'Labor of Love': Venice Review

Labor of Love Still
Salaam Cinema
Strong pictorial qualities evaporate like wet footprints in the tedium of a stretched-out Indian art film sans dialogue

Hell is where the day shift and the night shift never meet

A sensitive first feature by short filmmaker and painter Aditya Vikram Sengupta, Labor of Love (Asha Jaoar Majhe) is a will o’ the wisp art piece that seems more interested in beautifully photographing the texture of concrete walls and the wonder of oil frying in a pan than in telling a story. Sporting only two characters and no real dialogue, the result is inevitably a tedious watch as 80 minutes crawl by uneventfully, until the last scene gives meaning to it all. Sengupta’s subject is the inhuman sacrifices that have to be made by a young couple to make ends meet. But handled this way, it would have worked much better as a short or medium-length film.  With so many intriguing Indian indies out there, it’s likely to fade quickly after a quiet Venice Days bow.

Early one morning on the outskirts of Calcutta, a girl (Basabdutta Chatterjee) goes to work in a distant handbag factory. She spends the whole day there, her face calm and determined. Offscreen a news story talks about India’s recession, which has put many out of work. Meanwhile a young man (Ritwick Chakraborty) wakes up and spends the morning doing small domestic chores in his modest apartment. He also looks calm and determined as he washes clothes, shops for food and prays at a home altar. He appears to be out of work until sundown comes and he leaves for the night shift at a printer. Through an offscreen loudspeaker we hear more about the recession’s devastating effects, especially on the working class. By the time the pay-off comes in the last scene, it’s too late to salvage this fragile little tale.

The attractive actors are easy to watch, though their silent, enigmatic performances deliberately withhold information from the viewer until the end. Without social interaction of any kind, they remain abstract, symbolic figures. Similarly, Sengupta and his co-cinematographer, Mahendra Shetty, share an artist’s interest in shadow and texture, but don’t reveal much about life in those heavily populated back alleys of Calcutta. 

Production companies: For Films in association with Salaam Cinema, Novo Films
Cast: Ritwick Chakraborty, Basabdutta Chatterjee
Director-Screenwriter: Aditya Vikram Sengupta
Producers: Aditya Vikram Sengupta, Sanjay Shah
Executive producer: Jonaki Bhattacharya,
Directors of photography: Mahendra Shetty, Aditya Vikram Sengupta
Production designer: Jonaki Bhattacharya
Editors: Aditya Vikram Sengupta, Sanjay Shah

No rating, 84 minutes