“Cactus” (2018) is the latest feature produced and directed by Aneek Chaudhuri, who previously produced and directed “The Wife’s Letter”(2016) and “White”(2018).
It is a silent film loosely based around Michelangelo’s ‘Pietà’ and the lives of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. One can see the themes of contemplation and sorrow in the presentation, but it would be difficult to ascertain that film contained representations of Jesus and Mary, if one did not already have this background information, particularly as female actors are cast in all the roles.
The movie is abstract with something of an experimental feel and can be difficult to interpret at times. It has very strong if rather unusual aesthetics, and the cinematography is something which really stands out – the lighting and framing is excellent and creates some powerful and extremely striking visual elements, as one might expect in a silent film.
“Cactus” is shot in two long takes, representing the two periods BC and AD (Pietà, the work it references depicts Mary’s sorrow as she cradles Jesus’ body following his crucifixion). The pace is slow, inviting the viewer to drink in the sights and experience the emotions generated by the footage. It is predominantly shot in black and white with some colour sequences interspersed. The camera work of Snehasis Mitra and Sourideb Chatterjee, along with Shibam Samanta’s editing, play a significant role in creating the film’s visual aesthetic – when creating a silent feature, this element needs to be strong and does not disappoint.
Appraising the performances of Aparajita Dey (as Jesus), Anurupa Chakraborty and Aishani De (both as Mother Mary) is perhaps difficult, given that it is a silent film, but they all have a strong on-screen presence, particularly Chakraborty whose performance dominates. As well as there being no dialogue, there are no sound effects to accompany the actions depicted on screen, instead there is a dreamy soundtrack which breaks the silence at various points and suits the visual aesthetic of the film well.
Owing to the abstract nature of the film, I did often wonder if I totally ‘got’ it. Whilst I am used to the idea of movies as an art form which are designed to create emotion rather than having a distinct plot or message, perhaps “Cactus” is just a little too esoteric – particularly given the religious themes and the symbolic way in which this film approaches them. At 1 hour and 26 minutes, it does feel a little too long, given the slow pace of the film, and despite the undoubtedly excellent camera work and powerful visual aesthetic, it can be a little hard going at times. Saying that, it is undoubtedly an impressive movie visually, and worth checking out for those who appreciate a more abstract and artistic approach to film-making.