QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
A whimsical Georgian film asked viewers earlier this year: What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Aleksandre Koberidze, 2021). Now from India, we have a more literal answer, no less whimsical in its approach. When Manik (Chandan Sen) finds himself drawn away from the day-to-day doldrums of his mundane life — work, family duties, more work, hearing the complaints of his neighbours — he looks up and sees a cloud in the sky. The only problem is, no one else seems to see it.
At first I assumed Manik takes an umbrella with him everywhere because he wants to keep out of the sun. Kolkata is suffering from record temperature highs, piling on the stress he feels in his everyday work. It turns out the umbrella is actually in case of rain, as he sees an equally lonely cloud in the sky, following his every move. The final result is a small dose of magical realism, a medium dose of attentive city portraiture and a large dose of fanciful character study.
There is a touch of Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1989) to this story, but where the angels wanted to descend to earth to be with mortals, this mortal wants to shake off his coil and be with the clouds. The black-and-white aesthetic is not just a stylistic approach, but crucial to the way that Manik sees the world. Widescreen images and surround sound immerse us in Manik’s world, allowing him to stay in the foreground amidst endless hustle and bustle surrounding him. Colour would be overwhelming, while black-and-white keeps its cool distance.
It’s a contrast in temperament. While the world around Manik seems to be constantly in a state of flux, nothing can change his approach to life. He feels like a throwback: he carries no mobile phone, his job (unspecified) sees him sitting in front of an endless stack of papers, and he likes nothing better than tending to his rooftop garden. One image in particular sticks out: a television with nothing inside; used to frame his flowers and view them in a different light. It invites you to visit this world alongside Manik, expertly downplayed by Sen, all the more effective in his performance for the few times he allows joy to finally crack his otherwise deadpan visage.
Abhinandan Banerjee takes a symphonic, rhythmic approach to narrative, repeating images in the way composers repeat key motifs, building upon them differently each time, paying back a slow start by cleverly rewarding our attention. The music itself grows and changes with the film, starting with simple melodies before adding complexity in instrumentation and exploration. Occasional changes from black-and-white to colour again flip Wim Wenders’ script by seeing the world from the cloud’s perspective, creating a cruel contrast between the world of imagination and the world of reality.
It could be easy to take fun of Manik; to see his perspective as a truly blinkered one. He’s prone to being hoodwinked by fast-talking men and barely resists the harsh reproaches of the women in his life; whether it’s his landlady or even his own mother. But with the cloud, he allows himself to feel different. Filled with possibilities. There’s something rather beautiful in all that, even if it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. I guess we all look at the sky differently.
The Cloud & The Man plays in the First Feature Competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, running from 12th – 28th November.