Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival DAY 5: Decoding the complexities in Irrfan's The Song of Scorpions
Richard Linklater has a long sustaining relationship with the road. The Before Sunrise series has the road as a necessary setting to the chemistry in the young lovers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). We see, over the years, the road taking their romance just a little bit forward every time we meet them.
His latest film, Last Flag Flying is a bit difficult to categorise. There is a sprinkling of everything; the road where memories of the war are nudged, a critique of America as it is today, and a satirical take of institutions that gurgle vague concepts on heroism.
Here's what I could make of the plot of Last Flag Flying: Doc has just lost a son killed in a war that is waged by America overseas. He and his old war mates Sal (played by Bryan Cranston, Walter White of Breaking Bad) and Mueller come together after not having met for years for a journey across America.
Doc’s son’s body, which is housed in a large cumbersome coffin, needs to be taken to his home state for burial, and all four of them — men alive and dead — traverse America in cars, trucks and trains. They find themselves remembering parts of their selves and weighing the war mistakes of Vietnam, where they were together.
There are moments of irony that stand out; for example the military escort and a dear friend of the dead officer who states that he joined the military because he is from Oakland, where life is unpredictable thanks to a rampant gun culture.
He is a man who the three war veterans are compelled to take as their escort because if they do not, the young officer will be sent back to Baghdad.
There are several instances like these that make the film about America, cold and vastly driven by its numerous wars. Bryan Cranston brings in a compulsive sense of humour but it is difficult to not imagine him springing a surprise the next minute by cooking some meth as Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg. The film leaves you somewhere in the middle of the road but then it cant be easy for any director to follow up to a film like Boyhood.
The other film running to a packed house that I managed to catch was The Song of Scorpions, which was my second ‘impossible to categorise’ kind of a film. It did, however, take me to a nicely shot, brown and raw Rajasthan.
Nooran is a scorpion healer — a gift she has inherited from her grandmother; she hums the tune that pacifies the poison of the scorpion. Camel trader Aadam (an interesting name symbolising everyman), is torn apart by obsession, jealousy and love for the woman, Nooran. Aadam does everything he can to get Nooran as his wife, including silencing her song. But an interesting character I was left wanting more of was Aadam’s friend, Munna, a man who is a ploy in the twisted scheme thought of by Aadam.
There is a mythology and tradition — especially about healing — that layers the narrative. But the dialect and accent of the film left me slightly confused. The desert landscape is one of the characters of the film, and a scene almost at the end, where Farahani seduces Irrfan with a new knowledge of treachery, is worth mentioning. This too was a film not quite easy to discuss immediately after viewing, maybe more time could have me find a more decisive opinion on the film.