Having seemingly put aside the political and social vocation of his more prolific filmmaking days, veteran Bengali director Mrinal Sen is again in a meditative, allegorical frame of mind with “The Confined.” Though it’s deftly composed, and almost compelling in an overworked, theatrical fashion, this rarefied account of an intense telephone relationship between two strangers appears likely to find a direct line to only a finite group of devoted fest followers.
Basically an elaborate reflection on the difficulty of communication within a large city, the film sets up its two characters in self-imposed exile on opposite sides of a teeming Calcutta, then allows them briefly to interconnect.
A writer (Anjan Dutt) takes up temporary residence in a stately mansion. Elegant, sustained shots of its empty, dilapidated corridors, courtyards and staircases establish a climate of expectation that comes to fruition when the telephone rings. The caller is a woman (Dimple Kapadia) in a large, modern apartment, who fills her nights of insomnia by phoning random numbers. Refusing to speak at first, she breaks the silence on the second call, having sensed a receptive listener in the writer.
Each consecutive conversation defines a game that strays from playful banter through flirtation to attempts to get under each other’s skin by feeling around for hidden truths. Each party’s concrete knowledge of the other’s life is kept to a minimum, but boundaries are eventually crossed, irrevocably breaking the line that links them.
Sen creates a potent spell from the situation but quickly lets it become ponderous and repetitive. More congenial are the framing sequences, with a manservant royally escorting the audience (and the initially unseen writer) into the mansion at the front end, and a fleeting, wordless face-to-face encounter at the back.
As lensman and composer, Shashi Anand brings the slender premise some much-needed dimension, establishing two distinct poles as the camera prowls the shadowy recesses of the writer’s world and bathes in the pristine brightness of the woman’s.