The drive from Casablanca airport to Marrakech is about two and a half hours by road. I’m jet-lagged but agog, standard operating procedure for a film critic landing in a new destination half way around the world.
The 19th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, taking place in person after a two year Covid induced gap, is a compendium of films from around the world, with a special focus on Arabic and African cinema. And keeping alive its long, deep association with Bollywood, this year’s chief attraction is Ranveer Singh, whose opening act on the red carpet had the crowd going berserk.
As opening films go, animated film ‘Pinocchio’, co directed by Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson, checked all the boxes: it could have been an inadvertent match for the Italian jury president Paolo Sorrentino, but given the beloved Italian fable’s overarching themes on an abiding father-son relationship against the backdrop of the rise of Mussolini, and fascism, it feels like a good fit with current times, with most of the world pivoting to the right.
When skilled wood-carver Geppetto’s beloved young son is killed in an air-strike, in which the town church is destroyed, he is heartbroken. The years go by, and he gets older and greyer, and more and more dispirited.
And then one day, a wooden boy he is fashioning out of a log of wood, comes to life. Pinocchio, with his long nose, and spindly joints, slowly becomes the son he lost: happiness, the film strongly underlines, lies in acceptance, and in the resilience of the human spirit. Good lessons for tough times (please look out for our detailed review when the film comes out in December).
Sorrentino leads quite an illustrious jury, even though at the conference this morning, said that he would like to be more a regular member rather than an authoritative head. Care has been taken in terms of keeping the jury gender equal and diverse: Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, Moroccan director Laila Marrakchi, British actor Vanessa Kirby, German actor Diane Kruger and Danish director Susanne Brier have, for company, Australian director Justin Kurzel, and French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim. Two members, US actor and producer Oscar Isaac, with roots in Gautemala, and Brier, could not be present.
So couldn’t del Toro, who sent a short message to the festive assembly, teeming with tuxedos and gowns. But all absences were wiped out by the ultra-effervescent Ranveer Singh, who danced on to the stage in a glittering brocade jacket. A tribute with a whole bunch of his films is one of the highlights of the festival. And going by the delirious crowds who lined up the red carpet, as well as a conversation with the star, so is he.
“I love Hindi movies, don’t you love Hindi movies,” he yelled out to the crowd. It was, clearly, a rhetorical question. You could hear the cheers rippling through the audience, as he held aloft his trophy, handed out by the beaming festival president Melisa Toscana Du Plantier.
Nothing like a Bollywood star to steal every scene he in.