Directed by Aneek Chaudhuri
Starring Tapan Mukherjee, Kinkini Sen, Diganta S. Nag
Short Film Review by Leonardo Goi
Aneek Chaudhuri’s Canvas of a Son should be hailed as an illuminating manifesto of the things to avoid when making a short film. It starts with an interesting premise – a young artist enters a platonic relationship with his stepmother and faces an Oedipus complex with his father – but it ultimately surrenders to crass self-referentialism, conjuring up a drama written and shot with a hyper-inflated lyrical style that kills the plot long before the end of the feature’s 22 minutes.
Not that, plot-wise, there was a lot to kill to begin with. Notwithstanding the inclusion of two other characters – the father (Tapan Mukherjee) and the stepmother (Kinkini Sen) – Chaudhuri’s work is essentially an inner monologue narrated by the young son-turned-artist, Diganta S. Nag. But just like Nag’s face is barely shown, his personal account of the platonic love he feels for a stunning and young stepmother is also somewhat obfuscated.
And here comes Canvas of a Son’s first major problem – its script. The narrator’s account of his relationship with the young woman is indissolubly bound with his relationship with artistic creation, and the screenplay waxes lyrically about the idea: “I don’t think there can be anything more inspiring than motherhood.” But if the interplay between the two notions does make room for some interesting lines, especially when Chaudhuri addresses the relationship between nakedness, art and motherly love, the script does very little else. The artist’s stream of consciousness slowly but inexorably turns into a collection of cold, abstract elucubrations about love and art, which jettison all hopes of establishing any long-lasting connection with the audience.
Whether or not this ought to be blamed on the poor subtitles (typos and mistakes abound, whenever they can be seen, as the font chosen for the text is unnervingly small), the monologue ultimately reads like a melodramatic poem, juxtaposed with long takes of the artist painting, or reminiscing his love for his stepmother while caressing a rice field.
Which leads to the short’s second major flaw – the direction. For a movie about the struggles of a young artist, it feels somewhat frustrating to see the whole drama turning into something that would fit better in a modern art museum than in a movie theatre. Chaudhuri opens and closes Nag’s monologue with silent dance choreographies, staggers it with long mute fights between the three characters, and constantly moves between black and white flashbacks and modern-day takes shot in colour.
But while the non-linear narrative makes for some interesting experiments, the juxtaposition of different visual devices, rhythms and styles ultimately turn the whole drama into a quintessentially self-referential account of one’s own artistic experience – which sadly remains as flat as the canvasses on which the young artist paints.
Watch our exclusive Filmmaker Interview with director Aneek Chaudhuri below...