Thursday, 19 September 2019

FILM REVIEW: Water (part 3 of The Elements Trilogy) - HOME, Manchester.


The story of how this film came into fruition is extraordinary. Deepa Mehta directed the controversial Elements Trilogy: three films which explored gender inequality, violence, sexuality, feminism, and religion. With “Water” specifically, protestors destroyed the film sets and Mehta was later forced to film in secrecy in Sri Lanka. The showcasing of these films in Home’s cinema was part of “Celebrating Women in Global Cinema, Not Just Bollywood.”

This final part of The Elements Trilogy sheds light on the quandary of a group of widows in India, 1938. Forced into poverty following the deaths of their husbands. As society turned a blind eye to them, one of the women, Kalyani, breaks sacred tradition as she tries to form an unlikely relationship with a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, Narayan. The leader of the widow house made Kalyani a prostitute in order to raise money for household funds. The main character was Chuyia, who was only a child, she married but soon became a widow. She was also hastily abandoned at the bleak and impoverished widows' Ashram.

Water, in this context, was not only a religious representation for holy water and ritual washing, but the washing and cleansing of holy tradition. A landmark, societal change which allowed widows to re-marry without the stigma surrounding it.

The screenplay balanced detail, depth and insight with just the right timing and length for each scene. Religious rituals, text, prayers and symbolism featured all the way through. It was frank and direct in its critique of religion and the oppression widowed women were made to endure. One of the standout lines in the movie was when Chuyia said: “Where is the house for men widows?”

Sarala Kariyawasam was wonderful as Chuyia, you could see how she had to grow up fast under the circumstances. Her character was bright, joyful, and a little cheeky at the start but by the end there was a certain kind of sadness in her face, especially after the deaths within the story. The rest of the cast included: Buddhi Wickrama and Iranganie Serasinghe.

Regarding the acting in the film, there was little dramatic tension in the confrontations. There was plenty of opportunity for more in the screenplay. There was an older woman in the Ashram who was an auntie to Chuyia, she even asked her to call her that, her reminiscing of past, positive memories was touching. The same memory involving the eating of Indian sweets kept returning.

Moving on to the cinematography in “Water”, it was painstakingly absorbing and spectacular. Establishing shots were often wide to show off the extraordinarily beautiful and picturesque locations within Sri Lanka. On the contrary, close-ups of faces were carefully judged and included when characters faced their saddest and happiest points in the story. The film compels you to willingly suspend your disbelief into a world far different from Western Society; a world which firmly revolved around religion and faith.

Observing the Third World Country conditions, it reminded you of how lucky we are and how we should count our blessings. There were times when the moving images were glum, gloomy and grim; others were exquisite, joyous and colourful. The Festival of Colour scene was a visual highlight, the widows looked so happy despite the victimisation they faced.

Indian music and chanting successfully added another layer of authenticity to the world created on the big screen. There was live music played on screen by street performers in some scenes and a pre-recorded musical score was played throughout, featuring instruments like the Sitar, Sarod, Sarangi, Flute and Shehnai. The sound design encompassed noises of insects, the weather, chatter on the streets, and animals. It was soothing and tranquil – it could have easily sent you into a deep sleep. Nature did all the work in this engrossing sound design. 

In summary: “Water” was beautifully shot, honest and eye-opening.

Reviewer - Sam Lowe
on - 18/9/19

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