Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:49 pm 
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Abhishek H.N., Channegowda in Thithi

A midsummer Indian rural comedy

A very old man dies. His grandson tries to sell land he owned. His father gets in the way. A handsome young man falls in love with a pretty woman traveling through with shepherds. This provides the substance of Raam Redy's triumph of villager-wrangling, shot at an oddly named South Indian village in Karnataka, where they speak the Kannada language. I'd never heard of it. It's Dravidian, and between 38 and 50 million people speak it.

The art of Redy's film, as with all festive comedy, is to keep various balls in the air. The abrupt death of "Century Gowda," the foul-mouthed, hateful centenarian family patriarch, touches off the action in the first scene. We see his ritual immolation. The body is carried not stretched out the way we expect corpses to be but sitting up in a square frame, held high, and then planted on the funeral pyre of wood sticks. Eleven days later the eponymous Thithi farewell ceremony is held.

Meanwhile Thamanna, Gowda's grandson, sets out to sell the five acres of land nominally in Gowda's name. To do this his father, the wayward, eighty-something Gadappa, a tall, thin, bearded, distinguished looking bum who roams around swilling liquor from little bottles and smoking cigarettes, must give his permission. Or, the potential buyer suggests, he must be dead, or appear to be. We follow Thamanna pursuing his machinations, which among other things lead him to pay Gadappa to get lost, for six months at least. But instead Gadappa joins a group of migratory shepherds who are presently camped nearby, among whom is the pretty young woman a young, handsome member of the family has fallen for. The courtship weaves in and out of Gadappa's and Thamanna's stories.

That's all there is too it, really, but the action is so bustling and constant that the viewer's sense of emersion is intense. Certainly Reddy's film is closer to Satyajit Ray than to Bollywood, but it quite lacks the profundity and intelligence of Ray, even as it uses some of the neorealist methods Ray employed in the first of his sublime Apu trilogy. But however rough an impression South India makes here, the action is vibrant and alive.

Thithi, 132 mins., debuted at Locarno, where it won two awards, and was in three other festivals, Mumbai, Palm Springs, and New Directors/New Films. It was screened for this review as part of New Directors, at Lincoln Center, NYC. The series is a collaboration between the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA and the films are shown at both locations.

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┬ęChris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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