Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
Louis Malle spent five months shooting his seven-part miniseries Phantom India, inspired by a trip he took there on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to show modern French cinema to Indian citizens. He was so impressed with the footage he took in the city of Calcutta that he decided to reserve it for its own feature film which he released in movie theatres, a trip through the streets and shores of this complicated city that he captured during a three week stay. With a population of eight million citizens by the time he is there in 1969, Calcutta is a world of its own, possessing its upper echelons of comfortable life, which Malle only spends minimal time on, while teeming with poverty and struggle. Malle is clearly determined to break through the romantic idea of India as a land of tiger hunts and golden palaces, and there is likely, thanks to the lack of narration, an attempt to present the most destitute of the city’s subjects in a manner that doesn’t seek to objectify them or reduce anyone to a simple narrative. Seeing it through a modern-day lens means his success at either of these things will likely depend on the viewer, but there’s no doubt that the great filmmaker had an eye for capturing the most interesting moments of everyday life and assembles the footage here in the manner of a captivating and affecting.narrative.