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aka - Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo
Spain 2011
Directed by
Icíar Bollaín
104 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Kathmandu Lullaby

Synopsis: An idealistic young Spanish volunteer teacher, Laia (Verónica Echegui) at a school in Kathmandu tries to break the chains that keeps children locked in a cycle of desperate poverty.

I haven’t seen any of actor-turned-director Icíar Bollaín’s previous films but they are apparently very much issue-driven. Indeed she credits assistance on the script of this film to Paul Laverty, a long-time Ken Loach-collaborator (she starred in Loach’s Land And Freedom in 1995 and has written a book about the English director). It is little surprise then that, as with Loach’s mature work, Katmandú, un espejo en el cielo, which is adapted from an autobiographical novel by Victòria Subirana, is a well-crafted combination of social conscience content and polished filmic style.

The script deftly draws together the social and the personal. Our attention is drawn to, on the one hand, conditions which stunt social and individual development in the region: the caste system, the bureaucratic corruption, the attitude towards girls and women, all bricks in the wall that Laia recognises from her own life;  and on the other, Laia’s relationship with an assistant teacher Sharmila (Saumyata Bhattarai), a local man (Norbu Tsering Gurung) whom she marries in order to get residence rights, and one of her young students, Kushila, whose mother sells into prostitution.

In the lead Verónica Echegui gives a moving performance as the passionate idealist haunted by her own hard life (albeit, one still better off than the people she is trying to help), of which we are given brief glimpses in flashback, and whose identification with the children both pushes her to great heights and brings her great pain. The performance is especially admirable as most of the cast appear to have little or no acting experience and the actress must carries the heavy emotional load, which ranges from the heart-wrenching to the uplifting, of the film. Equally the film’s varied settings range from stinking urban slums to the breathtaking Mustang mountains. The latter feature in a particularly beautiful section in which Laia experiences a personal breakthrough and is given by her new husband the significant metaphoric device to which the film’s much more fitting Spanish title alludes: “a mirror in the sky”.  

One of the beauties of the cinema is that it takes us to places where we most likely will never go and enriches us with an awareness of things of which we otherwise would not know. I would say that this was Icíar Bollaín’s intention with Kathmandu Lullaby and she has achieved it handsomely.

 

 

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