If there’s one thing I enjoy as much as the beaches and seafood in Goa, it has to be the International Film Festival of India (IFFI). An event that happens every year between November 20 and 27, IFFI Goa is overwhelming for every attending cinema lover. As is the case with any film festival, India’s most prestigious film festival in its 54th edition was a sum total of thrilling, moving, joyous, depressing, and occasionally exasperating encounters with cinema from different corners of the world.
Briefly after a personal holiday in Goa, I landed up in Panaji on Day 2 with an already thick tan and a target to watch as many films as possible. The day began on a rather gloomy note with the Greek title Dignity where each character yelled at eardrum-bursting decibels. Later in the day, I traveled to a faraway venue to watch a duller Iranian fare named Wild. By the end, I craved for balm on my forehead or a movie that calmed my nerves. My wish was answered in the form of the Tagalog language film Asog from Canada – a quirky queer story with a beaming heart.
I chose to watch The Last Birthday from Afghanistan in the first half on Day 3 and the experience was middling. China’s Snow Leopard proved to be an interesting find despite its high-voltage war of words. This was followed by Ocarina from Albania – an unusual tale of refugee life in the UK. The Swedish film The Sugar Experiment was depressing (and uninspiring) and it made me wish to end my day on a positive note. To my surprise, the Czech film We Have Never Been Modern generated a tsunami of emotions in me. The tiny gem surprised one and all in the auditorium with the fabulous filmmaking and performance on display. Too bad the film did not have a repeat screening at the festival.
Day 4 began on a pleasant note with the vibrant and flavourful comedy Mountain Onion – led primarily by child actors. How To Have Sex, a top pick in the festival circles this year, emerged as a middling teen drama sans notable depth or quirk. Saudi Arabia’s Night Courier which I watched later lacked an arresting story despite giving us a glimpse of the country’s veiled nightlife. USA’s chaotic sci-fi horror Divinity sealed the night for me with a needless headache. Well.
Right when I was looking for one film to sweep me off my feet, Day 5 at IFFI gave me three heart-stoppers – Melody, Seagrass, and A House in Jerusalem – each tremendously moving in their own unique ways. If Melody was a glistening musical from Tajikistan that showcased the nature-human connection with great beauty, Seagrass was a thought-provoking family drama from Canada. A House in Jerusalem sent across a profound message of love amid the ongoing Palestine-Israel conflict. Kazakhstan’s action fare Goliath and Colombia’s abstract animation film The Other Shape – watched on the same day – did not grab my attention.
I began Day 6 on a high note with a moving tale of trauma and an unlikely friendship through Drift. The biggest relief of catching a film early in the morning is to have it in a language I know. The film being in English kicked off my day on a positive note. The gorgeously filmed Let Me Go from Switzerland was the next one and it was a fulfilling experience. The Filipino comedy Andragogy happened post-lunch and it came across as if the makers rolled too many films to concoct one chaotic mess. I followed it up with Jessica Chastain’s English language film Memory – the perfect tearjerker I was looking for, this season. In a late-night show, I caught the Spanish Film The Cuckoo’s Curse which was jarring for its uneven pace and strange tonal shifts.
On Day 7, I was all set to watch Bollywood superstar Rani Mukerji in conversation with film critic Baradwaj Rangan. Crisp yet thoroughly entertaining, Ms. Mukerji’s session turned out to be as much fun as her blockbusters. The Iranian Film Endless Borders (which also won the Golden Peacock at the closing ceremony) was unforgettable. I secretly wished I hadn’t watched a bunch of average Middle Eastern stories so the film could hit me harder than it eventually did. The most soul-stirring experience at the fest, predictably, was when I watched the internationally acclaimed The Zone of Interest in its India premiere. As if to tone down my enthusiasm, Party of Fools which I watched later in the night emerged unsatisfactory despite good performances and imposing cinematography.
On my last at IFFI, I watched the Portuguese-language film Toll in the first half. The well-written film dealt with the topic of queer parenting with notable maturity. I couldn’t hold my excitement when I watched the three-hour-long restored version of Vijay Anand’s The Guide starring Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman – a Bollywood classic I hadn’t watched yet. Forever a fan of RK Narayan’s literary work that inspired the film, it was refreshing to see it all on a dramatic, musical template. My last film at this edition of IFFI Goa was When Fucking Spring is In the Air – an engaging dysfunctional family drama with a lot of talking.
All said and done, I had a rollicking time watching some of the best of world cinema at IFFI Goa aside from getting featured in the festival’s daily magazine Peacock, and meeting a bunch of inspiring cinema lovers.
Below are my Top 10 films from IFFI Goa 2023, ranked in the reverse order:
10. Toll (Brazil, Portugal)
9. Asog (Canada)
8. Melody (Tajikistan)
7. Drift (France, Greece, UK)
6. Endless Borders (Iran)
5. Memory (Mexico, USA)
4. A House in Jerusalem (Germany, Netherlands, UK, Palestine, Qatar)
3. Seagrass (Canada)
2. We Have Never Been Modern (Czech Republic)
1. The Zone of Interest (Poland, UK, USA)