Venice Film Review: ‘Labor of Love’

Tyro helmer Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s well-meaning “Labor of Love” attempts to highlight difficulties for the average working man and woman in Calcutta, yet gets k.o.’d by glacial pacing and preachiness.

Ritwick Chakraborty, Basabdutta Chatterjee. (Bengali dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3843088/reference

The heavy-handed method of conveying a worthy message k.o.’s “Labor of Love,” tyro helmer Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s well-meaning attempt to highlight the difficulties of the average working man and woman in Calcutta. It’s not simply the glacial pacing or the lack of dialogue — words are heard offscreen — but also the preachiness of it all, combined with an absence of characterization. Evocative images are meant to make it poetic, yet watching water evaporate in a hot pan really doesn’t add much. A few fests looking for indie Indian fare may take a look, but otherwise this could be titled “Labor’s Love Lost.”

Against a black screen, we hear a news report about unemployment and inflation in West Bengal — not the most subtle opener. The first shot is of the back of a woman (Basabdutta Chatterjee) walking through tight alleyways, on her way to work in a handbag factory. For the remainder of the film, Sengupta cuts between the woman and the man (Ritwick Chakraborty), each on a different work trajectory. He handles the night shift at a printing press, she’s at the factory during the day, and never the twain shall meet.

It doesn’t take long to realize the two are married, though only in a fantasy sequence, practically drained of all color, are they ever seen together. Otherwise, they go home after work to an empty apartment, prepare meals for two which are eaten alone, carefully put together the money they’ve earned, and sleep (she sleeps in her sari, with jewelry and full makeup, presumably because her loneliness makes her listless). Forty minutes in, a news report is heard about a man’s death, the direct result of a mill closure and his loss of livelihood.

An unhurried pan ends on a blank wall; the sun sinks slowly in the sky; a closeup shows rice tumbling into a container. This sort of deliberate pacing is designed to meld with the slackened rhythms of the couple’s lives, stripped to a capitalist essence: work followed by home, and only in fantasy are they together. Yet Sengupta literally denies them a voice, and with it a character; the absence of personality makes them mere stand-ins for everyman and everywoman, which means the film is unsuccessful in challenging audiences to care. In addition, the leaden exposition at the start and middle counters the attempted subtlety of story and lensing.

While many images are lovely, they too often feel disengaged from significance — the couple’s separation understandably means they connect via objects at home, yet the editing doesn’t do enough to make those links eloquent. Sound design works better, with street noises providing constant accompaniment to the otherwise silent routine.

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Venice Film Review: 'Labor of Love'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Venice Days), Aug. 30, 2014. Running time: 84 MIN. (Original title: “Asha Jaoar Majhe”)

Production: (India) A For Films production, in association with Salaam Cinema, in collaboration with Novo Films. (International sales: Salaam Cinema, Mumbai.) Produced by Aditya Vikram Sengupta, Jonaki Bhattacharya, Sanjay Shah. Executive producer, Jonaki Bhattacharya.

Crew: Directed, written by Aditya Vikram Sengupta. Camera (color, widescreen), Mahendra Shetty, Sengupta; editor, Sengupta; music, Alokananda Dasgupta; production designer/costume designer, Jonaki Bhattacharya; sound (5.1), Anish John; associate producer, Francois da Silva; line producers, Ritobrata Paul, Tridib Kumar Sengupta.

With: Ritwick Chakraborty, Basabdutta Chatterjee. (Bengali dialogue)

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