Don Palathara’s IFFR showcase Everything is Cinema is a hat to Godard

After Arun Karthick’s Tamil film Nasir last year and PS Vinothraj’s Tamil father-son story, Koozhangal (Pebbles), which won the prestigious Tiger Award early this year (first won by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Malayalam film Sexy Durga in 2017), one of the newest participants in the recent International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) was a Malayalam visitor.

Filmmaker Don Palathara’s first-person story Everything is Cinema was screened in the ‘Cinema Regained’ section. The film opens with what appears to be a documentary of the Bengali capital – a slice of city life that French filmmaker Louis Malle had cataloged in his 1969 documentary Calcutta (it went to the Cannes Film Festival the same year); scenes such as potters making kulhads and men bathing in the river hark back to the older film. Moments later, we realize that the main character’s drawstring is Chris, a filmmaker – whom we hear, do not see, with whom we tolerate, not feel for. Chris comes to Kolkata to shoot a movie, cut short by the pandemic, and stuck indoors with his wife.

Palathara’s experimental film alternates between the color documentary “outdoor” (Kolkata) and black-and-white “indoor” fiction (shot in Kerala). The colors that we social beings attract, our composite selves to the world, are stripped in our most intimate encounters and spaces. Everything is Cinema is a relationship drama, but a much darker one than single-take Rima Kallingal starrer Joyful Mystery (Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam), also shot during the lockdown. The two – with their take on marital relationships – work like a double bill. When the couple is stuck, motionless, loathing each other, in a house in Everything is Cinema, they are trapped in a moving car, the camera as static as the couple’s relationship in Joyful Mystery, which premiered at this year’s International Film Festival. Festival of Kerala along with its 1956, Central Travancore.

“We were locked inside for so long for the first time and mentally I wanted out. I started editing older footage of Kolkata (shot from four years ago when he came back from Sydney with a film degree and a western look), and wanted to turn it into a fictional film,” says Palathara, 34. Everything… , which drags to a point of no return, was shot for Joyful…, which has no finality, no closure – both are a “comment on relationships”.

“During the lockdown, so many people went to live with their partners, while talking/meeting with friends and other people was limited to social media. So many people started to introspect and analyze their relationships differently. That aspect had to be explored,” he adds.

The micro-budget film is told from Chris’s perspective. The hand-held camera focused on the woman the entire time – his budding actress wife Anita (played compellingly by Sherin Catherine). The voyeuristic lens is an instrument of surveillance, eavesdropping, accusation, imposition and torment. She’s the object to be parched, prodded and rattled by a classic male chauvinist antagonist for a husband, whose insecurities and frustrations take the form of fault-finding everything she feels, does, says and believes – be it makeup. applying it, doing yoga, “talking women”, baking for the neighbor or praying to god. Days pile up on days, the gaslight and mansplaining push her to the brink bit by bit until the ties break – cinema should make us uncomfortable. Why should relationships – and their cinematic projections – be viewed through rose-colored glasses if life isn’t always cheesy?

The woman, played by Sherin Catherine, is the object to be dehydrated, poked and rattled by a chauvinist-antagonist husband.

“There’s a bit of me in all my characters — a little artificial, very honest,” says the director, whose voice makes a cameo as another Chris-esque “claim-to-feminist-but-is-chauvinist” director in Joyful Mystery. Like the two who inhabit the frames of the interior film Everything is Cinema, the audience is breathless with claustrophobia.

The movie demanded outrageous jump cuts, but that’s a hats off to Godard, too, as was the elliptical editing – keep the parts he liked, chop off the rest. “There is no need for so much imaging, new meanings appear during the editing (he would ‘think like Chris’ during the editing). Edit what you have instead of what you shoot,” he says. The contrast between the binaries of fiction and reality, color and shades of gray, public and private, beautiful pretense and ugly truth, high art and low art is a meditation on the nature of cinema. With just a camera and everything for a subject, filmmaking can be liberated “from the hands of capitalism”. Moving through deceit, Everything is Cinema pays tribute to the master – Jean-Luc Godard, 90 years old – and from whose biography, by Richard Brody, comes the title for this film. “I worked with the form of cinema, hence the title,” says Palathara.

“When everything is cinema, approaching Godard’s enormous work… means being willing to tackle everything: politics, art, philosophy, history, nature, beauty, lust, torment, money, love and the random element” Brody writes. Palathara has attempted to present “the intersection of personal stories and political history”. From the very first scene, his critical lens works through omissions and commands – such as how Malle shows the work of the Missionaries of Charities but omits the famous Saint Teresa – and, as Brody writes of Godard, “In the cinema we don’t do think, we are thought”, Palathara thought of us deep in thought.

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