Friday, February 23, 2018

Notes on Garbage, by Q, India: 2018 – or how to place a provocative Indian film in an India-phobic film festival, Berlin Filmfestival VIII-Panorama

Indeed, Garbage is an interesting film which evokes a lot of questions but last but not least it´s presence as the only Indian film this year is also symptomatic for the recently rather India-phobic attitude of this festival, very few exceptions included. This inscrutable ignorance of one of the most interesting film country in the world was only interrupted in the last 10 years by rare masterpieces like Vilhir (The Well, Generation 2010) by Umesh Vinayak Kolkarni and Pushpendra Singh´s Lajwanti (Forum 2014)

Garbage by Q (Qaushik Mukherjee), is a film which hardly will pass the outmoded Indian censorship board for getting a theatrical distribution in India. It is partly because of it´s revealing of graphic violence and partly because of it´s open attack on hypocrisy of the dominating Hindu-fundamentalism in contemporary India.

My relation with this film is conflicted even though I still think one of his previous films Gandhu was an important and fresh new voice in contemporary Indian cinema. Q´s wish during his introduction that the audience “shall suffer” under this “joyless and sad film” was for my side fulfilled - at least for me. Since Pasolini´s Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, I have not seen a film (commercial splatter excluded) which reveals so much concision of human bodies, bodily fluids and torture. If Pasolini´s film was reckoning with the Italian fascism, Garbage refers obviously with the present violence in India, partly based on it´s conflicting attitude towards sexuality supported by a right wing and Hindu-fundamentalistic government. If a film wants to provoke that is not necessarily a bad thing. Garbage openly refers to contemporary India. The short living world press has already forgotten horrible events like the genocide in Gujarat and most recently a wave of raping cases. The most known among these cases, the barbaric rape of a young woman in December 2012 changed almost over night India´s rating as a relative safe tourist country into the rate “critical”. For now the exposure of violent, sadistic and masochistic acts in Q´s film is at least understandable. How extreme and excessive one can find that, is another field. But one question remains, the question if it is necessary to shock or torture to approach a certain understanding or even compassion for the victims of violence? Q rather follows the way of Pasolini or Fassbinder in his bold language, while other talented contemporaries from Q´s generation like Konkona Sensharma in her A Death in the Gunj (indeed a total different film on violence and gender identity in India) seems to follow a path between the formal elegance of Hitchcock and Mizoguchi or Pushpendra Singh with Lajwanti whose way of cinema is between the minimalism or petry of Ozu, Straub/Huillet, Renoir and Ford.

It is true, Garbage belongs to the diversity of contemporary Indian cinema. But as it is the only Indian film shown this year selected by the so-called biggest International Film festival that is quite a problem for me because the vanity of this festival imposes that it´s selection is representative for world cinema. This is of course the problem of the festival and not the the problem at the film at all.

The girl who is kept as a slave by the taxi driver (who is a Hindu fundamentalist and a sexual perverse at the same time) is the perfect mediator between the film and the audience. Her chains are visible. Our chains only evident in the film´s bold language, it´s montage and aggressive sound design. For both of us, the slave girl or the audience – there is no way to escape from this film. If her presence evokes empathy or is she just a fellow inmate, that is again another question. My reason not to put Q in the same category like Shekar Kapur and his horrible Bandit Queen or Nagisa Oshima´s awkward overrated Ai no Korida (The Realm of Senses) – both films are speculating only on the sensationalism of the audience - is the access offered by the character of this slave girl. We are captured with her – and she can be read as an agent or even as an Alter Ego of Q himself. As conflicted my relation with Garbage is, I put him in case of doubt rather in context with this despaired almost unbearable but thoroughly honest film by Pasolini.

Despite my discomfort with this film it belongs to the endless discussion of contemporary cinema because it causes a lot of questions about esthetics of cinema, what to and how to show explicit violence or sexuality in cinema or not. The so-called “most political” film festival in the world was here rather inconsequent if not cowardly. They had the option to select Garbage for the competition. But they shifted it instead to the the Panorama, the most disputable and most shapeless section in the long history of this festival. The Panorama is like a black hole – if good or bad films, most of them disappear soon from the public memory. It is symptomatic for the inconsequence of Kosslick´s populistic policy. The irony is hiding a film like Garbage in the Panorama is like a foreboding the film´s fate if it it will be confronted with the equally dubiously institution called Central Board of Indian Cinema.

Rüdiger Tomczak
Fri, 23.2, 20.15, Cubix 7
Sat, 24.2, 22.45, Cinestar 3
Sun, 25.2, 16.00, Zoo-Palast 2

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