SAIFF 09: MANJADIKURU Review
(Our thanks to Dustin Chang for the review)
Manjadikuru tells a bittersweet story about a family getting together for the funeral of its patriarch, seen through a 10 year old boy named Vicky. While the grown-ups bicker and wait anxiously for the deceased's will to be read in those 16 days of funeral rites, Vicky, his cousins, Kannan and Manikutty and a servant girl named Roja slowly strike up friendships and experience the magic of rural India that would last their lifetimes.
The film is full of contrasts: the complexity of the grown up world/family dynamics and the innocence of the children, old vs new, city vs rural, yet nothing is overtly black and white. Taking place in lush green Kerala, (Southwestern region in India) Manjadikuru is all about the colors, sounds and wonders of childhood. It feels similar to reading an Arundhati Roy story. The imagery is so striking you could almost smell it- be it children catching tadpoles in the pool or playing choo-choo train in the large, cavernous house, shooting down mangos from trees with a slingshot, collecting the shiny little red seeds on the ground, discovering an abandoned room full of dusty Marxist memorabilia that once belong to an uncle who abandoned his duty as the oldest son of the house to follow his ideals...
It is heartbreaking to see as Vicky learns firsthand that not everyone is equal; even though the Tamil girl Roja is around the same age as Vicky and his cousins, she is a servant and needs to work all day and is forbidden to 'mix' with Vicky and his gang. The scenes involving children secretly devising an innocent plan to have her escape from her servitude is perhaps the most touching moment from the film.
Manjadikuru unfolds like a good memoir. The intricacy and eye for details by the first time director Anjali Menon, from her own experience growing up, are just extraordinary. Some of the scenes are a little too sappy and the film goes on for a good twenty minutes too long. But along with Erice's The Spirits of the Beehive, Manjadikuru is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films about childhood I've seen.
The screening of Manjadikuru was preceded by Andheri, a short film shot entirely in bustling Mumbai and tells a story about Anita(Anangsha Biswas), a live-in maid. There is an amazing handheld sequence in the bus full of people as Anita aimlessly tries to run away from her surroundings. The film and the performance by Biswas feel completely real and authentic. Great, sad little film.
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