In Flames

In Flames

In Flames

Zarrar Kahn’s In Flames made waves at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival’s sidebar, Directors’ Fortnight with its multi-genre take on horror, trauma, patriarchy and the supernatural. With an ambiguous treatment of which direction the Pakistani film wants to go, it starts off as a slice-of-life, lighthearted watch as the lead character, Mariam does her best to follow her dream of becoming a doctor in a hardcore patriarchal society.


Lopa K

M.A. Lit. (English) | passed, 2021


Following the death of her grandfather, Mariam does her best to protect her mother, Fariha from her greedy grand uncle Nasir who has an eye on their property. One day, while driving to the library to study, a man attacks her. Shaken by the experience and frustrated by her friend, Rabiya’s suggestion to let it go, she finds solace in the new boy in town, Asad. As he tries to help her, they end up falling for each other with him courting her. Amidst it all, Mariam cannot help but get the feeling that she is being stalked by multiple, strange men. It gets worse when a beach date goes wrong and Asad and Mariam get into an accident.

In Flames flexes the rich South Asian culture unlike the usual poverty porn that we get in indie films (Western directors exoticizing the slums and street vendors while the heroes go about their mission, take notes). We then have the Urdu-English speech making it relatable for all desi people. It also sheds some much needed light on these countries and how there has been some progress when it comes to freedom from the age-old oppressive rules. Many women like Rabiya and Fariha can choose whether to wear a hijab or not, women drive, study and pursue their careers.

Symbolisms go into overdrive in In Flames as viewers try to put the pieces together—Is it all happening in Mariam’s head or is there something sinister afoot?

Back to the plot, the budding relationship of Asad and Mariam is cute as he tries to woo her and she pretends to keep him at a distance but likes him as well. But underneath the scenic segments with beautiful cinematography, an underlying danger remains till it rises to the forefront and makes Mariam question reality and herself. This dichotomy of the light, cheerful music, the adorableness of the couple and the slow panning, neon lights and creeping music with strange men makes us wonder if we are watching a realist melodrama or a horror story.

With a twist to the noir aesthetic, the play of light and shadows, locations with multiple entrances and paranormal hints, the symbolisms go into overdrive as viewers try to put the pieces together — is it all happening in Mariam’s head or is there something sinister afoot? The scene where the family is seen through a mirror adds to the idea that they are removed from her, no one can understand Mariam’s troubles. Her double reflection in the mirror (Kahn’s favourite metaphor) represents the duality of the different themes of In Flames such as PTSD vs ghosts or oppression vs empowerment.

But maybe it is this experimentation that reduces the ending’s impact. Surreal scenes like the characters teleporting to a different place, the random men Mariam sees apart from her father and Asad all feels odd. Her hauntings may be out of guilt or by vengeful spirits. But as we wait for an explanation for the hauntings, it takes away our focus from the plot.

As for Mariam’s makeup, at one point while we appreciate the realist look of her gaunt and haunted eyes, the clumpy mascara after she is recovering from her asthma attack seems like a mistake rather than an artistic choice.

Well, for the sake of the strong first half, it makes viewers sit through the end. But maybe In Flames would have been better as a psychological thriller as it fails the very first prerequisite of being a supernatural horror film – it’s not scary enough. But questioning Mariam’s psyche, that is what keeps us hooked.

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Hindi | Film Review
Cannes Film Festival

Cannes ’23

Cannes ’23

Cannes '23

Lights, cameras, and an abundance of drama! The 76th Cannes Film Festival took centre stage from May 16 to 27, bringing together a dazzling array of anticipated films from maestros and indie talents grabbing the spotlight.

Lopa K

M.A. Lit. (English) | completed, 2021


Expectations were high as renowned filmmakers like Scorsese, Wim Wenders, Aki Kaurismaki, Nuri Ceylan, Koreeda, and Ken Loach showcased their latest works. Yet, to the dismay of many, some of the highly anticipated films stumbled, with the attention falling on indie talents with their mesmerizing works. It was a case of David outshining Goliath!

The festival kicked off with “Jeanne du Barry,” a film that many believed would mark Johnny Depp’s grand comeback. However, mixed reactions swirled around as rumours of director and actress Maiwenn’s misconduct and Depp’s personal life took centre stage. But guess what? Despite the controversies, the film turned out to be a blockbuster in France, winning the hearts of ten million viewers.

The Cannes Film Festival 2023 was a delightful cocktail of intellectualism, adrenaline-pumping thrills, lightweight entertainment, and, of course, stunts that would make tabloids blush. Pedro Almodovar’s short film, “Strange Way of Life,” caused such a frenzy that additional screenings had to be arranged to avoid a stampede.

Meanwhile, Sam Levinson’s HBO show, “The Idol,” faced the wrath of viewers for its lacklustre script and sexualisation of Lily-Rose Depp. Who said sex always sells? But the excitement on the streets soared as fans caught a glimpse of the legendary Harrison Ford, who graced the event for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” Oh, and let’s not forget the Honorary Palme d’Or that he shared with the one and only Michael Douglas. Hollywood legends in the flesh!

But the real frenzy erupted around Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” with fans willing to endure endless queues for a chance to secure a seat at one of the many screenings. Starring the dynamic duo, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, this black comedy shed light on the heinous murders of the Osage Tribe in the 1920s. Critics even speculated that it could have easily snatched the main prize if it had competed in the festival. Talk about a killer film!

In the midst of it all, Quentin Tarantino, ever the tease, hinted that his next film, “The Movie Critic,” might just be his grand finale. Is it really the end of Tarantino’s cinematic extravaganza? Only time will tell.

And as the curtains drew to a close, the festival bid adieu with “Elemental,” a heartwarming animated film that packed a profound message. After exploring emotions, it seems that Pixar’s next endeavour revolves around the elements, as “Elemental” weaves a charming enemies-to-friends tale between a fiery go-getter and a chilled-out water dweller. Get ready for an elemental rollercoaster!

But what about the coveted main prize, the Palme d’Or? It found its way into the hands of Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall.” A surprising win, indeed, considering the heavyweight competition from the likes of Nanni Moretti, Nuri Ceylan, Aki Kaurismaki, Marco Bellocchio, and Hirokazu Koreeda. This psychological thriller delves into complex human relations, as Daniel, a visually impaired boy, is forced to witness his mother, Sandra, standing trial for the mysterious death of his father. Suspenseful and thought-provoking, it snagged the ultimate honour.

Cannes ’23 was a delightful cocktail of intellectualism, adrenaline-pumping thrills, lightweight entertainment, and, of course, stunts that would make tabloids blush.

The latter half of the festival witnessed remarkable films like Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest,” a fresh perspective on the heart-wrenching Holocaust, delving into the daily lives just beyond the concentration camps. It’s safe to say that this gem deserved the Palme d’Or itself! Instead, it settled for the Grand Prix, while Kaurismaki’s “Fallen Leaves” clinched the Jury Prize. And let’s not forget Tran Anh Hung’s “The Pot-au-Feu,” a delectable treat for food lovers that earned him the Best Director accolade. One of the strengths of Nuri Ceylan’s poetic film, “About Dry Grasses” was the lead actress, Merve Dizdar who was acknowledged with the Best Actress award. Koji Yakusho nabbed the Best Actor trophy for his role in Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days.” And Kore-eda’s “Monster” secured the Best Screenplay honour, even if it wasn’t the festival’s crème de la crème.

In the Un Certain Regard section, Molly Manning Walker’s “How to Have Sex” had tongues wagging from day one, garnering both favourable reviews and the Un Certain Regard Prize from the jury. As for the Camera d’Or, it found its rightful place in the hands of the Vietnamese filmmaker Pham Thien An for “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell.” A truly deserving triumph!

Along with the usual slew of celebs like Aishwarya Rai and Sara Ali Khan endorsing luxury brands, India proudly walked the red carpet with the Kennedy crew, Anurag Kashyap, and Sunny Leone in tow for his latest film. Meanwhile, designer Sanjukta Dutta made Assam proud with her stunning silk handloom creation worn by the beautiful Ingrida Ilgine. Kanu Behl emerged as the lone Indian filmmaker of the year with “Agra” in the Directors’ Fortnight, leaving Indian festival-goers brimming with pride. And let’s not forget Yudhajit Basu, a talented student from the prestigious FTII, who earned a nomination for “Nehemich” in the Cinefondation section. But the celebration didn’t stop there! Indian film critics made their mark as Meenakshi Shedde served as a jury member in the International Critics’ Week, while Ashok Rane proudly received the Satyajit Memorial Award from FIPRESCI. Bravo, India!

Last but not least, the Cannes Film Festival has always been a haven for cinephiles seeking extraordinary cinema, leading to the expansion of its Classics section. Aribam Syam Sharma’s The Chosen One was yet another Indian film sparking attention as its restored version premiered in Cannes Classic. The Manipuri auteur is no stranger to the festival, as his 1991 film Ishanou had been a part of Un Certain Regard. Cannes Classic and Cinema de la Plage never fail to delight, offering a mesmerizing mix of underrated old gems, masterpieces, and cult classics. From Emir Kusturica’s “Underground” to Jean-Luc Godard’s “Contempt,” and from commercial hits like “Thelma & Louise” to Bruce Lee’s “The Way of the Dragon,” it was a feast for the nostalgic soul.

Ah, Cannes, the place where dreams meet reality, and where the glitz and glamour merge with artistic brilliance. Until next year, let the cinematic magic linger!

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