THE NINE MUSES (Dir. John Akomfrah, 2010, UK)

A video essay or an experimental film?

John Akomfrah’s masterly analysis of immigration is a video essay that fluently mixes archive footage with mythological musings. Although it might be useful for critics to label this as an experimental work, the emotional impact of the narrative journey which is based on Homer’s Odyssey, resonated with me on a personal level – this is because my parents are immigrants and part of a South Asian diaspora. At times the wintry Alaskan landscapes juxtaposed to readings of the Odyssey makes everything seem as though it is part of a strange science fiction film. What impressed me the most was Akomfrah’s sensitivity to the process of immigration that took place in the late 50s and onwards. The immigrant experience is depicted as a largely dehumanising one in which strong feelings of displacement and estrangement prevail. Simultaneously, this is a nostalgic work that draws on the personal memories of director John Akomfrah, thus the political dimensions at work find notable parallels in Britain today. Nevertheless, the non linear deconstructive narrative style makes this a challenging work that would defy any attempts at filmic categorisation. Above all, The Nine Muses is a work of real ideological imagination and demands repeated viewings before one can fully appreciate the complexities of the politics at work.

THE ELEMENTS TRILOGY – Directed by Deepa Mehta (Fire, 96 / Earth, 98 / Water, 05)

Director Deepa Mehta’s elements trilogy is arguably one of the key works of Indian cinema. Water, the final film in the trilogy, deals with the plight of Hindu widows in colonial India during the emergence of Gandhi as a leader. In the final sequence, Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) takes Chuyia (Sarala Kariyawasam), the child widow, to the train station so that she can meet Gandhi. Overwhelmed by his humility, Shakuntala races madly along the train platform and manages to pass Chuyia into the arms of Narayan (John Abraham). As the train moves away into the distance, the camera holds on Shakuntala’s paralysed figure. Change has certainly arrived but the laws of patriarchy remain static. A poignant ending to what is Mehta’s greatest achievement as a director.