SFIFF Report: Wednesday, May 6

I got to the Festival in time to see two films yesterday. I liked both of them, but wasn’t blown away by either.

Can Go Through Skin. After barely escaping an attempted murder, Marieke (Rifka Lodeizen) moves to the country to find peace and quiet. She finds a warm and friendly community, and even an unlikely romance, but that doesn’t calm her inner demons. Actually, it’s hard to say exactly what goes on in this intimate, Dutch drama. Writer/director Esther Rots tells the story obliquely, sometimes hinting at the plot and never quite filling you in. To a large extent, that’s one of the film’s strengths–it gives you an impression of how Marieke’s mind works, and it keeps you on your toes. But I wish Rots had given us a little more to go on. The film’s other big strength: Lodeizen’s layered and complex performance. Since I caught the film’s last SFIFF screening, you may never get a chance to see it.

Mohandas. After Battle For Terra, this is the slickest film I’ve seen at the SFIFF, this year. But it’s not slick in a Hollywood way; it’s slick in a Bollywood way. Well, sort of. The characters never break out into song, but sing their inner monologues in musical voiceovers. The story concerns identify theft, but not in the way we worry about it in the West–this is something far worse. A corporate criminal has taken the title character’s name and his well-paying job. And while everyone in the village knows who the real Mohandas is (although born poor, his academic gifts and hard work won him a scholarship and then top university honors), everyone in the company and the government prefer to keep things as they are. Like Michael Clayton, washes its serious message about all-consuming and utterly evil corruption down with well-made entertainment.

I’m not sure why, but screenwriter Uday Prakash and director Mazhar Kamran have filled Mohandas with Gandhi references, including the film’s title. Mohandas was Gandhi’s first name (Mahatma was a title given to Gandhi by his followers, and one he was never comfortable with), and the importance of that name in the story is exaggerated by the fact that we never hear his last name–which is really strange in a film about identity theft. What’s more, his wife has the same name as Gandhi’s–Kasturi. Perhaps the fimmakers wanted audiences to reflect on who is the real India, the poor man who works hard but finds advancement impossible, or the rich imposter who steals everything from the poor.

You’ve got one more chance to see Mohandas. It’s playing at 7:45 tonight at the Kabuki.