VIFF Day 9
Amal (2007, Canada, Richie Mehta)
Stories and films set in India have an immediate appeal to me. The vibrancy of the culture, an unlikely melange of just about all of the world's great faiths and peoples, and the palpable sense that this is a world consistently on the edge of chaotic dissolution, yet always able to pull itself back from the abyss, creates a universe that has within it implicit tensions between order and anarchy, faith and reason, sensuality and metaphysicism that fascinates me.
All of which is to confess that I was already predisposed to like Richie Mehta's Amal before I settled into the seat. Imagine my disappointment if Amal had not delivered the goods.
Thankfully, Amal is a warm but not not soft-hearted film, with some terrific performances in Mehta's finely observed character study. At the centre of this story of the titular auto-rickshaw driver, a humble and kind man unsuspectingly at the centre of a storm over a wealthy man's inheritance is the work of Rupinder Nagra, who gives an authetic and self-contained performance. Nagra holds the film together with his understated work as the quietly ethical man makes key decisions during some of the plots more creaky devices and unexpected twists.
Mehta's script, co-written with his brother Shaun, is a richly detailed piece that evokes the sensual and cultural detail of its Delhi setting in an earthy and realistic manner. Contributing to this sense of authenticity is some gritty cinematography of Mitchell Ness which is decidedly not of the picture postcard variety. The film is populated by a complex tapestry of characters from an array of social classes, while the city-based shots brim with vigor. Finally, it is nice to see Mehta trusts his audience enough not to spell out every aspect of the plot, eliding some important plot points, allowing the audience to figure them out on their own.
The film's final act does work awfully hard to bring its disparate elements together in a plausible way, and at times all the effort shows as characters behave as they must to keep the story moving forward, rather than as they should to be true to themselves. Still, it is a minor nit to pick because overall Amal is a charming and affecting film that refuses to take the easy way out. As a result, the final shots of a smiling Amal are bittersweet, but completely satisfying.