Saturday, June 22, 2024

“THE SHAMELESS”

THE STORY – A seasoned sex worker falls in love with a young girl, with dire consequences.

THE CAST – Anasuya Sengupta & Omara Shetty

THE TEAM – Konstantin Bojanov (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 115 Minutes


Upon announcing the 2024 Cannes Film Festival lineup, Thierry Frémaux and his colleagues made sure to mention a certain resurgence of Indian cinema in the Official Selection, with one title in competition and two in Un Certain Regard. The latter section included “The Shameless,” the third fiction feature directed by Konstantin Bojanov, a Bulgarian filmmaker whose projects have been geographically eclectic: his fiction debut “Avé” (2011), which played in Cannes’ Critics Week, was shot in his home country, while the follow-up “Light Thereafter” (2017), which premiered in Rotterdam, told a story of obsession set between London and Paris, with a pre-fame Barry Keoghan playing the lead. For his third film, he traveled to India (which contributed to the funding alongside Bulgaria, France, Switzerland, and Taiwan), settling on a fictional approach after initially considering making a documentary. The movie was then shot in Nepal due to rising costs in India as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The story revolves around Renuka (Anasuya Sengupta), a seasoned prostitute who is fed up with being mistreated by men. In the opening sequence, she kills her client, who happens to be a police officer. As a result, she has to flee from Delhi and go into hiding, settling in a sex workers community in another town. While trying to make enough money to afford to get even further away, she meets local teenager Devika (Omara), whose mother is currently taking bids for her “first night.” Renuka is drawn to the girl’s innocence, and the attraction turns out to be mutual, even though Devika takes issue with Renuka’s blunt personality traits. And even bigger issues are knocking on the door since their illicit relationship is attracting all the wrong kinds of attention from within the community and elsewhere.

Per Bojanov’s own statements, the initial documentary project proved too complex because his plan – adapting four of the stories published in the 2009 travel book “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India” by William Dalrymple – would have required relocating to the country and shooting in three different languages. Within “The Shameless,” the lens comes across as an outsider’s view of the country through the formulaic narrative of the downtrodden, told without any real spark of imagination or energy. In spite of its title, the film is rather timid, and the lack of momentum makes the almost two-hour runtime feel much longer.

Particularly dispiriting, despite the valiant effort, is the fairly flat cinematography by Gabriel Lobos, who is based in Switzerland but is no stranger to international projects, having lensed Paraguay’s recent Oscar submission “Nothing But the Sun” for Aramí Ullón, among other things. None of that film’s vibrancy is present here as Lobos moves through the cramped locations without conveying the sense of physical and emotional claustrophobia the story appears to be calling for. Editor Tom Lin also struggles to get any genuine thrills out of the footage at his disposal, with the accumulation of clichés weighing down the material almost from the very first scene, setting up an arduous internal journey for the characters that doesn’t quite go anywhere thematically.

Amidst the doom and gloom, the two central performances are quietly effective. It is no surprise, in fact, that the Un Certain Regard jury chose to give Anasuya Sengupta the Performance Prize (shared with Abou Sangare for “The Story of Souleymane”). It is a historic win since she’s the first Indian performer to receive the award, effectively putting the spotlight on a talent that deserves wider exposure. Both at home (where she has so far supplemented her acting income by working as a production designer) and internationally. As Renuka, she exudes the raw and vibrant defiance the film is supposed to embody, making “The Shameless” a flawed but nonetheless intriguing calling card.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The chemistry between the two actresses makes most of their shared scenes come alive with genuine intensity.

THE BAD - The clichéd narrative and uninspired direction weigh down the film considerably.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>The chemistry between the two actresses makes most of their shared scenes come alive with genuine intensity.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The clichéd narrative and uninspired direction weigh down the film considerably.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"THE SHAMELESS"