Catholic India’s ‘Master of Chaos’
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Introducing a director you almost certainly haven’t heard of—but who is well worth getting to know. Lijo Jose Pellissery is one of the major artists of a new movement that has developed over the last decade in the Malayalam film industry—that is, the cinema made in Kerala, the region where India’s Christians have lived for many centuries.
All of Pellissery’s films are set within Indian Catholic or Orthodox communities. Indeed, while the director is clearly influenced by Western movies, much of his films’ vitality comes from how regionally rooted they are, not just in Kerala but even in specific cities and villages.
Pellissery’s films show a remarkable level of craft, artistry and experimentation considering their mainstream success in India—indeed, as James Majewski says by contrast with contemporary Hollywood, this seems to be what an “alive film culture” looks like. Within the Malayalam film industry, Pellissery is known as the “Master of Chaos”, presumably due to the spontaneous feeling of his scenes, often featuring large, rambunctious crowds, and perhaps also the way situations in his stories tend to spiral out of control. His films keep you riveted in a way that is not manipulative, and they are unpredictable without being dependent on contrived twists.
James and Thomas feature three of Pellissery’s films in this discussion, in order to explore his diversity of genre:
Jallikattu is an off-the-wall action movie about villagers trying to chase down an escaped bull—framed within quotations from the book of Revelation which seem to indicate that the bull represents Satan. Ee.Ma.Yau (which means “Jesus, Mary, Joseph”) is about a son struggling to provide a good funeral for his father, but constantly being frustrated by his own limits. Pellissery’s most recent film, Like an Afternoon Dream, is a slow, surreal drama—arguably a ghost story—about a man who suddenly takes on another man’s identity.
Here are links to view the films in their original Malayalam language with English subtitles:
Like an Afternoon Dream https://www.netflix.com/title/81676305
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