FILM REVIEW: The Salt In Our Waters (Nonajoler Kabbo) – The BFI London Film Festival

Noble Horvath

Writer and Director: Rezwan Shahriar Sumit  In this film from Bangladesh, artist Rudro travels to a remote fishing village to work on his sculptures. But soon his city ways come into conflict with the village’s traditions, and when the expected shoals of fish fail to appear, the villagers accuse Rudro […]

Writer and Director: Rezwan Shahriar Sumit

 In this film from Bangladesh, artist Rudro travels to a remote fishing village to work on his sculptures. But soon his city ways come into conflict with the village’s traditions, and when the expected shoals of fish fail to appear, the villagers accuse Rudro of offending Allah. What follows is a surprisingly one-sided battle between present day knowledge and parochial superstition.

The sculptures that Rudro makes are based on the human figure and a few life-sized ones look like those of Anthony Gormley. However, Chairman, the imam of the village, believes that these effigies are idols, which are, of course, against the Islam religion. Rudro even instructs the young boys in the village on how to make their own statues.

The village survives by catching fish, and the annual monsoon, while feared by some, bring huge quantitates of illish, a fish like herring, but this year the monsoon, and, thus the illish, haven’t come. Rudro tries to explain that with global warming annual events like the monsoons happen later each season, but the villagers don’t listen to him and instead think that his idols are causing the problem.

Rudro also thinks that the village is behind the times in its tightly prescribed gender roles where it is only the men that ever go out to fish, and where the remaining women have to avoid any man’s presence who is not their husband. Just by talking to his host’s daughter puts both of them in serious trouble.

In a film such as this where city meets village, where West meets East ( Rudro wears t-shirt and jeans, while the villagers wear their colourful traditional clothes) one would expect to see an interchange of ideas where both sides learn from the other. Not so in this case, as the Chairman’s insistence in doing everything as normal, puts the whole community in danger when the storm eventually arrives.

As Rudro, Titas Zia at first luxuriates in the space and the inspiration his coastal residence affords him, but his quizzical face soon registers that he finds the village’s customs backwards. His host Bashor is played by Ashok Bepari and he tirelessly tries to find some middle-ground between the two sides but he clearly shows that he is harassed. Tasnova Tamanna tries hard with her role as Tuni, but there’s little development in her character. As her brother, Tahar, the young actor Naimal Rahman Apon gives an admirable performance.

This is Rezwan Shahriar Sumit’s debut film and with help from the Spike Lee Fellowship he has directed a beautiful film, and the colours of the villagers’ clothes – all yellows and pinks – look exquisite against the stormy skies. A stranded container ship, rusting red, is a dramatic midpoint, and its shocking vastness makes it look like an alien spaceship or something from the future.

But while that future lies broken and beached, the future that Rudro represents is still potent, and moves like a shadow over the village. In Sumit’s film it’s too easy to see who is playing the villain and who is acting the saviour, and this simplicity eventually hollows out any intricacies from the film. One of the few ambiguous moments of Salt In Our Waters is its ending, but it’s a shame there aren’t more of them.

The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October

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