Monsoon

Playing Feb. 13-15 at Cinematheque

Monsoon is a visually stunning documentary about the struggle for life during monsoon season in India, a country whose economy hinges entirely on rainfall. Despite the sobering nature of the subject matter, one can’t help but marvel at the endlessly dazzling imagery. It’s the kind of film they might play on the display televisions at Best Buy to show off the lush picture quality, which is indicative of the film’s main problem.

Too much screen time is dedicated to slow motion transitional shots of fat rain drops exploding against lime-green leaves, or foreboding clouds rolling across mountains and valleys. These shots are certainly beautiful, but there’s just too many of them.There’s simply not enough meat on this bone to justify the deliberately-paced, 108-minute running time.

Throughout the film, we’ll encounter dozens of different faces. They vary in class and attitude: meteorological bureaucrats whose behaviour is hilariously reminiscent of BBC’s The Office, an orange-haired bookie who bets on weather forecasts and a kind-hearted but dangerous animal-reserve warden. The film’s main through-line follows a young Indian family who have weathered this storm in the past.

Many of the landscapes seen in Monsoon are ravaged by drought and poverty. The monsoon’s repeatedly described as “the soul of India”, a force that brings life and death each year. The coming monsoon promises to end this drought and give new life to the dying crops. Yet when the levee inevitably breaks, houses are swept away and human lives swept away with them. The monsoon creates with one hand and destroys with the other - a god-like yin and yang.

Director Sturla Gunnarsson (Ice Soldiers, Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie) cannot seem to decide whether to make a Herzog-esque descent into a heart of darkness, or an aspiring entry in The Qatsi trilogy. Instead of either, it’s neither. Perhaps this issue feels more pronounced because the remainder of Monsoon is so utterly fascinating.

Published in Volume 69, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 11, 2015)

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