The intent of fiction is supposed to provide escapism, sure, but in Don Palathara’s experimental 70-min feature, Everything is Cinema (EIC), fiction is stifling. Shot in black and white, it reflects the state of mind of many forced to spend time with their family members. In the film, reality is more comforting, no matter how aesthetically unpleasant it is. The ‘reality’ in question is the documentary footage of Kolkata interspersed with the ‘fictional’ segments of the film featuring an unseen filmmaker, Chris (Don Palathara), and his actress wife, Anita (Sherin Catherine). The latter is the only character that remains seen throughout. Everyone else— the folks in the documentary segments, that is—are real people.
The film is seemingly a nod to French auteur Jean-Luc Godard, and it’s not just through the title alone. Chris is seeking truth in 24 frames per second. He seems to find comfort in images that are devoid of artificiality and fake niceties. At the beginning of the film, we see him training his lens at the unexplored, gritty parts of Kolkata: his dream is to make a documentary similar to Louis Malle’s Calcutta. Here he meets real people on the streets, gets into small talk with them, and gets them to look into the camera. Through a voiceover that talks to us through the film, he informs us that he is in the city while the pandemic began. (Don shot the ‘reality’ portions a few years ago, with the black and white segments shot last year before he got to work on the relatively more streamlined Santhoshathinte Onnam Rahasyam (SOR).) EIC wears its experimental quality on its sleeve—it is not as ‘cinema friendly’ or ‘dramatic’ as SOR and has no illusions about its intent.
Perhaps Don saw EIC as a ‘rehearsal’ for SOR. They both share a few common themes despite being visually distinct. They both peek into the private life of a couple and adopt a freewheeling approach to shooting their subjects. In SOR, the camera remains static in a single position; the camera in EIC is free to move around—both unbound by filmmaking conventions. Chris prefers to shoot his wife discreetly, and in some instances, keeps his lens fixed at her for a duration that might make one recall frames from his earlier films. As if ‘reading’ the audience’s mind, Chris’ voice tells us there is a reason for this approach. He wants to convey an idea and make sense of the footage he has. Such shots may seem pointless to those not attuned to slow cinema. In EIC, these lensing choices seem to suggest the monotony and boredom that ails even film professionals when forced to spend days and months inside their homes by the pandemic.
Chris and Anita are struggling to deal with the after-effects of this too. The former’s new film has hit a snag owing to a lack of clarity from his producers, while his wife is trying to stay relevant by interacting with her, in Chris’ words, “randoms” online. Chris is bothered by many things; he vents his frustration on Anita by pointing out her dual-faced personality—particularly her pseudo-feminist and pseudo-rational behaviour, among other things. But since we get to know her personality mainly through Chris, we are not entirely sure if some of these are merely his assumptions or facts. But as commentary on present-day society, he makes sense most of the time. I found myself laughing at several places and nodding in agreement to some of his statements because those are, well, facts.
Despite being amusing and thoughtful, these interactions aren’t always as organic as the ones in SOR. At times, the Malayalam-English delivery dilutes the intensity of their dialogues. But there are also moments where they ace it, like the scene where Chris questions Anita’s decision to prepare a cake for her friend at a time when they are trying to stock up on food. Chris uses such heated interactions as opportunities to comment on most relationships. He says he feels for people who are married. It doesn’t take long for the possible cause of the rift between the couple to be revealed. It’s not the lack of sex, he says, but “not watching movies together anymore.” Here, another Godard quote comes to mind—about how a man and a woman that do not like the same films will eventually divorce.
Don Palathara is among the handful of filmmakers who got exceptionally busy during the pandemic. Besides making two films, he brought out three films in film festivals around the globe during this time. Can you beat that?
Film: Everything Is Cinema
Director: Don Palathara
Cast: Don Palathara, Sherin Catherine
Streaming on: Mubi