In an alternate (normal) universe, we would have been right in the thick of MAMI 2020 right now. Most of us city-slickers live for this annual cinematic pilgrimage: the excitable schedule-making, the early morning online bookings, the coffee diet, the bleary but grateful eyes, the long lines, the urgent tweets, the packed food courts, the mad dash between suburban PVRs. More than anything, it’s the greedy film-watching that we miss. For many, this is the only accessible film festival all year – and the one week holds the pressure of satisfying a year-long craving for the latest in world cinema.
It’s a huge void to fill. But in the meantime, here are 8 excellent independent titles to stream for you to pretend that you’re at a two-day bedroom film festival instead. Maybe take a brisk walk after each of them and stand outside the door to reproduce the adrenalin of rushing between screenings. (admittedly, “bedroom film festival” sounded better in my head).
The Place Beyond The Pines (Netflix)
Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance is widely known for his breakthrough film, Blue Valentine (2010), but his follow-up – a linear multi-narrative featuring Ryan Gosling as a blond motorbike stuntman, Bradley Cooper as a desperately righteous cop, and their young sons crossing paths years later – is a stone-cold masterpiece. The cross-generational American epic is one of the most overlooked films of the previous decade. (Tip: do not miss the opening shot, a stunning unbroken take that trails Gosling from inside a room across a carnival into the Wall of Death.).
Beasts of No Nation (Netflix)
Cary Fukunaga, popularly known as the Emmy-winning director of True Detective and the upcoming Bond movie No Time To Die, has a filmography to die for. His third and finest film, Beasts of No Nation, follows an innocent African boy becoming a child soldier during a civil war – a brutal snapshot of a culture in turmoil, and a journey so fiercely frenetic that Fukunaga himself shot the film. Not for the faint-hearted, two of the most haunting scenes feature the boy’s initiation process (hacking a captive to death) and him getting raped at the dead of night by his commandant, who is chillingly played by Idris Elba.
Honey Boy (Amazon Prime)
An example of self-reflective filmmaking at its rawest and most therapeutic, Alma Har’el’s Honey Boy is a Shia LaBeouf biopic starring Shia LaBeouf playing his own father. A moving photograph of LaBeouf’s years as a child star managed by an alcoholic father on the fringes of Los Angeles, Honey Boy is audacious, beautiful and heartfelt – and unironically features one of the all-time great child performances by Noah Jupe as LaBeouf’s 12-year-old version.
All Good (Netflix)
Eva Trobisch’s psychological German-language drama is a riveting account of the aftermath of rape – straddling the thin line between survivor and victim. A woman gets consumed by her own denial after she is sexually abused at a reunion party. The film mirrors the protagonist’s mental state – settling into periods of bliss (with her live-in boyfriend) before imploding in form (the perpetrator re-enters her life). Narrative tension aside, All Good is most remarkable for the anatomy of the assault itself: A drunken tryst turns edgy so quickly that the woman’s only response is “are you serious?”. Just like that, she is resigned to her fate.
Beach Rats (Netflix)
Sundance darling Eliza Hittman’s second film isn’t as celebrated as her first (It Felt Like Love) and her latest (Never Rarely Sometimes Always). But the 16mm-shot Beach Rats is a tender examination of wayward adolescence. The turmoil-ridden story of a heterosexual Brooklyn boy who secretly has sex with older men for money is at odds with the sunny, bleached look of the film – a contrast that defines Hittman’s unique ability to normalize the slice-of-life narrative while revealing the scars left by cutting life into slices.
The Threshold (Disney +Hotstar)
Pushan Kripalani’s poignant chamber drama stars veterans Rajit Kapur and Neena Gupta in a long-time marriage that falls apart in the days following their son’s wedding at their Himalayan mountain house. The film is wonderfully performed, detailing the struggles of a housewife who is determined to break free from her typically patriarchal but over-dependent North Indian husband. One specific scene – where he decides to show her that he is capable of fending for himself, but cooks a pathetic omelette – haunts me to the day. I will always remember the sound of collective sniffles and wet-eye-rubbing once the lights lit up the hall after an early-morning MAMI screening in 2015.
The Man From Earth (Amazon Prime)
Written by the late great Jerome Bixby, I once believed that The Man From Earth was plainly one of the finest films ever made. I’m older, wiser and wearier of hyperbole now, but that hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm for the conversational sci-fi chamber drama. In fact, the “science fiction” is the paradox of the daring premise: The entire film unfurls at a farewell party for a departing professor who attempts to convince his colleagues – through long, superbly constructed intellectual debates – that he is a prehistoric caveman who has secretly survived for 14000 years. That’s really all you must know. And also, his name is John Oldman.
A ray of sunshine in the characteristic darkness of festival films, Wadjda is a film of firsts: the first feature to ever be shot in Saudi Arabia, the first to be made by a female Saudi director. As a result, the child’s gaze – a schoolgirl wants to buy a green bicycle – also provides the first authentic look into the social machinations of an ultra-conservative society. Seeing this world through her eyes also means seeing it with quizzical, innocent scrutiny – one that cannot fathom a regressive land in which a girl can only dream of a cycle at a time when women were forbidden from driving motor vehicles.