Dir: P S Vinothraj | Drama, India 74′
Drought is a killer in Southern India. And the village of Arittapatti is suffering. Women keep calm and patiently carry on – roasting rats to feed the family – but the men are full of rage, against themselves and the environment.
Powered forwards by a seething debut performance from Karuththadaiyaan, who plays the central character Ganapathy, this first feature from P S Vinothraj – essentially a two hander – is as much a social portrait of rural India’s patriarchal society as a anti-buddy movie about a father and his young son (Chellapandi, also a non-pro).
Forget solidarity. The desiccated landscape has reduced humanity to desperation, Ganapathy’s wife fleeing from his domestic abuse to her in-laws in a neighbouring village. Furious and determined to get his back – she is his possession, after all – Ganapathy drags his sons on the 13 km journey across a wasteland, Walkabout style, in the searing heat of the hottest day of the year.
In an odyssey Punctuated by occasional violent outbursts, and intensified by a handheld camera, what we remember most about Pebbles is the silence: this is actually a meditation on the miracle of nature and also the cruelty of man towards the environment, seen largely through the eyes of Chellapandi, a calm and thoughtful boy who refuses to give in to his father’s draconian dominance and physical abuse preferring to marvel instead at their their journey through this ravaged but characterful landscape. At one point they are followed by a stray puppy, the father kicks it away but Chellapandi befriends it and takes it home, he’s emerging a nature boy and the hero of the film.
Despite a dysfunctional relationship with his father the two are inexorably drawn together, the father’s negative energy fuelling the boy’s positivity and resourcefulness. It’s an intriguing study of how opposites continue to stick together somehow complimenting each other in the face of all odds.
Minutely observed and captured on the widescreen, and by use of drones, this wonderful feature, over a year in the making, is an arthouse gem that fills the viewer with a feeling of calm contemplation. A tribute to the patient resourcefulness of poverty-stricken people all over the developing world. MT
Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 | TIGER COMPETITON WINNER 2021