Arty Cinema: Striking a Balance Between Reel and Real

By Sonya Rehman

Art films remain important in this age of blockbusters at the box office


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From the startling, The Colour of Paradise by Majid Majidi, Rang-e-Khoda is a Persian art film like no other. In one of the scenes after being abandoned by his father, Mohammad, a young blind boy while sobbing uncontrollably says, “Our teacher says that God loves the blind more because they can’t see. But I told him if it was so, He would not make us blind so that we can’t see Him. He answered, ‘God is not visible. He is everywhere. You can feel Him. You see Him through your fingertips’. This ninety-minute film has the ability to make the viewer’s faith speed back in alacrity like a silver bolt of lightning on an empty black sky.

Well-executed art films have the ability to do just that. An art film is like a rebellious statement made by filmmakers the world over against mainstream cinema. These films are usually based around the existentialist school of thought – where the human consciousness is explored and where an individual is represented in an abstract, intangible and complex form. It doesn’t mean that big-budget flicks do not deal with many of the issues that art films highlight, rather, mainstream movies follow plots that are very ‘fixed’ – they don’t teeter or deviate like those of art films. Sexual identity crises (Breakfast on Pluto), love and drama (Before Sunset), and discovering inner freedom (Fire) are just some of the many themes that art films base themselves upon.

Art films represent real-life roles that are very multi-faceted – not only does the character have dimensions, but the audience is led to feel emotions that, too, are multi-dimensional. For instance, if an art movie depicts a rapist, it not only illustrates his crime and sin, but it also brings to light what the rapist’s childhood was perhaps like, that maybe the rapist himself, was a victim of infantile abuse. The audience feels conflicted with regard to this certain character – you hate him and yet you want to nurture the child within him. That’s the beauty of art films.

With regard to mainstream movies, they often represent characters that are very one-dimensional – you have the good cop, the bad cop and then the damsel in distress. Art films break free from this ‘stationary mould’. They portray characters that constantly transmute – like a pound of putty in the hands of an elated three-year old throughout the film! And that’s just what makes an art film, with its simplistic yet multifarious beauty, so very genuine. An art film’s promotion is also usually heavily reliant on word of mouth – making the production feel all the more ‘underground’ and intriguing.

But what’s really interesting to note is that a majority (if not all) of arty-indie films are made on very limited, shoe-string budgets – maybe this lack of funds gives filmmakers the creative drive needed to improvise on all that they have and give their films that extra touch? Whoever said mammoth budgets can ensure a great production anyway? That’s an excuse, which has perhaps been used a little too often.
In Pakistan, before the initiation of the Karafilm Festival (a platform for low-budget shorts, documentaries and art films) filmmakers and music directors flexed their aesthetic abilities by incorporating ‘abstract visual art’ into their scripts and images. Mekaal Hasan Band’s music video, ‘Rabba’, directed by Maryam Rahman is a great example. By taking a jab at globalization (the video’s main feature is a man with a large newspaper ball for a head) and the social estrangement that comes with it, the video’s concept, albeit abstract, happened to hit very close to home. Other such remarkably ‘arty’ videos can be exemplified further by examples such as Hadiqa Kiyani’s ‘Mahi’, Rushk’s ‘Khuahish’ (as well as ‘Behti Naar’), Ali Azmat’s ‘Na Re Na’, and numerous others.

A majority of these videos consist of vague sequences that are often looped together by a central theme, a message or just simply are for what they are – music videos bordering on the artsy (that are a cut above the rest). The audiences too, appreciate creative videos far better than those featuring singers running around and yelping after sexy, young thing.

The reason why desi art films also do so well is also primarily because the ‘West’ is greatly intrigued by South Asian culture. The international audience has had it up to here what with the same bang-bang-wishy-washy films that are churned out of Hollywood year after year. In mainstream cinema, those that slam-dunk at the box-office are films such as Magnolia, Adaptation, Memoirs of a geisha, Amelie and countless others. It goes to show that the artiness of low-budget art films has trickled all the way down into big-budget, mainstream movies.

Films such as these are not only innovative, but they also leave a lot to the imagination. Therefore it is imperative for filmmakers to realize that their films need to be ‘unpredictable’ and attention seizing. The audience does not want to know who dies in the end and who gets the girl. Successful films are those that have their viewers aurally and visually tuned in till the very last minute.

Pakistani short-film makers (as well as documentary-makers) find themselves in a prime position vis-à-vis local and of late, international attention and interest. The fact that there’s a very fine line between ‘original’ and ‘pseudo’, must be realized. With the establishment of the Karafilm Society in Pakistan – and hopefully countless others in the future – amateur (and seasoned filmmakers) must tread the line with utmost care.

Art films shouldn’t be made just for the ‘sake of’ being made…but rather, to give Pakistani audiences (and those abroad) quality films that are emotionally penetrating – by a strong foundation of concept, script, technical know-how and of course a unique artistic touch.

Instep, The News

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Gregory Michael du Tertre says:

    I completely agree

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