The Black Hen
Moving Nepalese civil war drama from Min Bahadur Bham
Nepal's official selection for 2017's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Min Bahadur Bham's The Black Hen (Kalo Pothi) shows the impact of the country's civil war between left-wing Maoist rebels and the army through the experiences of two young friends.
Despite being on opposite sides of the class divide Prakash (Khadka Raj Nepali) and Kiran (Sukra Raj Rokaya) are as close as brothers and, when their beloved pet hen goes missing, they take advantage of a fragile ceasefire to find her. Discovering the animal has been sold to the next village, the boys attempt to raise the cash to buy her back but their knockabout antics are soon overwhelmed by the maelstrom of social uncertainty and violence that swirls around them.
There's a sharp, poignant juxtaposition between the recognisable innocence of childhood – all schoolyard games, name calling and boisterous energy – and the political unease that defines life for the adults in the community. Young actors Nepali and Rokaya are charming and watchable, an endearing dramatic (and often comedic) counterpoint to the social commentary that runs through this story.
Director Bham, who co-writes with Abinash Bikram Shah, trains his focus on the strict traditions and limited opportunities of rural life – a man speaks to a very young girl about her wedding, Prakash's frustrated older sister runs off to join guerrilla forces – as well as the heavily armed militia patrolling the hills and the rebel sermons intended to convert more to the uprising. While Prakash and Kiran initially remain removed from such events, they become increasingly impossible to ignore until a devastating final reel confrontation that marks the end of innocence.
While some of Bham's visual choices may seem heavy-handed in the face of such a weighty narrative, the use of extended slow-mo and dream sequences slowing down an already languorous viewing experience, The Black Hen is nevertheless a moving portrait of the effects of war on ordinary lives.
Selected release from Fri 9 Dec.