THE POOL’s NY Premiere was a great time. It was Wednesday night at the Film Forum in NYC and the party after was across the street at Steak Frites.
From The New York Times:
In “The Pool,” a recurrent image that develops into a symbol of the gap between affluence and poverty shows the waiflike Indian protagonist, Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan), perched in a tree, gazing longingly at a private swimming pool on the other side of a hedge. A skinny, 18-year-old man-child who longs to dive into the water, Venkatesh ekes out a living cleaning hotel rooms and selling plastic bags on the street with his 11-year-old sidekick, Jhangir (Jhangir Badshah). The shimmering pool, in which no one seems to swim, is a window onto a world he can hardly imagine.
This calm, neorealist film, directed and photographed by the documentarian Chris Smith (“American Movie,” “The Yes Men,” “American Job”), blurs the line between fiction and reality. As the characters, who have the same first names as the actors playing them, amble around Panaji, the capital of Goa, you come to see them more as people living their lives than as a writer’s inventions.
The screenplay, by Mr. Smith and Randy Russell, is based on Mr. Russell’s short story, set in Iowa and relocated for the film to Goa, the former Portuguese territory on the west coast of India. The tale’s smooth transition from one continent to another attests to the universality of its themes.
Venkatesh cautiously approaches Nana (Nana Patekar), the wealthy owner of the property with the pool, and volunteers to help him with his gardening. Over the following weeks he becomes Nana’s paid, part-time assistant. The wary employer-employee relationship gradually deepens into a mentor-protégé bond in which the rich man offers to be Venkatesh’s benefactor, if he will move to Mumbai and go to school.
The young man also befriends Nana’s daughter, Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan), a bored, spoiled rebel who detests her father for reasons that are never explained. After initially resisting Venkatesh’s friendly overtures, she joins him and Jhangir as they explore the city and, on one jaunt, visit an abandoned fort overlooking the harbor. This sequence is one of the most beautiful in a movie whose gorgeous high-definition photography lends the semi-tropical landscape a glowing luminescence. The lilting soundtrack by Didier Leplae and Joe Wong conjures the city’s past as a Portuguese outpost.
In the manner of a Satyajit Ray film, “The Pool” avoids melodrama, the better to capture the texture of Venkatesh’s vagabond life. Venkatesh tells several personal stories, the scariest of which recounts his kidnapping by a New Zealand tourist who, intending to take him overseas as a servant, held him captive for three days until he escaped.
At first “The Pool” suggests an inspirational fable in which a selfless older man rescues a youth from the streets. But just when you expect the film to turn into a predictable, rose-colored valentine to opportunity and hope, it goes to a deeper, more ambiguous place. Contemplating poverty from Venkatesh’s perspective, it understands that his pursuit of upward mobility will require a terrifying leap of faith.
Although its later scenes feel rushed and frustratingly ambiguous, “The Pool” recognizes the ways poverty can trap its victims into a kind of eternal childhood and how, psychologically, it can be more comfortable to stay put than to move forward. Although Venkatesh is seven years older than his sidekick, emotionally they are the same age. Seizing opportunity would mean growing up. And growing pains can be excruciating.
Here are some photos from the event.