STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT : on the underrated short film PASSAGE (2009)

Written by SHEILA CALLAGHAN and AMY KAUFMAN, PASSAGE is a transcendent experience, told with great passion for images and the unsaid by cross continental Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur. It hinges itself on the ‘strangers in the night’ paradigm. However, this tale is centred on three sisters who come together for an unique reconciliation.


Julia Stiles is here and her passive expressions reflect her tough role as the eldest sibling or the hardships of her life have made her cloak her emotional transparency, neutral to exhibiting much. The two younger sisters, played by Haley Bennett and Lily Cole, get to fill that void. Haley is excellent from start to finish and the emotional communication through eyes, body language and her impassioned operatic singing capture a snapshot of the three women, who are clearly in flux, with Lily espousing the silence of her world ( as she is hearing impaired)

We get immersed in the backlog of pain, personal struggles of them all( never shown on screen), tied by the reappearance of the eldest who has anchored them and takes the reins for them this time too.


Their unity is omnipresent, not bound by the passage of time and estrangement as blood bonds are like that, given to one moment where those frictions blur and togetherness underlines each conversation. This short film, with minimal dialogues, exists to revive the purity of cinema as an effortless, seamless medium and conveyor of emotions. This implicity and lucidity of images has been a strong suit on the part of a global filmmaker as good and diverse as Kapur( gloriously realized on ELIZABETH and ELIZABETH : THE GOLDEN AGE and very much on THE FOUR FEATHERS) and he succeeds here, aided beautifully by the music by A. R. RAHMAN, cinematography by BENOIT DEBIE and editing by JACOB CRAYCRAFT, the latter especially given the mammoth task of enhancing the value of film’s miniature format in this case.

The hazy, mirrored imagery likens this sixteen minute journey to a reverie, a dream, unfolding with the slow burn of colours and the realistic subconsciousness of memories in which multiple viewpoints have a stake. It’s painterly, poetic and somehow cathartic to watch it in this sixteen minute capsule.

Integrating with their younger selves, the elusive idea of their pasts and tantalizing mystery regarding the eldest sister’s escape uphold the power of suggestion that short films specialize in. This one, released in 2009, was one of the most underrated examples at a time where the format’s traction was marginal. Look at how the form has exploded and this is one of its very best, backed by stalwarts on all fronts.

As has been my duty and responsibility, I share my views about it here as I want cinephiles to discover it on YouTube where it is easily available and appreciate it as a standalone effort. Its ambient, aural power is quietly effective.


For more of the filmmaker’s footing in his native industry, watch his classics like MASOOM, MR. INDIA and BANDIT QUEEN.


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