We take a look at two new movies playing Ithaca Fantastik 2016.
Ithaca Fantastik 2016 runs November 9th-13th
A young director and his two-man crew set out to document the rough life of one of Mumbai’s many struggling denizens, but their search for an enlightening societal truth results in a terrifyingly refreshing honesty instead. Such is the life of a documentary filmmaker it seems.
Narayan (Deepak Sampat) is one of thousands in a sea of millions who works as an auto-rickshaw driver in the city of Mumbai, and he barely scrapes by on the money he earns. The job forces him to put up with abuse from those higher in society than him and leaves him with very little at the end of the day. The doc’s director (played by the film’s actual writer/director, Rohit Mittal) thinks he’s capturing the story of a man beaten down by a city and a country that’s lost sight of those in lower classes, but as he films a far different tale emerges.
Despite the near-constant smile, Narayan is an angry man. He lets a disgruntled rider slap and demean him, but he’s verbally angry afterward. The one bright spot for him is the woman he loves, Roopa (Ronjini Chakroborty), but the feeling isn’t mutual as while he serves as her sometime pimp she ignores and occasionally mocks his professions of love. It’s a life he’s been leading for some time, but with the camera’s encouragement he begins to shift and reveal the true rage beneath his skin. Violence erupts with one of his riders, and the shocked crew decides to carry on filming.
Mittal’s faux-doc carries an obvious inspiration from the likes of Man Bites Dog, but while the focus there was a known killer from the start the subject here seems to become one before their eyes. Is the camera responsible? Or were his misogynistic and murderous behaviors always there?
The camera adds pounds but it doesn’t lie, and it’s clear even before Narayan claims his first victim that his rage-filled feelings of entitlement are a product as much of his situation as they are of his maleness in Indian society. His attention towards Roopa is not about love but about possession and control, and as Narayan’s darker side leads them all towards destruction the filmmaker – the media – is forced to decide when action becomes more important than simply covering the story.
There’s a familiarity to the story itself, but the film rises above the crowd through its location and lead. Mumbai is a place of immense poverty, and too often the cinema presents it through the rose-tinted glasses of celebrity and pure entertainment – Salman Khan is name-checked here as Narayan’s favorite star but also as a reminder that the glitzy fantasy of Bollywood is not the country’s reality. The camera’s POV puts viewers at street level where they’re eye to eye with the poverty and population, and it serves to inform both the commentary and the growing suspense. Credit also goes to Sampat for creating a character who seems as close to tears as he is to violence. He’s equally captivating in his sadness as he is his madness, and it makes for an entrancing and increasingly frightening villain.
Autohead suffers a bit in its back half from a narrative turn that temporarily deflates the pace and tension, but the end result remains a film that finds thrills and warning in equal measure. Men like Narayan are not fictional creations. They’re real, and they’re walking the streets of not just Mumbai or the United States, but the world.
Seth (Dominic Monaghan) works a menial job cleaning up at a Los Angeles animal shelter and goes home to a lonely apartment, but when he spots an old classmate on the bus he decides it’s kismet and attempts to begin a romance. Holly (Ksenia Solo) barely remembers him and is kind in return, but her disinterest in anything more than a passing greeting is clear. Unfortunately for her, Seth is yet another man unwilling to take no for an answer.
He pours over her Facebook page for details on her life, follows her to work, and tries to force a relationship where none exists. His efforts lead to a beat-down from Holly’s ex-boyfriend, but it also tips Seth toward a new direction. She’s in need of saving, and only he can do it – so he abducts her, locks her in a cage beneath the shelter, and goes about making her a better person.
Unfortunately for him though, she’s not at all the person he thought she was and he might soon be the one in need of saving.
Carles Torrens’ (Apartment 143) English debut, written by Jeremy Slater (The Lazarus Effect), starts in a generically familiar place before shifting into something a bit more unique. It doesn’t really sell the ensuing story details though, and combined with a misstep of an ending the film ultimately feels like something of a missed opportunity.
It’s unfortunate as the performances, particularly the one by Solo, do a solid job pulling viewers into these characters. Solo convinces as a young woman distressed by the attention of men she’s not (or no longer) interested in and who instead prefers the friendship of her roommate Claire (Jennette McCurdy). Even better is her intense turn once captured into someone dead set on survival. Monaghan does good work too as a sad little man who turns his energy towards stalking with unbridled enthusiasm.
The film’s big turn – one I won’t be revealing here – comes almost too late as audiences settle into the understanding of just what this movie’s going to be about. The exploitative setup of a man declaring his possession over a woman gives way to something based more in thrills than sleaze, and it’s a welcome change of pace that drives much of the second half. As mentioned above though, while the shift is entertaining on its surface it lacks even the slightest conviction. We just don’t buy it for reasons as varied as the cast to the lean presentation, and while it continues to hold the attention it does so more on possibility than reality.
Pet becomes a more enjoyable movie around the midway point, but it also becomes a lesser one.
Ithaca Fantastik 2016 runs November 9th-13th