Movies On the Road: No Direction Home For The Poor By Cüneyt Cebenoyan

in 12nd Kerala International Film Festival

by Cüneyt Cebenoyan

The spectre of communism wasn’t haunting the 12th Kerala Film Festival. It was already there, exercising its powers. Lenin was not only cited by the Minister of Cultural Affairs & Education of the Government of Kerala, Mr. M. A. Baby, in his message in the festival catalogue but he was also in the competition in the “Malayalam Cinema Today” section.

Of course they were not the same person; the Lenin who was cited is the leader of the Soviet Revolution, the one who was competing, that is, Lenin Rajendran, is a contemporary film maker from Kerala. But it shows something: the Marxist ideology lives on in Kerala, not only in people’s names but also in their minds. In fact the state is run by the Communist Party.

This year there were two competitions, an international one and a local Malayalam one, Malayalam being the language of the Kerala state.

Though the Marxist ideology was alive and well in Kerala, the films showed a different reality: an increasingly neo-liberally governed world where the dispossessed have nowhere to go. It was interesting to note that the two films which won the NETPAC and FIPRESCI prizes had one thing in common: their protagonists had no home anymore.

Sleepwalking Land (Terra Sonámbula, by Teresa Prata, international competition), takes place during the seemingly never-ending civil war years in Mozambique. All the protagonists of the film leave their homes in search either of a safe place to settle down or of others who are important for them. The old train conductor Tauhir and his protégé young Muidinga walk in circles on their flight from their horrible past and the violent gangs. They come to the same spot over and over again, not reaching anywhere. In a parallel story, Kindzu searches for the son of Farida with whom he has fallen in love. These are also homeless people, who had lost their loved ones to the reigning violence. While Tauhir and Kindzu die before they reach anyone or anywhere, there is a dim light of hope for Farida and Muidinga.

China’s Getting Home (Lou ye gui gen, by Yang Zhang) is another road movie, in ways similar to the above mentioned film. This time the main protagonists consist of two friends, one already dead, the other alive and carrying his dead friend to his hometown. These are poor workers who are cheated and exploited by their bosses even after they are dead. Zhao, the one still alive, reaches his dead friend’s home only to find that there is no home anymore. The big dam project Three Gorges has forced the families to move somewhere else.

These were not the only films that dealt with new forms of homelessness. The gentrification of slum areas seems to be taking place all over the world. Two films dealt with this subject: Tin Drum (Thakarachenda), from Kerala, and Casket for Hire from the Philippines.

These are hard times for the poor but they seem to be even harder for women than for men. In two films, women tend to lose their psychological balance rather more frequently than men. In Sleepwalking Land, Farida, after being raped and losing contact with her son, starts to live in a dream state in complete seclusion. She seems to have lost complete contact with reality. Another woman in the same film, Kindzu’s mother, loses her mind too and tries to camouflage his little son as a chicken in the coop before being shot to death with all her family.

The Sea Within (Ore Kadal, Malayalam competition) had another female protagonist who loses her mind and becomes hospitalized for a period in her life. Though this has more to do with love than with economic reasons, she is still the underprivileged one in the love relationship. She is considerably poorer and less educated than the man she is in love with. It seems as if we are living in an age where there is no home for the poor and women are especially vulnerable to changing conditions. They have nowhere to take refuge, even inside their own heads.