Mushrooms (Chatrak): Cannes 2011 Review

Cannes Film Festival
Forlorn characters living desolate lives serves as an excuse for a bleak study in nihilism.

Sri Lanka-born director Vimukthi Jayasundara's film is shot in dirty colors and dim enough lights that would make anyone depressed, in the movie or watching it.

CANNES -- Complaints are everywhere that programmers for the Quinzaine des Rèalisateurs or Directors’ Fortnight at the 2011 Festival de Cannes are almost entirely favoring movies with scant narrative, choosing instead “poetic” visual essays. Certainly Mushrooms (Chatrak) from Sri Lanka-born director Vimukthi Jayasundara underscores that complaint. Yet there is about as much visual poetry in Mushrooms as there is plot. It’s hard to see who will ever appreciate this French-Indian co-production other than overindulgent festival programmers and film critics.

A man with a “crack in his head” lives in a forest, sleeping in trees and foraging for food. He encounters a French soldier — no explanation why a French soldier is guarding some supposed border near Calcutta from illegal immigrants — and the two become buddies and frolic.

Meanwhile, a Calcutta architect returns home after a number of years participating in Dubai’s building boom to oversee the construction of a ghastly looking housing project on a former rice field. (The forlorn buildings, in fact, look more like an old abandoned project the filmmakers used as a set.) However, the architect is distracted by a long delayed search for a missing brother who is said to have gone crazy. So much so he scarcely has time for the beautiful girlfriend who has loyally awaited his return.

Melancholia seemingly afflicts all these characters if not a strain of insanity. Jayasundara and cinematographer Channa Deshapriya also shoot in dirty colors and dim enough lights that would make anyone depressed, in the movie or watching it.

The film’s abstract naturalism does create an austere portrait of a crass and careless human society but any larger meaning gets lost amid the film’s many non-events and preening nihilism.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight
Sales: Eastwest Filmdistribution
Production companies: Vandana Trading Co. in co-production with Les Films de l’étranger, Wall Paper Productions, Bear Called Dog
Cast: Paoli Dam, Sudip Mukherjee, Tómas Lemarquis, Sumeet Thakur
Director/screenplay: Vimukthi Jayasundara
Producer: Vinod Lahoti
Director of photography: Channa Deshapriya
Production designer: Arup Ghosh
Music: Roman Dymny
Costume designer:
Editor: Julie Béziau
No rating, 91 minutes