'Von Bagh' perfect cinematic requiem| MENAFN.COM

Wednesday, 19 January 2022 05:00 GMT

'Von Bagh' perfect cinematic requiem

(MENAFN- Arab Times) Although modest in scale and production values, the engaging documentary "Peter von Bagh," helmed by Tapio Piirainen, provides a perfect cinematic requiem for its eponymous subject, the legendary cinephile who died in 2014 at the age of 71. Von Bagh was the longtime artistic director of both the Midnight Sun Film Festival in his native Finland and the Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. The doc contextualizes and pays tribute to his many facets: film critic, magazine editor, teacher, curator, author (with more than 30 books to his credit) director and television and radio presenter. Already broadcast on Finnish TV, this inspiring portrait would be the ideal accompaniment to a season of von Bagh's own documentaries.

Filmed over a number of years and comprised mostly of von Bagh's erudite, articulate and humorous commentary over archival photos and footage, the doc traces his upbringing in the melancholy atmosphere of a mental asylum in Oulu, northern Finland, where his father, an emigre from Russia, was the supervising doctor. Von Bagh's mother died when he was six and a friend suggests that his early infatuation with cinema might also be a search for a mother figure.

Von Bagh's turning point as a budding cineaste came at the age of 11, when he saw the English film "The Man Between," directed by Carol Reed and wrote his first fan letter to the star, James Mason. As a teen, he founded a film club in Oulu which he describes as the single most significant achievement of his life, noting tartly, "The town of Oulu, the world record holder in hypocrisy, had not before this crusade of 15-year-old boys been civilized with cinema and hasn't been ever since."


In 1962, von Bagh took up medical studies in Helsinki, but soon ditched that discipline for literature. He also began writing about cinema for a student magazine. He recalls, "It was kind of a missionary work for me " defending, quite aggressively, the values that were important to me." Choice early television footage from "Film Circle" demonstrates that he could be quite merciless in his opinions, as he dismisses one Finnish film as "regrettably feeble both as a film and as a statement."

In typically witty fashion, von Bagh laments the state of contemporary film criticism. "Today, film criticism has been made impossible, but we shouldn't put too much blame on the critics. With such small column space as they are given nowadays, it's impossible for them to work in a responsible manner. " If, for four weeks, critics were asked to say the brutal truth, they'd have to summarize the films of the week by saying, 'Unfortunately, there were no films worth discussing so there is nothing to write about.'"

Certainly von Bagh's frank opinions created anger and enemies in some quarters. When he made his feature directing debut in 1971 with "The Count," the critical knives were out and the film was cut to shreds. Thereafter, he directed only cine-collage documentaries, a number of which, including "Olavi Virta," "Tapsa," "The Year 1952," and "Helsinki Forever," are sampled here.

Along with Aki and Mika Kaurismaki, von Bagh founded the egalitarian Midnight Sun Film Festival, which takes place beyond the Arctic Circle in the summer months of 24-hour daylight and shows films around the clock. Among the picture's most touching footage is a spirited, on-stage interview of the visibly ailing von Bagh and Aki Kaurismaki at the festival in 2014. Kaurismaki asks, "If you could choose between life and cinema, what would you choose?" Without missing a beat, von Bagh replies, "Cinema."

Editor Jorma Hori's thoughtful assembly adds immeasurably to this picture of von Bagh as both private person and public intellectual whose lifelong commitment to international cinema was infectious.

Movie stars, distinctive deities, and steadfast siblings propel the road-movie narrative of "Dhanak", writer-director's Nagesh Kukunoor's slickly produced and pleasantly engaging fairy tale about the long-distance journey of two starstruck youngsters in search of a nondenominational miracle. Winner of the Crystal Bear Grand Prix for best children's film at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival, this whimsical Hindi comedy-drama may be too contrived and grit-free for some viewers, but others likely will be captivated by a movie that somehow manages to remain light, bright, and family-friendly even while briefly raising the specter of child trafficking.

The plot pivots on the close relationship between Pari (Hetal Gadda), a spirited 10-year-old girl, and Chotu (Krrish Chhabria), her blind 8-year-old brother. Orphaned by tragedy years earlier, they rely on each other for spiritual support while living with their miserly aunt - whose tight-fistedness indirectly led to Chotu's loss of eyesight - and her husband, a fellow who would need several more centimeters of backbone to qualify as henpecked. The youngsters are able to escape the day-to-day dreariness of their hard-scrabble lives only when they can attend outdoor screenings of Bollywood extravaganzas showcasing their favorite stars.

Chotu is wild about the action heroics of Salman Khan, who is represented here by a film clip in which he dispatches a bad guy by angrily tossing a motorcycle at him. But Pari is much fonder of hunky Shah Rukh Khan, the luminary known to fans as SRK. And she's even more impressed by her dreamboat after she spots a poster promoting SRK's campaign to increase eye donors.


When Pari learns that SRK will be filming on location 300 kilometers away from their small village in the desert state of Rajasthan, she's inspired to run away from home with Chotu and seek out the superstar, hoping there's some way, any way, he can help restore her brother's vision. As they slowly but surely proceed to the faraway destination, they rely a great deal on the kindness of strangers - and, in at least two instances, sidestep threats that, truth to tell, appear far less scary than those Dorothy faced during her trip down the Yellow Brick Road. ("Dhanak," it should be noted, translates as "Rainbow.")

There are hints of magical realism in places, seamlessly coexisting with more down-to-earth, amusingly edgy scenes demonstrating that, while Chotu is sympathetic and vulnerable, he also can come off as a spoiled, patience-testing brat. At one point, even the fiercely protective Pari is moved to complain: "God, you took away his eyes. Why not his mouth?"

"Dhanak" is peppered with cheeky suggestions that manifestations of the divine can be found in the damnedest places.

During a journey attractively rendered by Chirantan Das' widescreen lensing, the siblings encounter worshippers praying to a festooned motorcycle revered as Bike Saint. Elsewhere, they meet a Holy Mother named Shira Devi (Vibha Chibber) who admits that, way back before she became a professional icon, she worked in a Delhi theater troupe (where she was, ahem, very friendly) with SRK. And while SRK isn't, strictly speaking, a production assistant makes a killing by allowing fans to snap photos of themselves with their choice of relics: A coffee cup once used by the movie star, or a selfie the PA took of himself and SRK. (Yes, that's right: They take selfies of a selfie.

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