A Chekhovian ensemble piece in which all skeletons come out of the closet during an upper-caste Bengali family’s annual religious festival reunion, “The Festival” is an intelligently crafted drama that grows stuffy amid too much chamber-scaled gloom. Offshore, it reps a respectable if uninspiring fest item.
Suggesting an autobiographical slant, writer-director Rituparno Ghosh (“Unishe April,” “Dahan”) casts one junior member of the clan as an aspiring filmmaker who records the goings-on with his vidcam and enthusiastically references classic Indian pics. But focus is primarily on the four middle-aged children of widowed matriarch Bhagabati (Madhabi Mukherjee, a favorite thesp for the late Satyajit Ray), all Calcutta dwellers who regard their visit to the family’s 150-year-old country estate as a tiresome duty.
A long-estranged cousin wants to buy the palatial home, and resultant squabbling over tradition vs. economic gain competes with numerous other domestic sore spots for collective attention. Youngest daughter Keya is at wit’s end with her drunken spouse; sis Parul still grieves a long-ago-thwarted true love; and other sibs fret over business failures or their children’s futures.
Ugly secret that’s hung over them for two-decades-plus (related to the would-be house buyer) is teased endlessly, then rather anticlimactically revealed sans consequence. While individual strands maintain some interest, none are given screen time equal to Keya and ne’er-do-well hubby Arun’s constant bickering.
Surprising balm is poured on these troubled waters at close, when young Joy’s completed reunion video fondly reveals a family much more loyal and loving than previous evidence suggested. But slow-moving pic’s progress to that point has been morose to a fault. Indictment of lax contemporary values, respect toward elders, etc., has a rote, familiar ring, though Ghosh refrains from excess finger-wagging.
With action limited to handsome manse’s interiors and courtyard, “The Festival” does an OK job avoiding staginess, if not the eventual monotony that the quarrelsome, talky script imposes. Perfs are competent.
Visuals take advantage of colorful dress and room appointments, though 35mm-billed lensing looks suspiciously more like 16mm.