Paris to shake out of gloom through cinema

Man, however adventurous and daring he may be, seeks, in the end, a sense of normality. The familiar is his comfort zone, the everyday life, however mundane, is what he craves for.  So it is only to be expected that in the face of turmoil and danger, he would try and fight these through an attitude of rebelliousness. Things are normal, he would tell himself.

Nicolas Saada's Taj Mahal is about a French girl who finds herself trapped in Taj Mahal Hotel during the Mumbai terror attacks

Nicolas Saada’s Taj Mahal is about a French girl who finds herself trapped in Taj Mahal Hotel during the Mumbai terror attacks

The Parisian is doing precisely this after the bloody massacre he saw the other day which killed 129 people. Gunman sprayed bullets into unsuspecting, celebrating crowds of people in a playground, in a concert hall, in a bar, in a restaurant…

Strangely, the Paris attack looked so much like the 2008 November Mumbai massacre when Pakistani terrorists went on a shooting spree in a train station, in a large five-star hotel, in a renowned restaurant and in a Jewish community center that left about 164 men and women dead.

In a matter of days, Mumbai shook itself out of the tragic gloom and got back on its feet. Paris is all set to do that as well, and one way the hauntingly romantic city plans to do this is through cinema. And cinema is such a passion in Paris, a city where one can just about watch every kind film from just about anywhere on the earth.

Interestingly, French distributors are ready to theatrically release movies dealing with terrorism —  perhaps  in an attempt to tell the world that all is well with Parisians and that they are not going to be cowed down by terrorism.

One of films, Nicolas Saada’s Taj Mahal, will hit the screens on December 2. The movie talks about the Mumbai attacks — about an 18-year-old French girl who finds herself trapped in the siege of the city’s Taj Mahal Hotel — a historic icon which stands facing another piece of history, Gateway of India, built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in December 1911.

A review which appeared in The Playlist during the Telluride Film Festival said “In Saada’s movie, westerner Louise (Stacy Martin) is trapped alone in her hotel room as her parents, who traveled with her to the country, fight to make it back to her. Of course, this is a valid, and surely life-altering tragedy, one that will haunt the family for years to come.

“Where Taj Mahal does succeed is in its second act, once the first shots have hauntingly thundered from the depths of the massive hotel. Louise has chosen to stay home while her parents are out for dinner, trapping her alone in their penthouse suite, shuddering with the terror she can hear beyond her door. Which is where the violence stays, and Taj Mahal thus becomes a film of insinuation, subtlety, and sound. For much of the remaining picture, Louise stays put and Saada manipulates the confined space into a sort of prison, as death comes closer and recedes time and again”.

Taj Mahal distributor Bac Films said in a statement : “We asked ourselves whether in this terrible period  there was room for this movie and whether we should push the release back. But we think in the face of obscurantism, terror and the unspeakable, cinema is there to encourage dialogue. It allows us in these difficult times to look at the world as it is. And we are certain that retreating today would mean capitulating tomorrow.”

Another film on terror is Thomas Bidegain’s Cowboys — which is scheduled to open on November 26 — and tells the story of a teenage daughter disappearing with her Jihadi boyfriend. Set before 9/11, the parents’ desperate search takes them across half the world — to  France, Belgium and finally to Afghanistan. Francois Damiens essays the troubled father, utterly perplexed by his daughter’s disappearance and rejection of Christian upbringing in favour of Islam. His son (Finnegan Oldfield) eventually learns how to follow a middle path between the two cultures, the Western and the Eastern, Christianity and Islam.

The story begins in 1995 and in an exciting scene we see the father waltz with his 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, and by the end of the evening she has vanished. At first the father thinks she may have been kidnapped. He gets angry with the police and tries to intimidate the family of Kelly’s Muslim boyfriend. But when a letter arrives from her saying that she has left on her own free will and begging her father not to look for her, the man is devastated. But nevertheless he makes up his mind to find her.

Later, Kelly’s brother joins in the search — and there are scenes in  Cowboys that reminded me — as I watched the movie at Cannes — of Hardcore, where George C. Scott launches his own investigation.

In the end, it is the brother who realises that his sister is old enough to make her decisions. But he would still want to meet her once to find out if she is happy and well.  The father is more like the John Wayne character in Searchers, where he goes looking for his abducted niece. But when he finds out that she had been corrupted, he resolves to kill her.

Distributor Pathe said it would go ahead with the release of Cowboys after the November 16 premiere in Paris.

Pyramide Films has also confirmed that it will stick to the December 16 release of the father and son team, Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte’s documentary, Je Suis Charlie (Comedy Has Died). The film is a touching tribute to the 11 journalists of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, who were shot dead when they were in an editorial meeting at office.

The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September and includes archival interviews with the magazine’s senior staff, including the editor-in-chief, Stephane Charbonnier, who also died in the attack.

So, is it time for Champagne and cheese? Paris may just about get back to its old lovely self before the church bells ring in Christmas and New Year.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.

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