2016 TIFF: A Gem From Nepal Stands Out
One day to go for the Toronto International Film Festival to close and there is no debate or hustling on which film will win or which will collect Oscars.
However, the joy of festivals lies in quiet, unexpected discoveries. And one did emerge finally in the stirring, perceptive film, ‘White Sun’. Besides, it was from neighbouring Nepal. The film first featured in the Venice festival's Orizzonti section earlier this year.
Breaking news rattled the festival when two moviegoers fell ill while watching the French-Belgium film, ‘Raw’ featuring cannibalism, and th ambunalce arrived. Matters got worse when rumours spread that the episode was a publicity stunt, that abated when declared untrue. The two were just fainthearted and unable to take the film's purported story of vegetarians being fed meat and later human flesh.
A runaway hit at the festival was Damien Chazelle’s ‘La La Land’ with serpentine queues and repeated screenings. It stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the former playing jazz aficionado, Sebastian, and the latter an aspiring actress and playwright, Mia. The two fall in love. Their different aspirations and mindset make it hard for them and despite their genuine caring for each other, they go their separate ways.
The film’s metallic lure shifts to candyfloss sweetness as it switches moods and settings. Director Chazelle makes an extravagant, impassioned plea to restore old-world jazz to its pristine purity. He pays lavish tribute to the musicals and movies of Hollywood’s prime years.
A truly striking and telling film is ‘Snowden’, directed by the fiery, brooding Oliver Stone. He declared it to be about the world going out of control. The film follows the well-known case of Edward Snowden, the American computer professional who leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to The Guardian in June 2013 and is currently exiled in Russia. The film looks at his increasing unease and concern at how cyber expertise was invading every common man’s privacy in order to protect the country against terrorism.
As the plot develops, it reveals more and more of the insidious tactics of secretly spying on people’s most personal thoughts and deeds. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is riveting in the title role. His face presence and body becomes increasingly taut and tense as he sees what is happening to the human race.
In all of Toronto's heady bedlam, it was a genuine respite to come across ‘White Sun’, a Nepal, USA, Qatar and the Netherlands presentation.
The film looks at Nepal timorously surfacing from a 10 year civil war as well as a devastating earthquake. It is directed by Deepak Rauniyar, whose first film ‘Highway’ screened at 2012 Berlin’s Panorama section.
‘White Sun’, his second film, looks at the civil skirmishes that followed the Nepalese war that raged between 1996 and 2006. The war saw bitter armed conflict between the Maoist rebels of the Communist Party, who wanted to overthrow the Nepalese dictatorial monarchy on one hand, and the government, which supported the king.
The film starts in a hilly village where its small community gather together to deal with a heavily built older man who drops dead in his tiny first floor abode. We later learn that he is a monarchist who believes in the government in power. His son Chandra journeys back after being away close to ten years to carry out the funeral rites. Chandra, who backs the Maoist Party, has faith in the peace accord of 21 November 2006.
Central to the film’s theme are two children: Pooja, the grand-daughter of the dead man, around ten years old, whose sharp, quizzical eyes question her existence and also of others around her; and Badri, the uneasy, street-smart boy, roughly her age, who a homeless orphan. Both children, specially the girl, are determined to claim Chandra as their father. Pooja resents Badri claiming her territory while he seeks her affection.
At each turn, the film reveals with great strength and simplicity, a new side to the precarious, strife-ridden lives of this small community. Issues come up one after the other, such as the political divide between Chandra and his brother Suraj; the entrenched caste differences (the caretaker of the dead man being a woman is debarred from the funeral rites); the attitudes of the local police when called to help; and dead of night, being targeted by armed guerillas. Such are the hazards this group face in their mission to cremate one among them.
Finally, and allegorically, it is the children who save the day and quietly set about completing the task that the villagers set out to do. ‘White Sun’ presents a tender slice of life in this seemingly bare and linear story that carries a multitude of lessons on the barriers and dangers that mankind creates for itself.