An aged activist is being charged with abetting suicide in this exceptional feature debut that explores class, society and politics through the absurdity of legality.
Cast: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi, Veenah Naair
Plot: When an ageing activist is arrested, the lives of the accused, the lawyers, and the judge intertwine to reveal bigotry that underscores the judicial system.
Awards: Won Orrizonti Award – Best Film & Best Debut Film (Venice)
International Sales: Memento Films
Subject Matter: Moderate – Judicial System; Politics & Society: Class Divide
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
While I wasn’t particularly enamoured with Chaitanya Tamhane’s sophomore feature, The Disciple (2020), which I thought was overwrought and one-note, Court very much resonated with me from the get-go with its stately filmmaking style that is a fine balance between restraint and immersion.
Culturally, it features a rich tapestry of different Indian characters who represent their class types, milieu and struggles: a middle-class male lawyer with a car who occasionally dines in restaurants with his family; a working-class female lawyer who takes the train to work and cooks for her family when she’s back home; and a woman in poverty who must make one of many long-distance trips to the courthouse.
The latter’s husband, a manhole worker, was found dead, and is the subject of a bizarre, long-drawn court case. The accused, an aged activist, is charged with abetting suicide, leaving him and his lawyer bewildered as to whether this is political persecution at play.
“On what charges was he arrested?”
Through the absurdity of legality, Court explores class, society and politics in a country that is depicted as fearful of hard truths, where lies and fabrications paper the cracks of a flawed democracy.
Devoid of sentimentalism whether through the calibrated performances or the total avoidance of non-diegetic music, Tamhane has made a film that is not just thematically stirring but structurally intriguing.
He shows us the lives of these characters outside of the courtroom in a number of self-contained vignettes, and leaves us with a perception-changing curveball of an epilogue.
Despite its deliberate pacing, Tamhane’s mise-en-scene is almost always lively, except in the courtroom, where he makes humorous the tedium of legal verbosity.