A poetic depiction of life and ritual in the south Indian state of Kerala. We see how knowledge is passed down from generation to generation: within the family, through the village economy, and especially from teachers to students. Performance footage shows how song, dance, martial arts, and religion constitute the building blocks of a culture.
“A tiger chases a man up a tree. He clings to a branch that’s being gnawed at by two mice. Below there’s a dry well filled with snakes. From the wall of the well grows a blade of grass on which there’s a drop of honey.”
This Hindu fable opens and closes The Eye Above the Well, Johan van der Keuken’s 1988 impressionistic documentary of Kerala and environs (in the southwest of India), a place that can seem indeed a precarious snakepit. Beggars litter the streets, including one unfortunate man who is little more than a turbaned head atop a limbless torso with a begging bowl on its belly. In the neighboring countryside, a toothy, courteous money collector duns hardworking villagers, such as the bidi maker who’s put in dire straits by machine manufacturers and the local theater owner who’s showing a Bollywood production. Strife arises even in the dank ashrams of the local gurus, as one martial-arts teacher encounters resistance when he tries to include a female student in a competition. But if there is a drop of honey here, it’s from these teachers; though the discipline they offer is far more rigorous and regimented than Depak Chopra’s, the rewards may be more genuine. A music teacher in lotus position backed by a droning harmonium begins by intoning a few notes, then mounts to a crescendo of ecstasy. ” This is the only world we have, ” concludes van der Keuken, ” I see it as if in a dream. ” Shown in a nine-film retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive, Van der Keuken’s dreams are worth seeing.
1.83GB | 1 h 30 min | 710×532 | mkv
Subtitles:French, English, Spanish, Dutch