In comparison with most film festivals, 3rd I, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival is relatively small potatoes, consisting in toto of eight features and one program of shorts. Size, though, isn’t everything: the festival definitely punches above its weight, with one bona fide “must see” on the schedule and a couple of excellent documentaries from director Vivek Bald.
The must see is the apparently prophetic Adieu Godard (screening at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre), a terrific comedy-drama from India celebrating the films of the titular (and recently deceased) nouvelle vague progenitor. Written and directed by Amartya Bhattacharyya, the film is more than just a tribute, however, and stands on its own as a beautifully crafted piece of narrative cinema.
Ananda (Choudhury Bikash) is a mischievous village elder addicted to watching American porno movies rented from a nearby shop. Gathering once a week around the television, he and chums Jaga (Shankar Basu Mallik), Hari (Choudhury Jayaprakash Das), and mute Jatan (Swastik Choudhury) pop a disc into Jaga’s DVD player and marvel at the saucy scenes unfolding before them.
Nothing, alas, lasts forever. When Ananda drops by one day to pick up a new disc, the shopkeeper informs him that pressure from censorious locals has compelled him to end his rental business; as a goodwill gesture, he gifts Ananda with a farewell freebie that turns out to be a copy of Godard’s classic À bout de souffle (Breathless).
Unsurprisingly, the film is a bit of a letdown for most of the group: Hari wonders “is it a film? No song, no dance, no romance…is it a film?”, while Jaga muses that “foreign films make no sense.” Ananda, however, is mesmerized by the mysterious and enigmatic Breathless, and immediately decides if there’s one thing his village needs, it’s a bespoke Godard film festival. How will the villagers respond to these strange cinematic messages from another world — and will daughter Shilpa (the charming Sudhasri Madhusmita) ever understand her old man?
Primarily shot in black and white, Adieu Godard shifts to color during sequences set at Shilpa’s university, where she discusses her father’s eccentricities with overly earnest film student Pablo (Abhishek Giri). While Bhattacharyya utilizes some Godardian jump cuts during these scenes, they’re no dry recreation of directorial style — and New Wave admirer or not, you’ll likely forge a connection with this beguiling and heartwarming film.
Filmmaker Vivek Bald’s most recent effort, In Search of Bengali Harlem (1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Roxie Theater), tells the story of screenwriter, actor, and comedian Alaudin Ullah, whose father was one of the first South Asian inhabitants of Spanish Harlem. Growing up as an all-American boy in love with hip-hop and the Yankees, Ullah had little interest in his South Asian heritage; Bald’s film details both his coming to terms with his seemingly distant parents and his concurrent discovery of his roots in a small village in Bangladesh.
Bald’s earlier Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music (5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Castro), meanwhile, celebrates the contributions of second-generation South Asians to popular music in the United Kingdom. A little dated at this point, this 2003 film nonetheless draws deserved attention to pioneers such as Asian Dub Foundation, Talvin Singh, and Fun^Da^Mental — though the exclusion of chart-topping indie-rockers Cornershop left me somewhat disappointed.