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Diary of a Film – Niven Govinden

by Venky

(Inage Credit: http://www.amazon.com)

At the core of Niven Govinden’ s “Diary of a Film”, is another book. William Maxwell’s “The Folded Leaf”, influences, embellishes and informs the plot that revolves around the main protagonist, a homosexual film auteur and the narrator, whom everyone addresses as ‘Maestro’, two promising actors, Tom and Lorien who have essayed prominent roles in the Maestro’s latest film, and are trying to get to grips with their own carnal attraction towards each other, and Cosima, a long forgotten novelist and a tour guide whose remarkable, yet tragic life holds the Maestro in absolute thrall.

The Maestro, Tom, Lorien, Gabi (the Maestro’s long time co-producer) and Stjepan (The Maestro’s editor), find themselves in Italy on the eve of a prestigious film festival. Maestro’s adaptation of Maxwell’s “The Folded Leaf”, is due to be premiered at the festival. A chance meeting in a bar leads to the Maestro getting enchanted with a woman named Cosima. A tour guide, she leads Maestro to a breathtaking mural lying hidden in a wall behind a dilapidated apartment block. Painted and spray painted by a now dead graffiti artist and former lover of Cosima, Bruno, the mural and the tragic details of Cosima’ s ill-fated love, spurs Maestro into an artistic fervour. This zeal is further exacerbated when Maestro realises that Cosima has also been a former author. Arming himself with copies of every one of the few books written by Cosima, Maestro begins mulling over a potential adaptation of Cosima’ s part autobiography part tragic novel into a movie.

Govinden’ s tense and taut work deals with reconciliation, remonstration, recrimination and remorse. Written in the first person narrative, “Diary of a Film” is a transparent yet profound voyage or even voyeurism into the fragility that is human emotion. Tom and Lorien’s existential inner struggle to understand and stamp their spontaneous attraction towards one another is tempered by Cosima’ s apprehension of her precious and intensely personal novel being adapted for screenplay by the Maestro in a disdainfully libertarian manner. The Maestro’s own vulnerabilities that cleave a degree of sentimentality from a stone cold verve to view life from a cinematic lens, lends credence and candour to Govinden’ s writing.

If at all there is a deficit in the book, it is a very minor one dealing with the relationship between Tom and Lorien. The romance between the two up and coming stars, at times, comes across as more than just a wee bit contrived and patronizing. Whether it be Tom wearing Lorien’s clothing or Lorien ruffling Tom’s hair, subtlety is sacrificed for transparency. Maybe this is the way of the duo seeking the reaction, if not a downright acceptance from the world to their intentions by displaying a form of bravura that has the potential to dangerously backfire.  

The strongest character in the book and the most engaging and unpredictable one is Cosima. Strong, yet feeble, talented yet tenuous, Cosima is buffeted by the gale of a devious dilemma that has her in a bind. Forced to make a choice between throwing open her intimate story to the punishing public glare and preferring to attain deep solace and comfort in locked up memories, Cosima is forced to take head on a veritable Faustian bargain.

Slow, steady and queerly sensual, “Diary of a Film” is not a ubiquitous choice when it comes to a selection of books. In fact it is similar to the Maestro’s entry in the prestigious film festival. A critic’s delight, a connoisseur’s calling, but not a common man’s friendly and piping hot cup of tea. While personally I cannot proclaim to have been enraptured by the book, it would be remiss to claim that I have not delighted in parts of it.

“Diary of a Film” – a cinematic exposition and exploration of subjects less ventured into with egregious abandon.

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