SAIFF 2014 Review: X - PAST IS PRESENT Is A Look At Love Through 11 Pairs Of Eyes
We've all sat in the ruins of a destroyed relationship and wondered where exactly we went wrong. We've all become flush at the prospect of a new romance and felt our hearts flutter at the endless possibilities ahead of us. We've all felt as though the end of the last relationship signaled the end of ourselves as creatures of passion. We've all woken to the realization, at least once, that maybe it's not all over for us, maybe we will survive and flourish again.
Love is a force to be reckoned with, that's for sure. From the first flutterings of adolescent excitement at the unknown, to the resoluteness of the seasoned romantic warrior just willing to give it one more shot. Love destroys and recreates us all in its own image. While it has be explored probably more than any other emotion on cinema screens over the decades, and rightly so, I'm not sure that love has been dissected in quite the way that X - Past Is Present manages, and it's among the most poignant love stories I've seen in recent years because it is so close to the actual experience, yet so cinematically removed.
An omnibus piece in which eleven of India's up and coming talents each contributed their own short segments to a single story, X is thematically and visually disparate in its approach to love and its side effects. The film centers around K, an Indian independent filmmaker (played by Indian independent filmmaker Rajat Kapoor, director of Ankhon Dekhi) wandering around the ubiquitous after party at some unknown, generic film festival. He knows everyone by name and no one by spirit, yet, as a cog in this machine, he is compelled to network, as so many filmmakers are forced to do. In doing so, he runs into a girl. I think you could probably draw your own conclusions as to where the film was going, and nine times out of ten you'd be correct, but X's wonderful mix of styles and performances keeps you on your toes, even as it occasionally tries to find its feet.
Rather than being swept up in another one night stand romance, K, an older man and veteran of love, muses on his own past experiences. The setup sounds a bit clunky, but trust me, it's far better executed than I can explain, and it opens the door to an exceptionally ambitious project. Each filmmaker takes a piece of K's past and recounts it in his own specific style with his own heroine, the results are scattered in terms of genre and tone, and yes, even in terms of quality, but the end result is a well curated piece of film that deserves attention.
From K's early fumblings with his twin passions of women and cinema, to traumatic experiences in foreign lands that shape his vision of himself and his ability to trust, to the older, wiser, more resolute K, the filmmakers of X make his passion their own, and it shows on screen. Included among the filmmakers are international enfant terrible Qaushik Mukherjee (Q, of Gandu fame) presenting his most straightforward narrative work yet, Sudhish Kamath (also director of the charming Good Night | Good Morning) who directs the wraparound portion, film critic Raja Sen who makes his debut as a director, a member of the new Tamil underground Nalan Kumarasamy (Soodhu Kavvum) presents a particularly jarring episode that provides a major turning point in K's life, along with numerous other festival darlings and independents.
Rather than wax philosophical on the merits of one segment over another, an exercise that would almost certainly defeat the purpose of the film, the real joy in X is realizing that the segments and their tonal distance from one another accurately reflects the tonal and emotional distance from one relationship to another. No two are ever quite the same, and as a result, no person is exactly the same from one relationship to the next. It is the variety of experiences from passionate, to painful, to sweet, to traumatic, to tragic, that makes life worth living and this film work checking out.
If you remain unchanged from one failed romance to the next, it could be said that you just aren't learning anything and the inability to change and adapt to the conditions presented will condemn you to perpetual failure. Similarly, if a romance tells a story of a man who fails in love repeatedly without changing his tactics, his focus, his overall approach to life and the people he loves, where is the hook? X focuses on the elusive qualities of love and its effects on people as they grow up and grow old, seeing this change through eleven different pairs of eyes is startling, charming, shocking, and panic inducing, but overall the experience is mesmerizing and the kind of experiment I would love to see more of.
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