"Beautiful, lyrical, poetic, moving."

A review by Len McClure
Member of the Board of the International Documentary Association

Beautiful, lyrical, poetic, moving. That is the only way to describe this film by Raj Nair, grandson of the Indian writer, Thakazhy S. Pillai. The film is not explicitly about the late writer, but about his wife of 65 years, who lives a simple life in what used to be her residence but has now been made into a museum.

A good example of indirect being more powerful than direct. Because the writer’s presence is felt throughout. The sensuous views of the house. The fecund life surrounding it. The group of school girls who visit the museum on a field trip and have the rare pleasure of a meeting with the writer’s widow who, in a bizarre way, has herself become a living museum piece.

We also have the opportunity to hear about the life the writer and his wife lived, through a period of Indian, or more correctly, Kerala history that has seen drastic changes take place in the social fabric.

There is no voice-of-God narrator telling us about the period of history. Only the woman’s voice who has lived them, the voices of her friends and neighbors of many years.

Poignant flashbacks take us to the time a young girl broke with tradition and married a man introduced not by her uncle, as was expected, but by her brother. The man was to become one of the most noted writers in modern India. The girl now the 86-year-old woman we see going about her daily rituals, carrying with her all those memories.

If you’re the kind of person who is used to wolfing down your cheeseburger in three minutes, this is not the film for you. But if you’re one who prefers to let the finest delicacies melt in your mouth, then there is much to savor in this film. The beautifully choreographed moving shots of the widow going about her daily life evoke an emotion that necessarily takes more time than the Discovery Channel could ever afford.

I had the rare opportunity to see this film in its original Malayalam (the language of Kerala) with the filmmaker providing impromptu narration. If there is one criticism I could make, it is that some of the silent spaces in the film are too long – even for the connoisseur. There are things in the frame which hold much meaning for the filmmaker, and assumed knowledge among Malayalees (such as the cutaway of a finely polished brass lamp set), but which would go completely unappreciated by all others.

I hope that the English version of this film will shorten some of these scenes while providing just enough narration to fill in missing knowledge. Then the non-Malayalam audience can be carried along with the same, or almost the same, feelings as the audience for whom it was originally intended.

Len McClure
Member of the Board of the International Documentary Association
Hong Kong, February 2004

Len is a cinematographer with many credits and awards in both film and video for National Geographic, The Smithsonian Institution, The Learning Channel and PBS documentaries, more...