India’s Sasidharan goes to Venice Film Festival with Shadow of Water

Filmmaker Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola (Shadow of Water) will be screened in Horizons section at Venice.
Sasidharan’s Shadow of Water will be screened as part of the Horizons section at Venice Film Festival.
Sasidharan’s Shadow of Water will be screened as part of the Horizons section at Venice Film Festival.
Updated on Jul 31, 2019 12:46 PM IST
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ByGautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times

Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Chola or Shadow of Water will be part of Horizons or Orizzonti at the upcoming Venice Film Festival.

The 11-day festival, which unfolds on August 28 on the quaint Lido Island, off mainland Venice, will showcase one more Indian movie, Gitanjali Rao’s animated Bombay Rose in the Critics Week (already mentioned in these columns), a festival sidebar that may be compared with its Cannes counterpart. While the Critics’ Week runs outside, though alongside, the festival, Horizons is the second most important official section of the festival, easily comparable to Cannes’ A Certain Regard.

Interestingly, like Rao’s work which will herald the Critics’ Week this August, another Indian movie, Tumbbad, did the honours for the same section at Venice 2018.

Chola’s storyline is similar to S Durga.
Chola’s storyline is similar to S Durga.

Sasidharan has had a turbulent journey since he made Sexy Durga in 2017. Almost Hitchcockian in feel, the films follows two young fleeing lovers on a lonely night on a desolate road, and their confrontation with a motley group of unsavoury characters. With only a hint of violence, Sasidharan pulls off a marvellous narrative, and the film went on to win the Tiger Award at Rotterdam – but not before it got into trouble with Indian censors, who forced the director to change the title to S Durga! Sasidharan once quipped to me that Durga need not be the name of the goddess alone. So many women have that name, like Parvathy or Saraswati or Lakshmi. So true.

Earlier, Sasidharan had made An Off-Day Game, a gripping psychological drama played out by a group of friends – who get all sozzled up with a tragic consequence.

Shadow of Water is one of the 19 titles in Horizons that will compete for four prizes, including that for best feature. It is supposed to be a magical realist drama about two teens who run away to a city, where their nightmare begins. In a way, similarities may be drawn between S Durga and Shadow of Water.

The festival will open with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth – the auteur’s first work in French with Catherine Deneuve, and Juliette Binoche in a mother-daughter tussle. Also, it is perhaps the first ever occasion that Venice has decided to open with a French-language title (mentioned in these columns earlier).

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The selection includes several potential Oscar contenders – James Gray (with Ad Astra), Roman Polanski, (An Officer and a Spy), Steven Soderbergh (The Laundromat), Olivier Assayas (Wasp Network), Mario Martone (The Mayor of the Rione Sanita), Pablo Larrain (Ema), Todd Philipps’ The Joker and of course Kore-eda. These, in fact, are the major highlights of a festival that has become, in a way, more sought-after than Cannes. The reason is simple: Cannes takes place a little too early in the year for Oscar hopefuls, while Venice is slotted just right.

What about Martin Scorsese? Festival Director Alberto Barbera, who announced the list, regretted: “It is a dream we all cherished, but his movie is not ready. It will be only in November.”

An Officer and a Spy is a work by Roman Polanski.
An Officer and a Spy is a work by Roman Polanski.

Going beyond this, Venice was bold enough to pick Polanski. Barbera minced no words when he told the press: “An Officer and a Spy is a great film. We’re talking the same level as The Pianist…. And I have no doubt it will be recognised as such. The only thing you can do is distinguish between the man and the artist. Polanski is a great artist, one of the last great European auteurs. I didn’t hesitate for a second in taking An Officer and a Spy...When you go see a painting by Caravaggio, you are seeing a work by an assassin who, after killing a man, had to escape to Palermo. It’s ridiculous. If you can’t make a distinction between the culpability of a person and that person’s value as an artist, you aren’t going to get anywhere”

Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour’s work The Perfect Candidate will also be screened at the festival.
Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour’s work The Perfect Candidate will also be screened at the festival.

The other issue was gender parity. Of the 21 films competing for the Golden Lion, a mere two are by women directors: Saudi Arabia’s Haifaa Al-Mansour with her The Perfect Candidate and Australia’s Babyteeth from television helmer Shannon Murphy. The first woman auteur from Saudi, Haifaa made her debut feature, Wadjda, under very difficult conditions at a time when the kingdom had not opened up to cinema. Wadjda played at Venice 2012, though not in Competition. In fact, this will be the first time that the country will be part of this prestigious section.

Last year, Barbera came under heavy fire for picking just one woman helmer. He had said: “Putting another movie in the main competition just because it’s made by a woman, from my point of view, that would be really offensive for the director. I would prefer to change my job if I would be forced to select a film only because it’s made by a woman and not on the basis of the quality of the movie itself.”

Finally, Barbera also faced criticism for the Festival including Netflix titles. Film bodies in Italy and elsewhere in Europe were very unhappy that the lineup included The Laundromat (on the Panama Papers) and Noah Baumbach Scarlett Johansson-starrer Marriage Story – both in Competition. Netflix original The King will run in Out Of Competition, while Amazon will be represented, also Out Of Competition, by its Seberg.

Last year, Barbera defended his decision to include Netflix works like Roma by saying that Italy does not have the same laws as France, which could not screen any of the streaming giants’ titles. He told the media: “Sooner or later the cinemas will realise that the platforms are here to stay. They are a big part of the future. Cinemas must offer a different type of service to audiences. There will be more and more platforms.”

Here is the list of the Venice 2019 selection:

Opening Film

“The Truth,” Hirokazu Kore-eda (in competition)

Closing Film
“The Burnt Orange Heresy,” Giuseppe Capotondi (out of competition)


“The Perfect Candidate,” Haifaa Al-Mansour
“About Endlessness,” Roy Andersson
“Wasp Network,” Olivier Assayas
“Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach
“Guest of Honor, Atom Egoyan
“Ad Astra,” James Gray
“A Herdade,” Tiago Guedes
“Gloria Mundi,” Robert Guediguian
“Waiting for the Barbarians,” Ciro Guerra
“Ema,” Pablo Larrain
“Saturday Fiction,” Lou Ye
“Martin Eden,” Pietro Marcello
“The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be,” Franco Maresco
“The Painted Bird,” Vaclav Marhoul
“The Mayor of the Rione Sanità,” Mario Martone
“Babyteeth,” Shannon Murphy
“Joker,” Todd Phillips
“An Officer and a Spy,” Roman Polanski
“The Laundromat,” Steven Soderbergh
“No. 7 Cherry Lane,” Yonfan

Special Event

“Goodbye, Dragon Inn,” Tsai Ming-Liang

Out of Competition – Fiction

“Seberg,” Benedict Andrews
“Vivere,” Francesca Archibugi
“Mosul,” Matthew Michael Carnahan
“Adults in the Room,” Costa-Gavras
“The King,” David Michod
“Tutto Il Mio Folle Amore,” Gabriele Salvatores

Out of Competition – Non Fiction

“Woman,” Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova
“Roger Waters Us + Them,” Sean Evans, Roger Waters
“I Diari Di Angela – Noi Due Cineasti. Capitolo Secondo,” Yervant Gianikian
“Citizen K,” Alex Gibney
“Citizen Rosi,” Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi
“The Kingmaker,” Lauren Greenfield
“State Funeral,” Sergei Loznitsa
“Collective,” Alexander Nanau
“45 Seconds of Laughter,” Tim Robbins

Out of Competition – Special Screenings

“No One left Behind,” Guillermo Arriaga
“Il Pianeta in Mare,” Andrea Segre
“Electric Swan,” Konstantina Kotzamani
“Irreversible,” Gaspar Noe”
“Zerozerozero,” Stefano Sollima
“The New Pope,” Paolo Sorrentino
“Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut,” Matt Wells
“Eyes Wide Shut,” Stanley Kubrick

(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered Venice for over 18 years)

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