Oct 2, 2019

24FPS @ LFF 2019: Jallikattu

Dir: Lijo Jose Pellissery
Years ago, films were often referred to as motion pictures. Today we call them movies. While stillness can be hugely effective and has its own important place in cinema, even the shorthand we use for it recognises that this is, at its very roots, a kinetic medium. Jallikattu is nothing if not kinetic.

Jallikattu captures the chase to capture and kill an escaped buffalo which has rampaged through a small Indian village, after escaping slaughter. Growing numbers of men join the pursuit, which becomes more frantic and violent by the hour.

Lijo Jose Pellissery’s film is a restless thing. It begins with a loud ticking sound. This carries on through the film’s first five or so minutes, each click cueing an edit, the film building momentum and rhythm as it builds, in tiny snatches, a picture of the bustle of everyday life in this poor village, most especially at its meat market. From there, Jallikattu hardly slows down. Dialogue, when present, flies at 100  miles an hour as men fight among themselves about who gets to kill the buffalo and keep the spoils. There is also minutiae, but it flies by so fast that it’s tough to catch, say, the significance of a conversation about stolen Sandalwood or the origins of a brutal and extended fight that occurs in the third act.

While it is fast throughout, that doesn’t compromise Pellissery’s imagery, which is vivid, brutal and stunning. Massed torches in the forest, figures silhouetted against fires made to contain their prey and the men themselves, ever more animalistic in their pursuit of the beast, are just some of the images that will stick with you here. More than that though, it’s the energy, the primal feel of the film, that pulls it through.

The downside to Jallikattu’s single-minded, single tone, approach is that even at just over 90 minutes, it gets to a point at which the sheer relentlessness of it becomes first a little wearing and eventually almost absurd (a closing sequence which, perhaps unintentionally, draws on the great opening scene of Jackie Chan’s Dragon Lord). It doesn’t help that Pellissery has little to say beyond the very obvious parallels he draws between man and beast when either can be hunter or hunted. This is rammed home even before the film’s very last shot, which feels like a ‘for dummies’ version of that message, just in case it hasn’t already been battered into us.

Jallikattu is admirable for its sheer verve and energy, as well as its brutally beautiful imagery, but it needs to have more than one gear to become more than just a breathless chase movie.

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