Review: ‘Valley of Saints’

Musa Syeed's first narrative feature is a likably low-key docudrama set in an attractive area of politically turbulent Kashmir.

Musa Syeed’s first narrative feature, “Valley of Saints,” is a likably low-key docudrama set in an attractive area of politically turbulent Kashmir. Providing a glimpse of everyday life, as well as a soft-pedaled ecological message, pic lacks narrative heft, and commercial prospects are as slight as the storytelling. But good use of mostly non-pro actors, a seldom-filmed setting and a lyrical tenor suggest it will travel well on the fest circuit.

While the elderly uncle who raised him attends a wedding, Dal Lake boatman Gulzar (Gulzar Bhat) plans to ditch the area’s strife and poor economic conditions to start anew. Before he and best friend Afzal (Afzal Sofi) can split, however, the latest clash between protesters and the military results in a weeklong curfew. Gulzar and Afzal can do little but kill time and tend to a similarly stranded relative’s houseboat guest: initially standoffish scientist Asifa (Neelofar Hamid), who’s researching the lake’s pollution problems. Gulzar warms to Asifa’s presence and cause, while Afzal grows angry at her perceived intrusion. Leisurely “Valley” leaves just an anecdotal impact, but handsome lensing, acoustic score and male leads’ playful rapport lend it gentle appeal.

Valley of Saints

India-U.S.

Production

A Peerwar Pictures and Associated Media Kashmir production. Produced by Nicholas Bruckman. Directed, written, edited by Musa Syeed.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Yoni Brook; music, Mubashir Mohi-ud-Din. Reviewed online, San Francisco, Jan. 17, 2012. (In Sundance Film Festival -- World Cinema, competing; Rotterdam Film Festival.) Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Gulzar Ahmed Bhat, Mohammed Afzal Sofi, Neelofar Hamid, Hajji Salam Bhat, Ghulam Hassan, Nazeer Bhat, Gul Javeed. (Kashmiri, English dialogue)

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