QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Llango Ram’s family drama is actually one of the most original comedies in some time. It involves a Sri Lankan family who find the patriarch’s hard-on is still throbbing in his pants, despite otherwise being clearly…dead. Fearing for their image, the family do what they can to blanket the man, and to buy themselves some time in the hope of diffusing the erection. What follows is a series of sketches. The characters grow more exasperated the more they realise that it is almost impossible to get rid of the unexpected physical reaction. And with their neighbour Kamala nosing around, the family need to do something before a family tragedy becomes family gossip.
One of the strengths of the film is its wackiness. It dances to an unpredictable rhythm, yet thanks to Llango Ram’s economic direction, not a single visual gag is wasted.It also gives the finished work a gloriously singular quality to it. Tentigo is not a dumb film either.
One of the sons laments the years he squandered squabbling with his father, when they should have been playing in the park. He stands beside a very different father, one a doctor is reluctant to sign off as “dead” because of the large penis in the pants. Electing to slap the organ down with a bat, the doctor is unable to squash it down, leaving the family to cart the body off in a rickshaw and hope for the best. The chief monk, a humourless stick-in-the-mud, offers them no answers either. And then there’s the option of chanting, which the family consider doing in the hope of deflating the throb.
Impeccable comic timing ensures the jokes hit their marks, and despite what some of the undertones might suggest, the film is tastefully made. None of the characters makes a sex joke. A sole “man-jumps-out-of-the-coffin” joke is unnecessarily crass, but by and large, this is an uproarious hoot. The sight of the throb (possibly a cucumber, or another vegetable hidden beneath the trousers) is never short of a quick chortle. Armed with a never-say-die attitude, the family the corpse from spot to spot searching for an answer. Once the erection has been severed, they can move on to the funeral.
There’s a great scene in which the family huddles together in their kitchen, frowning fervently at the woman traipsing through their garden, and unbeknownst to them, their body language demonstrates the great love they have kept hidden from both the public and themselves for some time. Like a true community, they stand beside each other, despite the ludicrousness of the scenario, and watch a woman free from turmoil stride around the property they have paid for.
The camera angles are sparky, without being too particularly ambitious, but there’s often someone running in a wayward direction in the back of a shot. Ram is clever enough to realise that the heft of the film – a funny, fluorescent, styled exercise that puts the deceased father front and centre – belongs on the shoulders of the actors, each of them poised to work on the ensemble. All of these elements are assembled by Ram, who puts his creative energy into a story that doesn’t feel like comic set pieces uneasily glued together.
The one liners always relate to the purpose of the film, and the female characters are very well established, serving as more than just window dressing for the male actors to oggle at. There is a little bit too much going on, for too long, but when the characters finally reach their point of destination, it feels well earned. The ending is crucial and hair-tinglingly charged, and the laughs are carefully delivered. But the film never forgets the heart of the story. It’s not about death, but about love.
Tentigo just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.