Notes from a festival: Wordless experiments
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
What would our cinema do without dialogues? After all, it is this feature of filmmaking that seems to attract the loudest cheers in the theatre. This is why, for me, one of the pleasures of catching curated films at a festival like IFFI is getting exposed to filmmaking that breaks rules, that strays away from what we believe cinema to be. How about we avoid conversations entirely, but refuse to define the film with this creative choice? Or how about if we avoided background music entirely? In the two Spanish films that were screened on Friday: Lois Patino’s Red Moon Tide, and Maura Delpero’s Maternal (Hogar), you can notice an evident refusal to focus on dialogues. Red Moon Tide does this more militantly than the other.
For instance, there’s a scene of a woman giving birth in Maternal. How many times have we seen such a birthing scene get defined by a woman’s screams, by the reassuring words of a doctor, by the eventual wailing of a newborn? In Maternal, all you see is the pregnant woman’s fingers clutching a bed in pain… soundlessly. The next shot is through the fluttering curtains of a window, as you hear the cooing of a baby. That’s all really. Such economical filmmaking shows directorial eagerness to find unfamiliar ways in which to shoot the familiar. The whole film, in fact, shows a refusal to make progress through conversations.
Lois Patino’s Red Moon Tide is a more ambitious experiment, with most of its characters not even moving in the film, let alone speaking. Much of what we learn about the surreal, almost dystopian world of this film is through the melancholic voice-overs that reflect the thoughts of these immobile people. A sense of dread and apocalyptic fright pervades this universe that is populated with people who are more mannequins, and voice-overs that are more sighs of resignation.
Given its unusual structure and the almost meditative filmmaking, it can, admittedly, make for a trying watch for the impatient. However, should you be willing and patient, there were many rewards to be savoured. Right on top of the pile is the film’s breathtakingly beautiful, even if almost depressing, imagery. The still shots of the film’s environment, including of the ominous, colossal dam, the mesmerising movement of the Galician waters, and the shimmering night sea, offer visual intoxication. Another high of this film is how the film says so much without saying anything explicitly. This is again a far cry from the many films that look to drum home a message by having protagonists speak at length about it. Is Red Moon Tide a statement against climate change? Is it a reminder that we are powerless against the might of nature? Is it a suggestion that we are all doomed anyway? Is it all of these?
These are important films that break structures, that tell you that a film needn’t play by the rulebook. As a popular line goes, the only true rule is that there are no rules. In such cinema, all dialogues can be thoughts, all people can be stationary. And all results, even if they are not riveting, are fascinating