Review: ‘Alms of the Blind Horse’

An attempt to shoehorn film theory lessons on space and time into a tale of powerless Punjabi villagers overwhelms the initial artistry of Gurvinder Singh's "Alms of the Blind Horse."

An attempt to shoehorn film theory lessons on space and time into a tale of powerless Punjabi villagers overwhelms the initial artistry of Gurvinder Singh’s “Alms of the Blind Horse.” Singh, a protege of the late Mani Kaul (credited as creative producer), exhibits a talent for striking compositions and an intriguing sense of stillness, yet after the 40-minute mark, most auds will be begging “Alms” to offer more than undifferentiated placidity. A more hands-on producer could guide the helmer to a tighter sophomore work, but in the meantime, his debut won’t get further than scattered fests.

When houses are demolished by a powerful land-owning concern, the villagers angrily gather, despite knowing their voices won’t be heard. The silent lined face of Father (Mal Singh) provides a lingering image of dignified protest resigned to injustice. His son, Melu (Samuel Sikander John), — the pressbook says son, the subtitles say nephew — a rickshaw puller in the nearby city of Bathinda, is involved in a labor action but spends most of his time frustrated and depressed. Becalmed proletarian struggles are wedded to slow pans and the dissonant notes of a wooden flute.

Alms of the Blind Horse

India

Production

A National Film Development Corp. production. Creative producer, Mani Kaul. Executive producers, Nina Lath Gupta, Vikramjit Roy. Directed, written by Gurvinder Singh, based on the novel by Gurdial Singh.

Crew

Camera (color), Satya Rai Nagpaul: editor, Ujjwal Chandra; music, Catherine Lamb; production designer, Pankal Dhimaan; costume designer, Saurabh Agarwal. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 9, 2011. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Mal Singh, Samuel Sikander John, Serbjeet Kaur, Dharminder Kaur, Emmanuel Singh, Kulwinder Kaur, Lakha Singh, Pran Nath, Sukhdev Singh, Major Singh, Ajmer Aulukh, Gurvinder Makhna, Kanwaljeet Dhillon. (Punjabi dialogue)
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