WTF ASIA 166: Beyond the Clouds (2017)

Family…what can you do?

Available in AustraliaCanadathe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 120 minutes.

 

 

 

Amir Neshan waits on a bridge until someone in a car hands him a backpack. Amir goes under the bridge, past the unhoused people to his friend Anil.

The two go across the city on their motorcycle, stopping by businesses to hand people small boxes of food from the bags…with drugs underneath the food. One of them is a small shop-owner named Sunny.

They stop at a brothel that is run by Sunny’s boss, Rahoul. Rahoul tells Amir that he does not want Amir coming to his place of business. Amir complains that, unlike with his other clients, he has not received payment for the two deliveries that he made for Rahoul. Rahoul claims that Amir will get the money in a day or two. Amir says that he will not work without payment and leaves. Rahul calls Sunny, telling him to do something about Amir and his gang.

Amir and his friends arrive at their hideout among a bunch of rundown buildings. Apparently, they got a brand-new batch of drugs for the market.

Amir has barely settled in when the police arrive, arresting everyone. Amir manages to both evade immediate capture and rescue Anil, but they have to run around the city…a lot. They split up and the cops end up focusing on Amir.

Amir makes his way to a large public laundry place, where his older sister Tara works. He gives her the packet of drugs that he had been holding. With even less of an idea of what is going on than Tara, her boss Akshi hides Amir under a pile of clothes, mere seconds before the police run through. It worked.

Amir and Tara take an auto-rickshaw to her home. Tara is concerned about a wound on Amir’s arm, but he is more concerned about what she did with the packet. She insists that it is safe, but Amir panics, yelling at the driver to go back until she calms him down.

They arrive at Tara’s home, but Amir is a wary of going in. He asks how she bought the place and she tells him that she used her savings, a little money from him, and some that she borrowed from her boss. He goes in, but is still unsure about this place.

While she tends to his wound, he asks how long she has been here. She tells him since she left her drunkard husband. He asks about the loan her boss, and she says that he deducts bits of her salary. Then she brings up his promise to never touch drugs. This leads to a huge argument between the two, that also serves as a bit of exposition dump. Their parents died (or their mother did, who knows what happened to their father) and Tara had to marry a horrible man who would beat both of them. Amir accuses her of always siding with her husband, who had wanted to kill him. She says that she got the worst of the abuse and that Amir refused to help her after she left her husband, leaving her to sleep on the streets. They were supposed to look out for each other, but each accuses the other of abandonment. Eventually, they reconcile…sort of.

Amir wakes up the next day to see some breakfast by his mattress. But Tara is gone. He sees her room full of birds. Very peaceful.

Amir calls Tara’s cellphone. She is in some other man’s place…in his bed, while he is getting dressed. She tells Amir that she had some work to do and will go get the packet.

Tara goes outside; oh, I guess that the man’s place is right by her work. Akshi glares at her as she says goodbye to the man. Oh…it seems that she had given Akshi the packet.

Akshi leads Tara to a secluded area where a bunch of white sheets are drying. Tara asks for the packet, but Akshi demands to know why she went to that man. Tara does not understand why Akshi cares. He puts the packet in her hand and says that she belongs to him. Erm…as an employee? What does he mean?

Well, Tara tries to walk away, but Akshi grabs her. She struggles to get free, hitting him several times, but he holds onto her forcefully and keeps shouting that she belongs to him. Eventually, she hits him on the head with a stone. Oh dear, that is a lot of blood.

After not being able to contact his sister, Amir finds his way to the crime scene. By that point, Akshi has been taken to the hospital in critical condition and Tara has been arrested.

Amir takes an autorickshaw to the police station. He tries to see Tara, but the police keep him out. Quite a turnaround from the day before when they chased him all over the city.

Amir goes to the hospital and rushes to see Akshi. He is told that Akshi is undergoing an operation and it is unclear when that will be over. So he waits. And waits. And waits.

Eventually, he is allowed to see Akshi in the ICU as long as he is quiet. He looks in and sees Akshi in a bed, with an oxygen mask, seemingly asleep.

Amir goes back to the police station and waits outside until he sees Tara being put in a police van with other women. He tries to approach her, but the cops keep him away.

Amir…uh…borrows a bicycle and chases the van. He manages to find the bus stopped at a railway crossing. He bangs on the backdoor, yelling at the cops to let her go and yelling at Tara to tell them what really happened. But Tara remains silent. She seems to have already given up. One of the cops tells him to leave; that they are taking Tara to jail and that she will be held there until the victim makes a statement. Now Amir explodes, scream at them to arrest Akshi instead. Tara starts crying. Amir tries to hold onto the van as it drives off, but he cannot keep up.

The van arrives at the jail. Is this jail or prison? A guard frisks her and has her remove all of her jewelry, except for a ring that is stuck on her finger.

She is given a blanket and taken to…I guess the warden. He looks at her file. Attempted murder. She is to stay here until the court decides her fate. And if the man dies then she will be here for life.

The guard takes her to the cells. Wow…there are more little kids here than there were in the brothel. They arrive at her cell just as another set of guards are putting a sick would-be cellmate on a stretcher. The woman tries calling out for her young son, Chotu, as she is taken away. For a moment, Tara and the boy are the only two people in the cell. With nothing else that he can do, Chotu tries to fix his broken toy car.

Amir meets with Anil, who is certain that Sunny had tipped off the police on behalf of Rahoul. But he also tells Amir to be careful, as both Rahoul and the cops are after him. Amir insists that he is playing safe; after all, not even knows where he is staying. Anil gives him a duffel bag of…stuff…and offers a wad of cash. Amir tells him to save the cash for his sick father, but Anil insists.

Amir returns to the hospital the next day. He freaks out after not seeing Akshi in the ICU, but a nurse informs him that Akshi is in the general ward. He lies that he is Akshi’s friend and is given a form as well as a list of medicines to purchase. Amir asks how Akshi is and is told that he cannot talk yet.

Amir goes to buy the medicine and returns to the hospital. He drops off the medicine with the nurse, who tells him where Akshi is.

Akshi is awake, and looks at him. Amir is…initially friendly towards Akshi, going over the time that Akshi saved him from the cops. He mentions the medicine, saying that he is repaying the favor. Then…he…um…takes out a knife, puts it on Akshi’s face, and quietly threatens to gouge out his eyes.      

 

Tara wakes up in the middle of the night. Somehow it is quiet. She notices Chotu sleeping on a blanket on the floor, despite there being empty beds in the cell. Tara gently picks him up and puts him on the bed where his mother had slept.

Meanwhile, Amir goes to see Sunny at his shop and after intimidating Sunny a bit with false-friendliness, stabs him in the hand.

Amir is back at Tara’s place when a man knocks on the door, calling for Tara. Amir turns off the lights and waits silently at the door. The man reminds “Tara” that they were supposed to meet tonight. He asks if Tara is unhappy with the amount that he had paid the last time. He calls for her a few more times before leaving. Amir tears up. Well, now he knows how she paid for the place.

Amir visits Tara, who is trying to fix the broken toy car using a piece of string. She can barely look at him. She tells him about Chotu and his sick mother. She starts to cry as she tells him that she will be locked up here for the rest of her life if Akshi dies. Amir tries to assure her that Akshi is fine, and that he will soon be able to admit his culpability, but she is falling apart worse than the car. Eventually, she is able to calm down. At that point, the visitation time has ended.

 

 

 

 

This movie was actually directed by an Iranian director named Majid Majidi. As far as I can tell, it is the only non-Iranian movie that he has ever directed. I had jokingly assumed that he heard that his movie about kid’s shoes got an Indian Remake and this was his response. However, the truth may not be that far off, as even Majidi was willing to compare this movie to his earlier one. I am not…entirely sure why he wanted the setting to be India. He did claim Indian director Satyajit Ray as an inspiration, though Ray was based more out of West Bengal than Mumbai, especially Kolkata. Perhaps he wanted to have the movie have more of a universal feel than simply being something about Iran.

Apparently, there was a bit of criticism about this movie being kind of predictable and I am not sure that I get that. Maybe it is predictable compared to Majidi’s other works, but I did not feel that it was so on its own. Sure, you might be able to overall figure out what might happen in the grand scheme of things. And maybe the movie telegraphs certain events a few seconds before they happen. But from scene to scene, I was often not sure where the story was heading. I am not saying that I had no idea, but there were usually multiple options in my head they were all interesting. And even when it did take one of those paths, I was still in for the ride. Maybe that was just me, though. Also, I have seen few stories where the main characters are trying to save the life of a person whom they hate without there being some bizarrely specific wrinkle to the premise. 

The main hook keeping me in is the main character of Amir. He tries to plan and plan, but he is also very impulsive. So, while others can sabotage his plans, he does a pretty good job of doing so himself, changing his mind after the last minute. Additionally, I feel like enters situations without a specific endgame in mind. His confronting Rahoul is one time. And…every time that he goes to see Akshi. I was originally going to call him volatile, though calling someone in a criminal gang volatile implies violence all of the time, and that is not necessarily the case with Amir. Yes, he can be violent and angry, but sometimes he backs off or runs off…if he can. I would not necessarily call him a screw-up either. His mind is just a ball of chaos that he sometimes has trouble keeping under control. So, there is some suspense not only regarding what is going to happen, but also what he himself is going to do. And I find following him fun.

I am not quite sure that the same can be said about Tara. Amir may have a dark past, but Tara’s entire life seems bleak. It is difficult to comment about her life as a probable sex worker, as it is merely hinted at and she was very secretive about it, at least with Amir. It is also difficult to figure out what her previous  relationship with Akshi had been like, though it is obvious that they had different ideas about what it was and where it was going. She remains a rather internal character. And after her one act of violent self-defense, she kind of shuts down for a while. We do not see her arrest or her time at the police station. But she seems quietly resigned by the time she is being transported to jail. It is Amir who is yelling for her freedom, who is sticking up for her. While in jail, she seems to stew in quiet desperation, and she is able to unleash her pent-up terror only when Amir comes to visit. Is it a lost opportunity to not have her be more active in sticking up for herself? Maybe. I read that one prominent Bollywood star stated that as a reason for passing on the role. But her storyline still kind of works for me, even if there are holes in it. Although I would have liked to see more of the times when she may have been actually happy.

One thing that is constant throughout the movie is the harsh childhoods. It seems that anyone can become parents in this movie, no matter how bad their situation is or how bad they themselves are. And, so children are everywhere. There are children at the laundry place. There are little children at the brothel. There are children in the jail. I did not notice any children under the bridge, but there are certainly children who do not have homes.

The kids did not do anything wrong to end up there; that was just the life into which they were born. It is not clear how many of the children in jail were conceived before their mothers were arrested, but I would not be surprised if the percentage was lower than 100, though supposedly only female guards can touch the jailed women. Who knows what happens to the children if their mothers die before they become adults? But I doubt that they will grow up to find themselves more well-adjusted than Amir and Tara, or have any better opportunities than those two have. What kind of family experiences are they to expect to have? Could Amir or Tara have a chance to have families of their own if they have trouble looking out for each other?

Though this movie may have been a little slighter than one might expect from this director, I found it to be quite enjoyable. Yes, the subject matter gets a bit dark at time, but I remained entertained nonetheless. It’s good.

 

 

 

WTF ASIA 167: The Flower Girl (NORTH Korea: 1972, approx. 121-128 minutes)

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WTF ASIA 168:  The Twilight Samurai (Japan: 2002, approx. 129 minutes)

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