Film Critics Guild member and Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic Akhil Arora picks his favourite films and documentaries.
And just like that, MAMI 2023 (officially, the Mumbai Film Festival) is done. The awards have been handed out—the fishermen documentary Against the Tide, which I noted as one of the promising Indian titles in the pre-festival roll, won the top honour, the Golden Gateway Award. Surprisingly, the Special Jury Prize, the third most prestigious honour, went to another one of those, Kanu Behl’s bewildering Agra. Having now seen the film, I can safely say that’s a laughable decision. Or it says a lot about the competition slate.
Speaking of the slate strength, the selection at MAMI 2023 felt weaker than in past years. Four years ago—the last time the Mumbai Film Festival took place—we were treated to all-time greats such as For Sama and Marriage Story, alongside terrific titles in The Irishman, Beanpole, Honeyland, The Kingmaker, System Crasher, and By the Grace of God. That said, until we’ve gone through the end of this year, it’d be impossible to say if that’s a reflection of MAMI’s choices or the 2023 film slate in general.
Still, there were a bunch of titles that I loved or really enjoyed. Of course, the problem with creating this kind of list is the logistical limitation. While over 250 movies were shown at MAMI 2023, I was only able to catch 28 of them. Additionally, most of my selections were part of the biggest section, World Cinema, so there’s naturally a tilt here. My favourites are borne out of all that. With that, here are my eight favourite titles from the 2023 Mumbai Film Festival.
Against the Tide
A poignant look at the struggle for a sea-based livelihood through the lens of those trying to uphold the traditional ways even as humanity plays havoc with nature. In contrast, others desperately embrace the future to not be left behind.
In the Rearview
While its cousin docu 20 Days in Mariupol—also at MAMI 2023—boasts strong and necessary visuals of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this is the better film. The camera is simply turned on the victims and passengers in the backseat, who attempt to process what the war means for them.
With deadpan humour, mundane setting, and idiosyncratic characters, we are presented with a gloomy view of life at the bottom in Finland, amidst the ominous news of warfare in a neighbouring country and feeling like you could be next at any moment.
A distressing showcase of the journey North Korean defectors must put up with, from surviving the horrors within to navigating the dangers outside before they can truly find their freedoms. A perilous trip that has all but been cut off since the COVID-19 pandemic.
What begins as a no-holds-barred look at the myriad medical problems faced by women—the docu is graphic and gut-wrenching and has possibly the best “action scene” in a film this year—turns into a sobering look at life itself, when the director becomes a part of the story.
A harrowing depiction of what refugees running from war and strife must put up with in so-called civilised and progressive Europe, with an epilogue laying bare the continent’s racist double standards. It’s even more resonant today, amidst the West’s apathy towards Gazans as they face a second Nakba from the invading Israel.
Anatomy of a Fall
An exploration of how isolated moments and other small things can stack up to present a warped view of reality. And the perils of finding justice when one party is unable to speak for themselves, pushing everyone to interpret, examine, and speculate beyond his actions. Firing on multiple levels—the writing, the direction, and especially the acting.
With an innovative blend of docu and fiction, the film offers a deeply humanist approach to a topic—ISIS radicalisation of teenage girls—that’s riddled with punching down. As the actresses help recreate the life the family had, it turns into a sobering look at parenting, siblinghood, and ingrained patriarchy. Extremely powerful.