genre cinema like the Koreans.

Click here for the screening schedule.

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