Film production slowed dramatically during the pandemic, but it hasn’t stopped. Already, films made under last year’s constraints have begun to emerge as a peculiar subgenre. I haven’t been impressed by the examples I’ve seen so far: the absurdly straightforward caper “locked down,” the imaginatively limited spatial romantic drama “malcolm & maria.” but, with “joji”, a new indian film directed by dileesh pothan, there is finally a film that gracefully and intelligently integrates the pandemic into its story.it was shot in late 2020 and early this year, in the state of kerala, and it’s an adaptation of “macbeth”, very weak, so much the better.
Streaming on Amazon Prime, the film is set in the present day, in and around the sprawling compound of a wealthy and dominant landowner, Kuttapan Panachel (PN Sunny). Kuttapan is in his early seventies and runs his family with an iron fist. His three eldest sons tremble and crawl in his presence, none more so than his youngest son, Joji (fahadh faasil), who appears to be in his early thirties and is bitterly frustrated, even with himself. while joji’s brothers jaison (joji mundakayam) and jomon (baburaj) keep busy with the family business, joji, a college dropout and somewhat of a ne’er-do-well, has big dreams of (literally) horse trading, but he needs money to fuel his risky venture. Jaison’s wife, Bincy (Unnimaya Prasad), who is treated like a servant by all the men in the family, endures her servitude in anticipation of a large inheritance.
The mighty Kuttapan is muscular and violent, physically abusing Joji and physically active on his property. one day he walks into a pond where the workers can’t fix a clogged valve. he finishes the heavy lifting himself and suffers a massive stroke. he is taken to hospital in a serious condition and he is considered likely to die; For Joji and Bincy, the prospect of inherited wealth is tantalizingly close. However, Kuttapan survives and Joji decides, with guidance’s hints and winks and encouragement from Bincy, to do something about it. Later, Kuttapan’s death becomes cause for suspicion, and Joji expands his killing spree to cover up his filial betrayal.
The film does not borrow any Shakespearean language, any real or martial context. it’s less “macbeth” than a current film noir about pent-up passion and terrifying rage beneath family decorum. those tensions erupt in “joji” in a wide range of expressive flourishes, including finely nuanced dialogue and wrenching violence, tense visuals and fiercely frozen stares. Pothan’s eye for symbolic detail begins with an air gun, which Jomon’s teenage son Popy (Alex Alister), who bought the gun with money stolen from Kuttapan, shoots at a tree that oozes sap like blood. there’s great dramatic precision to the footage of kuttapan nearly smothering the dozing joji with a distinctively brutal gesture; in the prolonged and bitterly ironic effort with which family and attendants carry the paralyzed kuttapan from an ambulance to his bedroom; in the deathly gaze of the motionless old man towards his sons driven by greed. there is also the sheer pressure of time in quiet, contemplative sequences (walking, driving, fishing) that seethe with latent violence. such details infuse the film with a gloriously eloquent and intricate visual texture that evokes the rhetoric of tragedy in spare language.
the script, by syam pushkaran, is both practical and fiercely expressive, as when, at a religious service for the sick kuttapan (the family is christian), the priest, kevin (basil joseph), dismisses with empty homilies the evidence of kuttapan physical discomfort, or the family quietly shares their complaints about the old man’s stinginess. (there is great eloquence in the brevity of the dialogue, as when the family doctor, a relative, says goodbye to joji, calling him “you millionaire”). there are no witches and no war on the horizon in “joji”. rather, there is the intrusive power of civil and religious authorities, and the threatening gossip of neighbors. his opinions and bad rumors are powerfully intertwined with the judgment of the police and weigh heavily on the family’s action, as if his private life were under some kind of supernatural surveillance. mirrors, slats, drones, and the commanding perches of high ground convey a sense of public threat to private life, an intrusion from both without and within, by the inner force of conscience.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus rages, and Pothan finds ways to meld the practicalities of the pandemic with the film’s dramatic themes. Death is in the air, as at the Kuttapan funeral, where the presence of masked mourners and the presence of even more without them evokes both the deadly threat at home and civic life in dangerous disorder. When Joji tries to avoid the funeral, Bincy urges him, for appearances’ sake, to “put on a mask and come.” In a shot of Joji looking at her masked face in the mirror, the cover bypasses her medical function to embody her amoral and criminal self-concealment.
Ultimately, “Joji” grapples with a Shakespearean paradox: the external forces of public life, though embodied in brilliant cinematic symbols, never weigh as heavily on the action as family drama. Lacking large-scale politics and throne affairs, “Joji” becomes, near the end, a more conventional crime story, albeit one that covers the Pothan and Pushkaran with savage intelligence. but the disappointment of the outcome matters little. Long before the plot is resolved, “joji” offers a wry look at patriarchal tyranny and the pathologies it spawns, and the obvious contrivance of the ending declares, with bitter irony, that there is no end in sight.
the favorites of New Yorkers
- The day the dinosaurs died.
- What if you could do it all over again?
- A thriller novelist leaves a trail of deceit.
- the art of dying.
- can reading make you happier?
- a simple guide to handbag etiquette.
- subscribe to our daily newsletter to receive the best stories of the New Yorker.