Movie Review: Raju.
Director: Max Zahle
Reviewed: 18 February 2012
jamesintexas rating--*** 1/2 (4 Stars = Highest Rating)
A nominee and the frontrunner (in my opinion) for the 2012 Best Short Film Oscar, Raju dives into the chaos of Calcutta and its inner workings as he chronicles a loving German couple's decision to adopt a young boy. Sarah and Jan Fischer (Julia Richter and Wotan Wilke Mohring) undertake a sojourn into an orphanage to adopt a young Indian child Raju (Krish Gupta), and by all accounts, they are a loving, dedicated couple. During the several days spent in Kolkata before traveling back to Germany, Raju disappears, the couple are pushed to the breaking point, and the underpinnings of international adoption, poverty, and bureaucracy are all explored.
Things that stuck with me:
Tracking shots of the streets of Kolkata as seen through the cab.
Raju's head dangling out of the window of the cab taking it all in.
Pain registering in Mohring's face as Jan contemplates titanic questions.
The brushing of teeth in a hotel bathroom.
The knockout final shots.
One reviewer noted that this film feels like one third of a greater feature film, and I'm not sure if that is something that should be taken as a criticism. Yes, there is a more structured, narratively dense, and backstory rich story here, but I'm not sure that should be the way to approach it. The length (24 minutes) involves the audience quickly, shows us a shorthand between the couple that speaks volumes, and ultimately filled me with dread because I knew that decisions must be made. And made quickly.
There is a distancing from the couple since the structure of the short film is to keep us light on backstory. Additionally, the score at times feels Babel-like, which is not necessarily a pejorative, but it just feels familiar.
In focusing on this relationship, Zahle opens up questions of identity, poverty, and morality. What is the right thing to do? And, what does doing the right thing mean if you destroy yourself or your loving relationship in the process?