Notes from a festival: Saving the world
In this series of columns, the writer, the entertainment editor of the organisation, will be reflecting on the films being shown at the 51st International Film Festival of India in Goa
Films being screened at the 51st International Film Festival of India span many world languages including Romanian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, and Danish. After a week of foreign cinema diet—and frenetic subtitle reading—it felt like homecoming to catch a Tamil film, Thaen (by director Ganesh Vinayakan), which is about a family on the hills whose natural life is disrupted by the arrival of a factory. The topic is relevant and the director’s scathing views on governmental corruption quite useful—but it all would have been more hard-hitting in a better film. Thaen, unfortunately, is blunted by unconvincing performances, false dialogues, and much melodrama. It’s also a film that for all its good intentions, ends up authenticating superstition. Its lead characters test the health of their romantic future by engaging in an old custom involving a plantain stem, a custom that later gets validated by this film. Thaen, in also trying to launch a takedown of the corruption and greed in the medical system, makes the mistake of stretching its criticism so far as to mount doubt about the very utility of science-based medicine. Thankfully, the sour aftertaste of this rather crude film was washed away by a film screened later in the day which too makes a point in favour of environmental protection: Nathan Grossman’s documentary about Greta Thunberg called I Am Greta.
For those of us who have largely known Greta only as a sombre speaker spreading awareness about an even more sombre issue, the film is useful in how it humanises her. It attempts to probe into her family dynamics and try to present the reality of, even if only superficially so, what it must be like for a 15-year-old girl to have all normalcy from her life prised away. It’s a peek into her rise to international fame (and notoriety, if we were to pay heed to the views of climate change deniers), into how an anonymous Swedish schoolgirl with pigtails came to be mobbed with requests for selfies. My favourite portions in this film are those that capture the childhood in her, like those scenes that show her laughing with abandon while with her family. Such scenes serve to make the sacrifice of her teenage years more poignant, and drive home the message that sometimes, all it takes for a world to wake up is for anyone, even a child, to say aloud that which nobody is willing to acknowledge aloud.
The film also shows how Greta squirms in discomfort each time someone positions her as the star of the movement. And yet, strangely, this documentary does this too. While I Am Greta includes popular, simplistic takedowns of the climate change movement (from many politicians including Trump), it doesn’t show interest in presenting any of the large evidence available to counter such ridicule. Neither does it, despite all the footage of Greta and family, present a particularly intimate portrait of this powerful girl. At the end, Greta, who refuses to fly citing carbon emissions, is in a yacht, making the long voyage from UK to US. It’s only truly here, in this monologue, that you get a glimpse of the price this slender girl has had to pay. However, for a film that makes Greta Thunberg its central focus—even though it’s beautifully shot and edited—I Am Greta needed to offer more insight into the mental makeup of this special girl and shed more light on what makes Greta great.