Sunday, April 06, 2008

Louis Malle's crowning documentary Phantom India

L'Inde Fantome (1969)
Alternate Titles: L' Inde fantome, Part 6: "On the Fringes of Indian Society", Part 1: "The Impossible Camera", Part 4: "Dream and Reality", Part 3: "The Indians and the Sacred", Part 7: "Bombay - The Future India", Part 2: "Things Seen in Madras", Part 5: "A Look at the Castes" Director:
Louis Malle Review Summary
Widely regarded as the crowning achievement of his career, Louis Malle's 378-minute documentary Phantom India provides an epic-length portrait of life in India circa 1968.

Episode 5, "A Look at the Castes" Per its title, this episode explores the rigid Indian caste system. It opens with a conversation vis-à-vis Thomas Howard, an American man in his twenties who moved to an Indian village to teach locals improved agrarian techniques. Later, Malle details the various levels of caste that actually - as he reminds his audience - break down into thousands of smaller subdivisions. The film visits women assigned different well functions based on their respective castes, social outcasts known as the Harijans (or untouchables) and a lower-rung caste of village washermen known as dhobis. As Malle details the history of the caste system on the soundtrack, he travels with his crew to the Red Fort fabric factory in Delhi, and then to a Bombay shantytown, where a group of mourners celebrate a death with choruses of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" (with Malle reminding the audience that such celebration is inveterately linked to a desire to break out of the cycle of reincarnation). The episode wraps with a depiction of a local village sport and a trip to the Panchayat.

Episode 6, "On the Fringes of Indian Society" This episode charts the subcultural behaviors and customs of numerous Indian minority groups. It begins with an illustration of tribal culture: Malle, Becker and Laureux spend an extended period of time with the Bandos, a bellicose and semi-barbaric mountainous tribe that inhabits around 100 villages in the region of Orissa and teeters on the verge of extinction via complete assimilation into mainstream Indian society. Malle's cameras witness the Bandos constructing a cob house; in his narration, he discusses the "sexual dormitories" established for tribal adolescents, as well as the sun worship and fertility ceremonies that create an enduring sadness in the villagers' hearts. Following an illuminative trip to the Bando market, Malle and co. segue into discussions of more westernized subcultures in Indian society, including Indian Christians, Indian Jews, and an oddball religious cult run by Sri Aurobindo and administered by a figure known only as "The Mother."

No comments:

Post a Comment