Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"To its great merit, the film does not go for romanticizing or exploiting this child's life-threatening dilemma and the impossibly difficult decision-making process can be felt throughout."

Nominated for six Academy Awards - Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score and Best Supporting nods to Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel - Lion is a reminder of the perceptible and often disregarded fact that people want to - and can - help each other in need.

Ominous and structured with fairy tales in mind, Lion does not give us an elevated position of knowledge. Allies and enemies do not announce themselves as such and the film profits from the stormy ambiguity.

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Think back! What were the coordinates of your life as a five-year-old? What local specialty did you like to eat? Where did you play? Did you mispronounce an animal? The nearest town? Your own name?

In Lion, directed by Garth Davis, memories are the only tools available to the hero for regaining a sense of origin. Adapted from the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, the screenplay by Luke Davies attaches us firmly to little five-year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who gets lost on a dangerous, life-altering adventure. After falling asleep on an empty train, while accompanying his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) on a local nighttime job to make some money, the boy finds himself days later, all alone, far, far away from home in Calcutta, where nobody speaks his language. He speaks Hindi, they speak Bengali.

When his attempts to get home fail, he joins an encampment of homeless children in the train station who offer him a piece of cardboard to sleep on. Saroo at every moment has to think on his feet and the audience has to catch up with each new circumstance. To its great merit, the film does not go for romanticizing or exploiting this child's life-threatening dilemma and the impossibly difficult decision-making process can be felt throughout. Who are these men taking children away? Is it better to run or stay put?

A woman acting friendly asks him if he understands Hindi, and Saroo is longing to communicate. He tells her that his mother's job is to carry rocks. The stranger takes him home and gives him a pungent orange drink and a bath. She could be the witch from Hansel and Gretel or a fairy godmother. A "good man" comes by, and we are left to interpret his touch, as well as the line that "he (Saroo) is exactly what they are looking for."

A dream sequence that reunites Saroo with his mother at the stone quarry conjures up the same desperate beauty of imaginary wish fulfillment as does the ending of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl. Whereas pale-golden butterflies haunt his past, a found silver spoon will decide what lies ahead. A fellow orphan in the orphanage where he stays for a while sees "buying a watch" as the extent to which a plan for the future is possible.

Salvation does arrive in the shape of Nicole Kidman as Sue Brierley, who, in a marvelous scene, makes the strongest plea for adoption I have seen on screen. Sue and her husband John (David Wenham) give Saroo a new life in Hobart, Tasmania in 1987. "I'll always listen, always," she promises the child.

Later, they adopt another boy, Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav), who, right from the start, has more trouble adapting. He screams, hits the TV and himself. We can only imagine what he must have been through. The relationships remain appropriately complicated and always loving.

Twenty years forward, Saroo, now played by Dev Patel - with the help of a sweet taste memory, a girlfriend named Lucy played by Rooney Mara, the magic of Google Earth, some luck, and a push from Mnemosyne - comes full circle. We are left to deal with the possibility of a return to a place that may no longer be there or never really existed in the first place.

Answers to half-forgotten questions fill in the blank puzzle pieces. Lion roars, long after the film ends, if you let it.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2017
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An Indian man who was adopted by an Australian couple as a boy heads off to find his real family.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Garth Davis

Writer: Luke Davies, based on the book by Saroo Brierley

Starring: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, Divian Ladwa, Sachin Joab

Year: 2016

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK, Australia, US


London 2016

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