Heavy rain. Thunder. Night.
A dark, threatening night, which foreshadows what is to come.
Yes, I’m back once more, back on the vast subcontinent that is India. After Pebbles by P.S. Vinothraj and A rifle and a bag by Arya Rothe, Cristina Hanes and Isabella Rinaldi, I continue my journey (both geographic and cinematographic) through the country this month. It’s a coincidence that three Indian films show up on my list in such a short time. It’s not intended at all, but lovely, especially because I can travel to three different regions as well.
Akshay Indikar’s Chronicle of Space is special, truly special. I have to return to Semih Kaplanoğlu’s Bal once more. The poetic, patient and committed observation of Dighu, the little boy, who struggles to adapt to his life far away from Pune, his hometown, is not so different from the Turkish director’s observation. At the same time, Chronicle of Space is visually perhaps more accomplished. I’m still amazed that Bal still comes to mind after so many years, the scenes playing out clearly in my head: the lush green of the woods, the innocent face of the little boy, his deep love for his father. It’s all there in Chronicle of Space, too.
12 June — Don’t know where father has gone, even sister doesn’t know.
Dighu looks out of the train, which travels through the landscape. He leaves Pune, his mother takes him and his sister to her parents in the countryside. Their father has disappeared, nothing tells us what happened. We’re as much in the dark as Dighu is.
Around the dinner table, Dighu’s grandfather suggests to his daughter to leave Pune for good, to look for a small job and to settle with them because they could help her with the kids. It is one of the few scenes that take place in a crammed frame. Five people sit around the table, the room is small, the frame like walls that threaten to close in on the family. “It’s hard to live alone,” the mother says. A woman with two kids but without a husband has a particularly heavy load to bear. But Dighu’s mother is undecided. Should she marry again? Should she leave everything behind in Pune and begin a new life in her parents’ village?
While the mother’s life slowly runs its course, Dighu becomes imprisoned in time, in dreams, in diary entries. What looked like a temporary period at his grandparents’ stretched longer and longer, and became a sort of permanent state. Where is his father?
Before he enters his new school, a photo is taken of him. He looks smart in his chequered shirt with tie, his glasses, and his hair neatly combed. There is a rather large ancient vase to his left and, after a while, his sister joins him for the photographs. Several scenes shot at school, in particular in the second part of the film, show him as a lonely figure, as someone who doesn’t want to mix with the others, who prefers to stay alone. Despite this chosen solitude, however, Dighu is an adventurer, a discoverer. If in the halls of his school, in the streets or at his mother’s workplace, he is always curious about what surrounds him, about what he may find in a corner.
23 June — The road to the school is more beautiful than the school.
The film’s original title, Sthalpuran, means ‘time and space’. It is rare that I come across a film with such a fitting title. For Dighu, there are two escape mechanisms that help him to sort of levitate (hint!) above it all: his diary and his dreams. Some of the latter are threatening, frightening for a little boy whose sole desire is to see his father again. And indeed, the father appears, but more as a hallucination, as a dream, an internal desire and hope. There he sits on a stone bridge in the rain. There he is, walking down the street, all joyful, with an umbrella in his hand trying to shield his son from the heavy rain. There he is, sitting at a bus stop, playing a game with his boy. For some reason, it seems to be the rain which facilitates the meeting of the boy and the father, which blurs the line between the here and now and the there and then. It is rain that seems to allow for those dreams. And, of course, the night.
If I said above that the film was about a boy who had to leave his hometown behind after the disappearance of his father, then this was only half the truth. There is more to Chronicle. In a beautiful scene, Dighu’s grandfather resets a big wall clock. He turns both hour and minute hand several times while Dighu tries to make out what time the clock gives. He struggles, is always off a couple of minutes. But this isn’t the point. The point is more about the fact of getting to know what time means. Away from Pune, his hometown, Dighu seems to enter an entirely new world, and therefore an entirely new form of time, and therefore of space.
10 June — Unlike Pune, this village has roaring sound.
There is the sea, the waves, and the wind indicating time. Pune is a city of three million inhabitants; his grandparent’s village seems terribly slow in comparison. Dighu gets to know different forms of time, he gets to experience those forms, and Indikar’s film, too, seems to experience those forms whenever Dighu does. One other scene that I remember well is the sudden switch to black-and-white, a scene whose image is upside-down, disorienting, unsettling. There is the sound of fire, of guns, maybe. It’s a strong shift that indicates a shift in Dighu’s consciousness. He becomes more and more aware that waiting means slow time, that time simply doesn’t seem to pass when one waits for something one strongly desires. It is there and then that he begins to imagine the return of his dad.
13 September — I don’t remember Dad’s face.
The cruelty of time.
Time erases memories.
And while this cruel erasure is taking place, Dighu walks through crowded city streets, who attack him with their noise, their movements, their speed. It’s overwhelming. Yes, the streets, too, have waves: waves of people, but waves just the same, waves that threaten to drown the boy.
Chronicle of Space is a beautiful and touching film. It’s not a directorial debut, it is a complete, rounded piece that convinces from beginning to end. Indikar’s vision certainly includes an homage to Tarkovsky (I’m thinking of the long pans through the family house, for instance), but he managed to create a film that is so much more than this. Genuinely, a must-see for me. One of the best films I’ve seen this year.