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12 film marathon spotlights urban decadence

Interestingly, apartment blocks in Warsaw bear a strong resemblance to Delhi Development Authority's more abominable creations.

 
By Sevanti Ninan
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- THE FILM City Life is about everything that the title suggests. But it is so extraordinarily multifaceted and so exuberantly diverse, it defies all description. Twelve film-makers with highly individualised styles have each made a short film on a city the film-maker's choice. Their common theme is urban society. What the viewer discovers during a marathon, four-hour sitting -- all 12 are presented as one movie --fragments of human experience reflecting contemporary city life.

City Life, screened in Delhi as part of the 24th International Film Festival of India, is the outcome of a Dutch initiative. Its producers, Dick Rijneke and Mildred van Leeuwaarden, explained the project aimed at creating a global view of rapidly changing societies. Except for Calcutta, the East on the whole is missing, which is a pity. A Japanese or a Chinese film-maker and a Far-Eastern city would have helped to broaden the perspective that is by and large Western and white.

The opening film by Rijneke and Van Leeuwaarden launches the viewer on a journey full of the unexpected. Titled Urban Jungles, it is about Randstad, Holland, seen through the eyes of an attractive, successful young city planner. She is seen in her expensive penthouse talking about herself, her ambitions ("I have an erotic relationship with success") and her vision of how Ranstad should be planned and designed. Interwoven in the film are its only two sequences -- women talking, and some bored teenagers in a subway, amusing themselves at the expense of fellow-passengers. What can you learn about Randstad from a film like this? Something, possibly, about its soul.

And so the films roll by. The people and the surroundings featured in them could belong to any city: harried men and women, some coping with unemployment; tiny apartments replete with cockroaches; listless romances; lawless teenagers, and small children coping with changing parental roles. In the end what City Life says is something about what urban living does to people. One interesting note: East European cities are grim and apartment blocks in Warsaw resemble Delhi Development Authority's more abominable creations.

The film on Budapest is positively chilling in the bleak, dour landscapes it scans relentlessly and at length. It ends in what seems like an empty mortuary with a deathly pale man softly describing how to ascertain clinical death. Film-maker Bela Tarr's film, The Last Boat, is supposed to be expressing the deep feelings of Eastern Europeans on the verge of social transition.

Less symbolic but more enjoyable is Poleshift, a wonderfully memorable look at Hamburg through the eyes of a child. She lives in a communal house with her father who stays at home and her mother, who zips off to work. The father gets the child ready in a communal bathroom teeming with men and women and then drops her off at a day care centre. During the drive, the child ponders over her dying grandmother's last words: The world is changing, it is women who will now take charge.

The shift in family values wrought by urbanisation also finds expression in a film from Senegal, Dakar Clando. It portrays a woman's quest for a missing husband -- not a desperate quest, but a resigned one. When she finds him finally, he is necking in a clando, which is a semi-legal liquor store.

The least abstract and the most documentary in approach, is Mrinal Sen's Calcutta My El Dorado. Overstated, as is his usual style, Sen's film is a synthesis of footage copiously lifted from his past films.

What do all these dissimilar yet similar cinematic forays add up to -- a rootlessness, a determination to cope or a celebration of the human spirit? What is great about experimental cinema is that you can see what you want in it.

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