Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The painter arrives, a day late, and then after collapsing becomes, well, 'the late painter'. He's in Charu's flat when it happens and she becomes discomfited, agitated, even panicked as she tries to secure aid for him. 'He', because she didn't ask his name. Who does?

While Geetanjali Thapa plays the central role the star is Mumbai - director Kamal KM has the city bustling, beautiful - the towering apartment complexes on the link road, the cramped confines of a tuk tuk, the bustle of train stations and the town squares where men wait for casual labour, roving and roaming far and wide across the vast and populous conurbation as Charu tries to identify the painter.

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The more she searches, the more she asks, the more we find ourselves asking. Questions of identity become ever more important, of motivation, as Charu puts her own life on hold to ask questions about this stranger. Around her the city, always the city, and her housemates and her neighbours and her interviewer for a job and the people around her and the people around them and the people around them until, again, the city.

Well shot, from fixed cameras in taxis and tuk tuks to long shots of Charu in crowds of casual labourers and tight shots of Charu in other crowds and against the slum horizon and we keep watching her searching and we keep wondering. There's an extended sequence in the slums, but even from the off the focus on location is significant - as Charu tries to find help we're given a tour of her building, the constant sounds of construction opposite, other residents contacting the Society President (whom one assumes is the big wheel of the Residents' Committee), whose name is on the lease - place, face, status, station, the accoutrements of what might be gentrification or modernisation and the signifiers of communities and those within them.

There is a moment in the office of the investigating officer that is immediately reminiscent of another human story in another big city - Softly One Saturday Morning. As the sun streams unimpeded through the window-blind, some of the screen washes out white and the subtitles become unreadable. It may not be deliberate, but as the police and Charu struggle with each other's incomprehension it is apposite. With no records, no clue, no identity, the ability of bureacracy to obliterate humanity is made textual - if it isn't written down it might as well not have happened, and if those records are destroyed or lost... The inversely-obfuscated subtitles would be testament if we could see them, and even if an accidental lacunae it still lends weight.

The subtitling is well done, with the possible (though thematically justifiable) aforementioned exception. There are a few moments where there isn't subtitling, and a few where there's more than mere translation - the painter is hired through a "contractor", but the subtitle calls him a "labour agent". The distinction in the roles adds to ID's focus on, well, identity. It's also brilliantly located in a place, in a time. William Gibson observed that "The future is already here, it's just differently distributed," and as our protagonist searches for a man with only his photo on her iPhone among the detritus-filled canals and shanty-towns it's evident.

There's a dry technical argument about artistic merit that suggests that the more consistent interpretations a given work has the 'better' it might be, but there's a related one that suggests the more ways that something is about something the stronger its message is. ID manages both, subtly, confidently, capably. As Charu searches for identity the film itself asks questions about what that means. Ostensibly simple but brave enough to give its audience the time to understand, ID knows what it's looking for, and you should seek it out.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2013
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Wen the man painting her house dies with no I.D., a young woman journeys into the slums to try and find his family, discovering a different world.


EIFF 2013

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