Before The Rains

Before The Rains

**

Reviewed by: Stuart Crawford

Have you ever seen an oil slick on the surface of a puddle? The oil spreads out into a layer a single molecule thick, which lends it some interesting optical properties. The result is a panoply of glorious, shimmering rainbow colours, lending something as dull as ditch-water an impossibly thin veneer of iridescent beauty.

Still, you wouldn't sit and watch it for an hour and a half, which is the key problem with Before The Rains. Director Santosh Sivan started his career in cinematography, a fact which shines through both in the film's beautiful visuals and in its failure to engage in any other capacity.

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The setting is India, 1937, late spring. The Raj is on the wane, Indian nationalism is on the rise, and the monsoon season is just around the corner. English entrepreneur Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is convinced he'll be able to drive a road through the wilderness before the rains come, in order to facilitate the harvest and transport of lucrative spice crops, and he's persuaded the Bank of England to back his endeavour. He's also having an adulterous affair with his maidservant, Sajani (Nandita Das). To be discovered would bring death to all involved. They get discovered. Hijinks ensue.

That's it. That's the story. It's spun out to 90 minutes or so by dumping a moral dilemma on Moores' manservant, TK (Rahul Bose), whom Moores confides in. TK is thus left torn between loyalties: to his employer, and to his people and their way of life. The subtext here is helpfully spelled out in case anyone misses it, lingering on TK's conflicted face as he drives past groups of Indian nationalists while running errands for his boss.

In fact, everything is spelled out, at times painfully. Roache acquits himself well, but the rest of the cast clearly struggle with the awful dialogue, telling us exactly how they think and feel. Nandita Das, especially, gets rather short-changed by her lack of a role, and flaps about somewhat loose-endedly. It's a shame, because the film really is a feast for the eyes. Compositionally it's flawless, and the colour work is exceptional, allowing subtler tones to predominate while still showcasing the vivid paprika and saffron hues which bellow “India!” so forcefully. Push your way past that slick surface, though, and you find yourself in shallow, muddy water.

It rains at the end.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2008
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A sweeping period romance set in Colonial India.
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Director: Santosh Sivan

Writer: Cathy Rabin, Dan Verete

Starring: Linus Roache, Rahul Bose, Nandita Das, Jennifer Ehle, John Standing, Leopold Benedict, Lal Paul

Year: 2007

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: India

Festivals:

EIFF 2008
Tribeca 2008

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