A funny, sensitive drama delivered with grace, sincerity and charm by director Chris Smith
This likable little film has been on the shelf awaiting distribution for so long that it predates the bigger, flashier, somewhat similarly-themed Slumdog Millionaire: it first won prizes on the festival circuit way back in 2007. This is a bit of a dizzying gap, but matters little to this film in practice, since it tells a tale so sweetly elemental and classic that it could pretty much have happened along at any point in storytelling history. And any part of the world: though the short story on which the film is based is set in Iowa, director Chris Smith has transposed the action to a lushly shot Goa.
Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) is a self-sufficient eighteen-year-old who divides his time between working and hustling for cash in the city of Panjim, along with his ballsy younger sidekick Jhangir (Jhangir Badshah), and visiting his family back in their home village. Venkatesh’s symbolic equivalent of the Slumdog prize plot is a gorgeous holiday home he passes on his laundry-delivering route. It’s occupied by a mysteriously morose middle-aged loner and his teenage daughter; to Venkatesh’s bafflement, they never take advantage of its beautiful swimming pool. Through delicately observed, gently funny dialogue scenes (remarkably achieved with no shared language between director and most cast members), the boys grow closer to the family, their riches, and their secret shared pain.
Smith has previously been fêted for his funny, sensitive documentaries (American Job, American Movie, Home Movie and The Yes Men), and this film has a similar authenticity and sense of fun; he’s a filmmaker who delights in the little quirks of human interaction. The message that money doesn’t guarantee happiness nor poverty inevitably erase potential won’t be mindblowing to that many viewers - unless George Osborne should find himself with an afternoon off and an arthouse hankering - but it’s delivered here with grace, sincerity and charm.
Selected release from Fri 16 Nov