New Directors / New Films which runs March 15th through the 26th is a festival of emerging international filmmakers here in NYC each year. We'll cover a few titles staring with a nightmare journey in India...
Do you ever feel like you're missing something no matter how closely you pay attention? Not being well versed in Hinduism, it's difficult to make many inferences from the use of the goddess Durga in this film's title though calling her "Sexy" was quite a controversial move. I'm not sure why given that a quick bit of research reveals that she's a supreme goddess which sounds damn sexy to me...
This feeling of otherness, as a Westerner watching, is mirrored if only slightly within the film. The two leads, a man Kabeer (Kannan Nayar) and a woman named Durga (Rajshri Deshpande, from Angry Indian Godesses, who has been the subject of threats from right wing activists for her involvement), are also out of their element. Their relationship is never explicitly stated but it seems likely that she's pregnant with his child and that they're on the run. The man speaks at least some Malayalam but the woman is from a different Indian region with no language skills for the unfriendly leering terrain she finds herself in.
We must backtrack. Forgive me. Calling anyone but the director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan a "lead" in this mysterious rattling movie is a stretch. At its best his movie conjures up weirdly startling imagery that works like a Malayalam homage to David Lynch in nightmare Inland Empire mode. At its worst the repetition makes the experience loud-sigh aggravating; Sexy Durga is only 85 minutes long but feels at least half again as long.
The feature consists of two seemingly unrelated threads. The movie opens with an inventively lensed religious ritual and pageant which the film returns to at unexpected times: pierced men are hung on hooks, make barefoot walks over hot coals, and the subsequent travelling procession draws huge crowds for its feverish spectacle. The bulk of the film, though, is devoted to the interminable Sisyphean struggle of the man and the woman trying to get to a train station. Every scene consists of essentially the same exact beats: the man and the woman express fear in the backseat of a truck full of criminals who they've hitched a ride with. Each time the truck stops, for any reason, the man and the woman consider escaping. They never quite do. At least not for long. Sexy Durga avoids clarity at nearly all times but for one nightmarish inferral; these two will never reach their destination.
While the film isn't lacking in ambition, or hard to shake visuals, its repetitions proved too much to bear. If the religious visuals and geographic conflicts imparted some deeper meaning, I couldn't personally decipher them. That's on me but regardless, you need more than a pervasive sense of dread and occasional jolts of visual panache to make a great film. A screenplay would be a very fine place to start.
Here's the teaser for the film festival itself. You can buy tickets here