THE FIRST THING I HEAR IN THIRUVANANTHAPURAM is a Kim Ki-duk joke. A Malayali goes to Seoul and is wandering the streets of the South Korean capital. But no one seems to know where the famous filmmaker lives. Tired and disheartened, the Malayali is about to give up when he sees a house bearing the sign “Beena Paul has blessed this house”—and he knows his search has come to an end.
If that seems a bit hard to decipher at first, worry not. Like the film festival that spawned it, the joke depends on a sensibility that’s simultaneously international art-house and merrily, irrevocably local.
It requires you to know who Kim Ki-duk is—an art-house director whose films often bomb at his country’s box office, but who is internationally renowned for his alternately savage and lyrical cinema (his Pieta won the Golden Lion at Venice this year). It also requires you to know who Beena Paul is—the Artistic Director, since 2000, of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), a woman of remarkable foresight and enthusiasm. It assumes you know that Beena Paul curated a hugely popular Kim Ki-duk retrospective at IFFK as far back as 2005, making him a household name in the state. And last but not least, it assumes (an ability to appreciate the irreverent marshalling of) local knowledge: many Christian homes in Kerala have a sign outside proclaiming ‘Jesus Christ has blessed this house’.