There's no question that writer/director Shomshuklla Das's Sandcastle is an important film with important things to say. Unfortunately, being "important" will only get you too far and far too often Sandcastle gets weighed down by a sense of self-importance and overly stylized statement making that takes what should be vital feminist messages and masks them behind artistic lensing and poetic yet pointless scenes that will likely only play successful to the most strident feminists and those who identify intimately with its emphasis on finding oneself in a culture where such a notion is often dismissed.
Already nominated for awards at the London International Film Festival, Tenerife International Film Festival, and selected for screening at Hollywood's LA Femme Film Festival, Sandcastle is a timely film given the vast amount of media attention being given the state of women's rights in India and, in particular, the always present and now in focus problem of sexual violence in India. It would be nearly impossible to watch Sandcastle without thinking about recent media accounts regarding gang rapes of both Indian women and, in some cases, female foreign tourists visiting the country. With this attention in mind, Sandcastle presents a story of self-discovery, self-expression, and self-identity.
The film centers around Sheila (Shahana Chatterjee), a young mother and aspiring writer with a successful husband and a upper-middle class existence that is in line with the life that she had dreamed of creating for herself.
Or is it?
Has she lost her own identity and is there any way of claiming it?
Sandcastle exists almost squarely within that thin line that divides the worlds of societal acceptance and individual expression, and our central figure represents a young woman struggling with the issue of losing herself even as she has successfully acquired much of what she'd ever dreamed of in life. How all of this is constructed is certainly imaginative and thought-provoking even if it never has quite the impact that I'm fairly sure Das is actually going for with it all.
A good number of the debates are constructed through philosophical and introspective monologues served up by Shahana Chatterjee within the framework of the world, the characters, and the arguments she creates - some real and some potentially imagined. These monologues will play most effectively with those who identify with their words, while those at whom this film isn't targeted will likely be struggling to pay attention given Das's penchant for overly artistic camera work and odd, lingering scenes that are certainly pretty and artistic yet so abstract that it's doubtful that most will actually "get it."
This doesn't mean that Sandcastle is a bad film, but rather that it's a niche' film destined to appeal to a certain market that will resonate with its messages.
Experimental in construction, it's easy to admire what Das is going for with Sandcastle but there are times when the film's artsier approach sabotages its messages and there are times when the almost amateurish acting, especially among certain supporting players, mutes the impact of messages that should resonate a lot more deeply than they do.
It's pretty clear that I'm not the target for Sandcastle and it will be interesting to follow the film as it hits the festival circuit. If you get a chance, check it out for yourself.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic