It’s a cruel, passive world, so cold and unaffected towards our children’s suffering that imminent death becomes almost like a sideshow. Superstition and spiritual fraud plague our amoral consciousness when the inner chamber of the home is fraught with sexual dissipation towards the youngest.
A mediator and rehabilitator comes to separate the trifling halo of divine intervention from the actual history of this cold, cold open country. Her natural instinct is to annihilate this insincere constituency assigned to her care and vigil with her firm belief in a steadfast rationale.
Sebastian Lelio’s THE WONDER breaks the fourth wall in its pursuit of truthful storytelling at the onset. But it has the wisdom to inform us consistently about the veracious tenacity of fiction drawing its utmost power from the duplicity of human motivations, especially when in the service of patriarchy that brands the life of a young, starving child as inconsequential. Her imminent death turns out to be a necessary exercise for absolving the sins of her family, namely her dead brother who gravely wronged her. The horror, hence as always, is in humanity playing God for concepts defying any moral logic.
If I continue to be haunted by this feat of intense storytelling then it’s because an elegy for the betrayal of childhood gets under our skin, by the cold open land and its bristling wind, by its suffocating indoor imagery and the stances and silent moments for the saviour here who, by dint of gender, knows a thing or two about the loss of innocence and the transience of life. By writer Emma Donoghue’s constant exploration of childhood and the female experience curtailed by forces and spaces governed immeasurably by patriarchy. Florence Pugh, Kila Lord Cassidy make that specificity and universal location of facts possible. Ari Wegner’s cinematography creates an asphyxiating precedent for the emotions of repression here and the rankling centre along with the sighing in the restrained musical score suit the cold vibe. The fog of compromised faith and reason is consistent then.
Note how the conscientious nurse walks among the sparse country landscape and it gets seamlessly juxtaposed with the girl sleeping with her covers on, in her room. Images like this employ natural sounds and sights to make THE WONDER an indictment of society and its constant exploitation of one gender as also a tale rooted in historical precedents.
MY LEFT FOOT(1989)
In this cold, cruel world where any minor physical shortcoming can be stretched around our bodies as a handicap for life, just by the verbal disparaging even from our ‘loved ones’, it’s a privilege to have a mother like Mrs. Brown. A woman who knew what her son Christy was up against when a condition such as Cerebral Palsy wasn’t even known or articulated in the mainstream.
To her, he was the son who needed extra care and support to prevent the world from imprisoning him, in a society almost always preferring able-bodied men and masculine strength.
MY LEFT FOOT is the extraordinary story of the Browns, people so ordinary in terms of their small home, living spaces and finances and so overflowing with multiple family members that a passing thought of courage sounds out of the world. But adversity breeds counter-resilience. Ableism is never in a mother’s share of unconditional love. This beautifully portrayed life-story of the painter and author who inked his own legend with just one foot, beginning his journey with the word MOTHER chalked out on the floor, is enlightening.
Brenda Fricker, Hugh O’ Connor( as a young Christy) and Daniel Day Lewis
counter the world that cannot fully fathom Christy’s condition or his presence.
Fiona Shaw makes the other half who allows him the therapy to embrace himself but in turn is witness to real heartbreak.
Anvita Dutt has amassed a mastery in locating the universality of complex human relationships, set in past eras, since her auspicious debut with 2020’s BULBUL. She and her leading star Tripti Dimri return to form an alliance that explores the challenges of being women while being pulled back by forces of patriarchy that is internalised among mothers, among those who should naturally be allies but instead become lifelong detractors. QALA is steeped in the same richness and veracity of period details, complex interrelationships and historical perspectives of gender issues as her debut.
But we must create an individual space for its profound psychological stakes. We must accomodate its appropriately paced and photographed recreation of the third and fourth decades of the 20th century where colonial legacy sits on the same throne as native cultural heritage. Where the verisimilitude of the interiors, lighting, mannerisms hardly mask human motivations existing since time immemorial. Temporal and spatial landscapes have a quaint way of transporting universal concerns across successive eras. A story like QALA uses as fodder familial legends and urban myths of personalities to break the illusion of perfect parental ties and artistic forebears. Things were always muddy, morally bankrupt even as immaculate outlines blinded us by nostalgia.
QALA is, to me, a gut-wrenching indictment of mental splinters that cannot be reconstituted to issue apologies for a past where childhoods inherit hate and the cold, cold cruelty of an adult world commissions guilt and shame for a lifetime.
Go in for the period flourishes. Come back from it with an urgent thematic probing of mental health and loveless denuoements. Swastika Mukherjee and Tripti Dimri create that realistic reproduction of a mother-daughter matrix that is far from perfect and is toxic and damaging from the get-go while Babil Khan, in his foray into the inner world of a musician, captures his own father Irfan Khan’s immersive early part as a classical singer in Govind Nihalani’s DRISHTI.
I am haunted by the parental cruelty that is so realistically fleshed out here, a deconstruction of the mother figure independent of the halo we accord to them. If mental health needs to be further destigmatised then we should reevaluate the role of our guardians who don’t usually refrain from giving us our first, incurable scars by their misogyny and culturally sanctioned dominance.