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Kapadia is hot favourite of critics, but will 'Seed of the Sacred Fig' end her Cannes quest?

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New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) Hours before the moment of reckoning arrives for Payal Kapadia's 'All We Imagine As Light' at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, and punters have a field day trying to predict what the 38-year-old director from Mumbai will bring back home, she can at least bask in the sunshine of praise lavished on her by some of the most revered critics.

'All We Imagine...' will be up against the sympathy wave for the Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof's 'Seed of the Sacred Fig', which earned an eight-year jail term for its maker, who had to flee his home country to escape the secret police, which apparently has already incarcerated the movie's two lead actors.

Be that as it may, Kapadia has a lot of pleasurable reading to do. Here's a sample of what the international critics had to say after the screening of 'All We Imagine...' ended with an eight-minute standing ovation from the audience.

Peter Bradshaw of 'The Guardian' gave five stars to the film and started his review with these words: "There is a freshness and emotional clarity in Payal Kapadia's Cannes competition selection, an enriching humanity and gentleness which coexist with fervent, languorous eroticism and finally something epiphanic in the ... mysterious final moments."

His judgment at the end of the review: "It is both dreamlike and like waking up from a dream. This is a glorious film."

Fionnuala Halligan of the 'ScreenDaily' is equally generous with her praise. She opens with the comment: "All cities are crossroads, transitory beacons of artificial light which attract visitors and those who stay forever but who will always remain visitors."

And then, Halligan pans to Kapadia's metropolis. "Mumbai is its own special case; something that Payal Kapadia eloquently pleads in 'All We Imagine As Light'," she writes. "It's a light for audiences to surrender to, a realist-infused story of three women broadly representing three generations in a city where their hold is fragile, where their breaths barely leave a mist of a trace."

Foreign critics are clearly transfixed by the film's portrait of Mumbai. Stephen Saito points to the relationship between Mumbai and Kapadia's characters when he writes in 'The Moveable Fest', "... the unrequited love between those living in Mumbai and the city as it currently exists can stir up just as much passion when an urban centre can promise so much and can offer so little in return."

He concludes by noting: "Where so many can be overlooked, Kapadia is able to see into every window, tenderly finding the soul in people and places losing touch with their humanity."

And just in case you have been wondering what the title of the movie seeks to convey, the Variety critic, Jessica Kiang, has the answer: "The film's title is only ever obliquely explained, in a story someone tells of a factory worker so exploited by his workplace's gruelingly long shifts that at times he could barely remember what the daylight looked like."

Will the three women at the centre of the film meet the same fate? Kiang hopes not and she concludes with these lines: "The light is all around them, and if they have to imagine it, it's only because they cannot see it emanates from within."

Jordan Mintzer of 'The Hollywood Reporter' contextualises the film for a global audience and writes about how the film is a world apart from standard Bollywood fare and yet has certain elements of it.

'All We Imagine As Light', Mintzer writes, "is about as far as you can get from the stylistics of Bollywood's masala musicals, even if there is one short and memorable impromptu dance scene toward the end."

But then, as he points out, "its story of women looking for love and happiness in a calamitous world brings to mind those popular Mumbai-set movies in which heroines suffer plenty of heartbreak before things eventually work out."

Writing in the Joy Sauce, New York-based filmmaker and writer Siddhant Adlakha declares: "Payal Kapadia's 'All We Imagine As Light' is a luminous portrait of Indian womanhood, and announces the arrival of a major dramatic voice."

Comparing it with Kapadia's 2021 docu-fiction, 'A Night of Knowing Nothing', which won the L'Oeil d'Or at Cannes in 2021, but was never released in India, Adlakha says her debut feature film "is gentler and more intimate than her incendiary documentary", but it told through "similar dreamlike portraitures, and a similar eye for how India's political fabric nestles its way into each aspect of daily life. The result is a film that moves the needle forward, for depictions of women in Indian cinema, by leaps and bounds."

The 'IndieWire' critic, Sophie Monks Kaufman, gives the film 'Grade: A' and she writes: "The intimate way that women move through a city sprawl gives Payal Kapadia's drama about two nurses in Mumbai a deeply romantic gauze. This romance has to do with the way that people occupy their space in this world, whether alone or sharing it with others."

In a few hours, the world will get to know how much of the enthusiasm of the critics is shared by the jury, which is headed by the 'Barbie' hitmaker, Greta Gerwig.



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