Eye Test review: Restraint could have made this National Award-winning short film moving experience

Anupam Kant Verma

June 05, 2018 09:56:58 IST

Sudha Padmaja Francis’ directorial debut Eye Test is a 15-minute short film that recently won the National Award for Cinematography in the Non Feature category. Her film delves into the most truly cinematic of subjects, ie, memory to trace the outline of a mother-daughter relationship using an eye test as the catalyst for the narrative. It is a tone poem that often plunges into long intervals filled with sweeping shots where the camera appears to float through space. In trying to recreate for the screen the experience of reminiscence, the film conjures beautiful images that bagged it the national film accolade.

Sudha Padmaja Francis during the making of Eye Test. Twitter

Sudha Padmaja Francis during the making of Eye Test. Twitter

As Nivedita checks in to a clinic for a routine eye test, she is besieged by memories of her childhood spent with her single mother. That, in essence, is the plot of the film. The viewer is pulled through the mesh of her memories that swim up to her mind’s surface in a freely associative manner. Throughout, Francis employs the idea of seeing as a metaphor for engaging with the subject. The eye as a recorder that is turned on for the majority of our lives, constantly swallowing up reality, only for the mind to throw up shards of those memories at the slightest prodding.

Francis seemingly allows the camera to acquire a life of its own. It is her earnest attempt at mimicking the randomness one associates with memory. There is an informed recklessness to the camerawork. But even while the camera wafts around carefree, its subjects — mother and daughter — navigate their lives as well as a culture bound to the notion of a man as the provider of the household would allow them to. Nivedita prances about the village mingling with the other children. Sometimes, she walks in to the house to witness her mother in the throes of a song and at other moments, finds her sobbing alone. Francis simply wishes to show the day to day lives lead by a mother and daughter living alone in a quiet house in a Kerala village. The ideas, insofar as they are explored, are given agency to float around as they please, the director content with leaving it to the viewer to engage deeper with the film by latching onto them.

The lush countryside pours a wondrous atmosphere into the film. Eye Test becomes a sensorium you walk into and can feel yourself laving in. The wind and the bush and the sea and the sand overwhelm the senses. Francis succeeds in crafting an experience that allows an observer to engage with the material that goes into making the memories held so dearly by the protagonist. But there are instances where one can notice the director getting carried away by the sheer splendour of the shots. In trying to create frame after frame that can easily grace bedroom walls, an overload of sensory indulgence begins to infect the film, therefore distracting from Francis’ effort to mapping memory. Restraint and caution could have gone a long way in turning this exercise into a truly moving cinematic experience.

Nivedita’s inner and outerworlds comprise the majority of the film. Her memories are full of intimate moments where the camera remains closer to the characters. Her present finds her in the midst of a world she must navigate through on her own. Francis fittingly employs apposite camerawork to convey these ideas. The performers, meanwhile, remain strong through the snatches and snippets in which their lives are presented to the audience. Gestures and body language convey their feelings most articulately; words aptly taking a backseat when dropping headlong into memories.

Eye Test is a strong debut effort by a filmmaker whose uncompromising vision benefits with a cinematic dialect that is steadfastly visual. Francis manages to extract and extrapolate ideas from frames lush with nature and its overwhelming power of self expression provided the right artist. It gives voice and a quiet, gentle tribute to the relationships that, in truth, keep the world spinning on its axis without making a ruckus about it.

Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 10:10 AM