Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 7:28 pm 
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The personal and the public

It's not so often that you see a movie set in Nepal, and the Nepalese director Eeepak Rauniyar and his cowriter David Barker have created an involving, palpably real tale that skillfully interweaves the country's turbulent recent warfare with intimate, local, personal events. Chandra (Dayahang Rai) comes back to his remote village for the first time in years on the death of his father. He has been fighting in the Maoist army that defeated Royalist government forces in the 1996-2006 conflict, with 16,000 lives lost along the way. Chandra carries the wounds of this war.

Things get complicated, and Chandra has to deal with both his past and traditional customs to which the generations have different degrees of loyalty. To begin with a homeless war-orphaned kid among the boys jostling to carry Chandra's bags up the hills, Badri (Amrit Pariyar), attaches himself to him and claims to others to be his son. (Maybe he is.) He remains a touching presence throughout; we worry what will happen to him. Durga (Asha Margranti), Chandra's ex-wife, is a fiercely independent lower-caste woman who is cursed by the elders for touching the corpse. Durga has problems of her own. She has a daughter, Pooja (Sumi Malla), not Chandra's, but she wants Chandra to sign paternity papers so the girl can be legal and attend school.

The large body of the father, a village elder and a staunch royalist, has to be removed from an upstairs window because it's against custom to take it out the front door. Only males can attend the funeral. The only men qualified to carry the body down to the river are his sons, Chandra and his royalst brother, Suraj (Rabindra Singh Baniya), but they have a fight and Suraj goes off, leading Chandra on a meandering trail to find somebody else, while the village elders cluster around the corpse, stuck there for hours. No one can touch it unless the old priest (Deepak Chhetri), an absolute stickler for traditions, allows it.

Pooja and Badri, who at first are at odds, join forces and begin taking steps on their own. The arrival in the area of Chandra's former commander, with Maoist troops at hand, will also alter the course of things. All this is symbolic, of course, but it seems emotional and circumstantial because it all happens in such a relaxed, natural way, with - to the outside eye, at least - such authentic locations and performances, that we can't help getting emotionally involved. The 10-year-old newcomer Amrit Pariya, as Badri, is particularly convincing. Dayahang Rai, a locally well-known actor, inhabits his role profoundly, and exudes an inner sadness that is expressive of the country's long turbulence and troubles. This is an outstanding example of vernacular naturalism. It's exotic, for sure, but Depak Rauniyar has achieved some of the intimacy of Satyajit Ray.

White Sun/Seto Surya, 89 mins., debuted Sept. 2016 at Venice in the Horizons section; seven other festivals so far, including MoMA-FSLC's 2017 New Directors/New Films series, as part of which it was screened for this review. A KimStim release. Danny Glover is one of the multiple producers.

It's now been announced that it begins limited theatrical release 6 Sept. 2017 at MoMA (NYC) and 29 Sep t. at Laemmle Music Hall (LA).

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