Sac­ri­fic­ing pace for char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment may not be a bad idea

The New Indian Express - - TAMIL NADU/SOUTH - Sud­hir Srini­vasan

The films I caught yes­ter­day, the first day of the Mum­bai in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val — On Body and Soul (Hun­gary), Lov­ing Vin­cent, and On the Beach at

Night Alone (South Korea) — are all united in their ev­i­dent dis­re­gard for swift pace. Lov­ing Vin­cent, which is about the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the death of Vin­cent van Gogh, needn’t even have both­ered with any as­pect of sto­ry­telling, given how gor­geous its hand­painted vi­su­als are. Nev­er­the­less, for some­one over-ex­posed to the gar­den va­ri­ety of com­mer­cial Tamil cin­ema, this gen­eral lan­guorous pace of the afore­men­tioned films was quite un­set­tling. The good news is that about half hour into th­ese films, you get used to the di­rec­tor’s pace or its lack of it.

For ex­am­ple, in Ildiko Enyedi’s

On Body and Soul, the lead char­ac­ters en­counter the jaw-drop­ping re­al­i­sa­tion that they have the same dreams at night -of a cou­ple of deer graz­ing by an icy river. Each time you’re shown this dream, you get noth­ing par­tic­u­larly ex­plo­sive. The deer are in no im­mi­nent dan­ger. They aren’t in a tear­ing hurry to move from one place to an­other, much like the film it­self. In short, there’s no testos­terone. The di­rec­tor in­stead draws your at­ten­tion to the sen­sory as­pects of the scene: the sound of the deer’s breath­ing, the tex­ture of its skin, the shape of its hoof, the grace of its move­ment. Mean­while, Hoon Sang-soo’s

On the Beach at Night Alone takes an even more med­i­ta­tive ap­proach in deal­ing with the con­flicts of its main char­ac­ter, an ac­tress who’s com­ing to grips with life and love. The film is full of con­ver­sa­tions — gen­er­ally between two peo­ple — and mind you, th­ese chats don’t al­ways seek to pro­pel the plot for­ward. Much like in real life, there are ex­tended pe­ri­ods of si­lence some­times.

The char­ac­ters take a break from con­ver­sa­tion to dwell on the seem­ingly mun­dane. For in­stance, a char­ac­ter, af­ter sip­ping some water, says, “Water is good for you. It’s re­fresh­ing.”

Quite amaz­ingly, the au­di­ence at all th­ese screen­ings be­trayed no sign of rest­less­ness. And there were re­wards for such pa­tience. In On the Beach at Night

Alone, there’s a scene in which a bunch of friends are drink­ing and chit-chat­ting. Some­where to­wards the mid­dle of the con­ver­sa­tion, a char­ac­ter gazes at the hero­ine in ad­mi­ra­tion and says that her strug­gles have made her look pret­tier. A side-char­ac­ter, a work­horse of a wo­man, wryly re­sponds, “I strug­gle, but don’t seem to get any pret­tier.”

I know what you are think­ing. This isn’t a par­tic­u­larly funny joke, but fas­ci­nat­ingly, given all the work that had gone into es­tab­lish­ing each of th­ese char­ac­ters, that offhanded line had the en­tire the­atre laugh­ing. Day 1 of the Mum­bai in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­val showed that the price of im­mer­sion, of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, is some­times pace.

This week-long col­umn is a con­tem­pla­tion of the films watched by the writer on each day of the on­go­ing 19th Mum­bai Film Fes­ti­val

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