Five Indian films, all made in Mumbai but disparate in spirit and substance, feature in Belfast-born, Edinburgh-based filmmaker and critic Mark Cousins’ stimulating 160-minute documentary, ‘The Story of Film: A New Generation’.
Made during the pandemic and studded with memorable movie moments, the documentary had its world premiere on the opening day of the 74th Cannes Film Festival as if to tell the world that cinema is, and will always be, alive, no matter what adversity it faces.
‘The Story of Film: A New Generation’, a part of the Cannes Classics section, opens with a shot of the new cinematheque in Madrid, a symbol of hope and renewal for diehard lovers of a medium that is nothing if not dynamic.
‘A New Generation’, a follow-up to Cousins’ 15-hour magnum opus ‘The Story of Film: An Odyssey’ (2011), tracks the creative innovations, technological advancements, and new ways of seeing in an image-intensive, attention-deficient digital age.
Besides covering the last decade of American and European cinema, it focuses extensively on Asian and Arab films. It also touches upon the pandemic, too, and ruminates on its repercussions: lockdowns, face masks, and social distancing.
The riveting, thought-provoking overview of ‘the new millennium of movies’ cites Anurag Kashyap’s five-hour ‘Gangs of Wasseypur‘, Rajkumar Hirani’s ‘PK‘, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela‘, Anand Gandhi’s ‘Ship of Theseus’ and Anand Patwardhan’s brilliant documentary ‘Reason’ among the most important films of the current era.
‘A New Generation’ is written, photographed, and narrated by Cousins. It covers a dizzying array of films and probes the evolution of the key movie genres, the extensions of film language, the centrality of faces in cinema, the explosion of streaming platforms and communication devices, and the advent of performance capture and de-aging tools.
Beginning with ‘Joker’ and ‘Frozen’, it encompasses a diverse range of films – from ‘Cemetery of Splendour’, ‘Parasite’ and ‘Shoplifters’ to ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Midsommar’, and from ‘Norte, the End of History’, ‘Holy Motors’ and ‘An Elephant Sitting Still to Hustlers’, ‘Gravity’ and ‘Baby Driver’- to capture the methods and directions of 21st-century cinema.
Cousins sees ‘Gangs of Wasseypur‘ as “one of the most complex” gangster films in the 80 years since the birth of the genre. A “most elaborately choreographed song” from ‘Ram-Leela’ featuring Ranveer Singh figures in the film.
The documentarian, whose credits include ‘Women Make Film’ (2018) and ‘The Eyes of Orson Welles’, also notes “the colours… and musical energy” of another Bollywood number, this one from ‘PK’, with Aamir Khan and Sanjay Dutt.
The filmmaker describes a “tonal shift” in PK as “one of the biggest… in contemporary cinema”. He regards ‘Reason’ as one of the most significant documentary films of our times and identifies a “moment” in Patwardhan’s film as “one of the bravest… in recent cinema”.
‘Ship of Theseus’, with its theme of ailment, healing, and renewal, is held up as a cinematic exemplar of the transitions that mankind is witnessing today as it sits on the cusp of a process that could change it beyond recognition.
Cousins makes a special mention of films that point a finger at our inhumanity and our refusal to learn the lessons of history.
Cousins has another film in Cannes Classics this year – ‘The Storms of Jeremy Thomas’, a documentary on the prolific British producer who has over the past five decades collaborated with a few of the world’s greatest filmmakers, notably Bernardo Bertolucci, Nagisa Oshima, Wim Wenders, Lars von Trier, and David Cronenberg.