The Writer (2020) Film Review by Lisa Panzer
The Writer (2020)
Director, Writer, Producer: Mahesh Kumar
Cast: Sally Hassan, Robert Brotha Blaze Murray, Julie Chapin, and Zachary Seekins
Dubbing Artists: Jisha, Sam Mohan, Immanuel Moses, Senthil Kumar
Film Review by: Lisa Panzer
Hauntingly devised, Kumar’s multilayered, multimedia film, The Writer invites the viewer along on a quest of creativity – to follow a story about a story. It begins with a voice intoning, “Truth is fire. We can get close to it, but we can’t go through it…” as a drawing of large campfire flames is imbued by hand with red - drawing interest. Jill Rodriguez (Sally Hassan) is a comic illustrator of stories; serious ones. When presented with an unfinished, handwritten story from Sri Lanka, by her boyfriend (Zachery Seekins) her intrigue is ignited. Envisioned comic art unfolds a portion of the tale, however the question of what actually happened to the missing woman, Parvathy remains unanswered. Jill sets off on a journey to find a “captivating” ending. Along the way she is guided by a kind clairvoyant (Julie Chapin) who helps her tune deeper into her creative pulse, and also crosses paths with an insightful homeless man (Robert Brotha Blaze Murray) who asks for a cigarette. As the artist shares a smoke with the man, he shares a perspective of import. Her pursuit to complete the work continues into the darkness of night through the woods. Characters reveal their truths while she walks, the burning ember of her cigarette glowing larger and larger on the screen, as Jill draws towards the end of her search.
A delicious feast of visual allegory, Kumar’s cinematic exploration of material, evidence based truth and true spirit or essence in matters is vibrant, clever and catchy. Based on the writings of dissentient Tamil author Pudumaippithan (1906-1942), who was known for his thematic conflict between emotion and reason and exposing societal issues sans solutions. The Writer follows suit and may borrow from the Tamil writer (Pudumaippithan’s mother, who passed away when he was quite young, was named Parvathum, similar to the name of the missing woman in the film’s unfinished story - maybe coincidence), but the film’s originality and genius are without doubt. The interweaving of cleverly conceived comic art complete with subtle shadows and shading (Eastfist, Gyula Kunsagi), voice-over work, acting, staging, lighting, sound (Andrew Principe, Michael Competielle) and lovely musical compositions (C.J Bhogal and Jessie Bhogal) combine to create a powerful illustration. The fire trope including the campfire flame drawing, a keen shot of one fiery red leaf falling away from a gray branch then a refocus to reveal a cemetery, an emblematic burning (cigarette) ember, a campfire, a cellphone flashlight illuminating the dark, others ignite the imagination and hold attention.
Strong actors drive the dramatic pace of the piece. Sally Hassan imbues Jill with still water deep strength of purpose. When Jill’s boyfriend, nicely done by Zachery Seekins, cluelessly suggests she add superheroes to her work because that’s ‘in’, Hassan as Jill firmly yet evenly, without malice, lets him know that she draws what she likes (perhaps a nod to Pudumaippithan’s championing of women). Julie Chapin gives the ‘Sage’ a gentle air of wisdom and kindness, balancing the underlying power of knowledge. Robert Brotha Blaze Murray saturates the screen as the smoking Homeless man delivering a performance deluged with detail as he rocks side to side in the cold, rubbing his hands, his facial expressions, especially during his first puff and exhaling of cigarette, as he shares his character’s past through the smoke and the ever increasing aperture of his eyes growing almost imperceptibly wider, as he looks back in hindsight...
Running Time:18 minutes, 32 seconds