When a B&W film set in post-WW2 Europe becomes a masterly treatise on love, loss and longing in our times, it speaks of the abiding power of cinema. Pawel Powlikowski’s Cold War is a masterpiece. It makes you want to reach out for your loved ones, and keep them close, because it shows that love, that most fragile, transient of feelings, can both bind people and tear them apart. The Polish director’s film, which competed for the Palme D’Or, gives us an older man and a young woman engaged in the dance of desire — one step forward, two steps back.
Wiktor, a musician, discovers Zula, a singer who wants to be a star. In Poland, their affair has to be hidden. They can find happiness and freedom if they defect. Both are on edge as their performance in East Berlin ends, one waiting for the other at Checkpoint Charlie — those were the pre-Wall years, when you could simply walk across to the West. The music is glorious. The dancing lovely. And the pair gives us the agony and ecstasy of being fully in love. As they come together and drift apart over the years, in Berlin, Paris and Warsaw, the film asks — does the repression of the State impact emotions? Will all relationships become a cold war zone?
How the political and personal collide is also at the heart of whacky political satire Woman At War, by Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson. A forty-something Halla is an eco-warrior whom we come upon in a spectacular opening scene — she is busy destroying electric pylons which are defacing the pristine landscape. The cops arrive late, just like in old-time Hindi movies, and scoop up a clueless fellow who happens to be on the spot.
This cat-and-mouse game between Halla (a superb performance by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) and the authorities makes you smile, but also pause. Everywhere, authoritarianism is on the rise, and we will all be advised to keep our cellphones in the freezer (as the ultra-cautious characters in the film do) if we don’t want the state to spy upon us.
And then one day, Halla finds that her dream of becoming a mother is about to come true. The little girl is in Ukraine; Halla is making ready for the longed-for adoption when she finds herself halted in her tracks. Will she continue to be as fiercely committed to her cause? Will she abandon it, because a bigger cause is upon us?
Woman At War is delicious and well-judged, and an all-round delight. An adolescent young woman coming of age in a distant Assam village may be as far, in both place and time, from the women in the previous two films. But love connects. And this is what Rima Das’ perky teenage protagonist discovers in Bulbul Can Sing. It is a film that takes time to settle, but pays off richly.
As in her previous feature Village Rockstars, which has put the filmmaker firmly on the global film festival circuit, Das has credits for writer, director and camera work. The awakening and awareness in pubescent boys and girls is captured without a shred of prurience, and with a remarkable directness. As a mother says — it is only natural that boys and girls will kiss.
What if it were a boy and boy? An effeminate youngster is treated cruelly by his schoolmates and older folk who should know better, and Das’ bringing it to the fore as naturally as she has, is one of the highlights of the film.
Bulbul Can Sing proves just how much can be achieved on a shoestring budget if the vision is true. And that Das is a major Indian talent.