Rat-Trap (1981)

28 07 2008

Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s third film is, at least for the most part, a great subtle family drama. Comparisons to fellow countryman Satyajit Ray are inevitable, and rightfully so, as the underlying sense of sadness recalls a similar feeling in Ray’s Pather Panchali. Outside of the general “family” theme, though, Gopalakrishnan crafts his film in a much different manner. In general, he seems like a much more minimalistic filmmaker than Ray is, which is made evident when one considering how many moments of pure silence are present in this film. Perhaps the less-than-stellar shape the film is in damages the overall experience (the colors in particular seem off) but Gopalakrishnan’s craftsmanship still shines through.

Rajamma and Sridevi live with their brother, Unni. Rajamma is the older of the two sisters, but still has yet to find a husband. The younger Sridevi is busy with school, where she seems to greatly struggle. Unni is considered the family’s patriarchal figure, but he hardly acts like it. He sleeps all day, complains often, and does little. In addition, he seems stuck in the past and unable to adapt to changing social and economic climate of modern life. The film is built upon a series of unconnected events that all come back to the slightly overbearing metaphorical motif of a rap-trap.

It would be a bit hyperbolic to say that Gopalakrishnan’s aesthetic approach is unlike any I’ve ever experienced, but still, his style is fairly unique. The set-up of each static shot is a bit theatrical with the expressive lighting and staged objects inside the frame. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but the acting, which is generally inexpressive and deadpan, compliments the style in a positive way. Had the performances been more pronounced, almost all the technical positives would be the lost. The reserved tone of all the characters and the long stretches of silence make the location more in tune with a scene from an Antonioni film than in some Hollywood melodrama.

Oddly enough, the film’s only false step is when it begins to become overwhelmingly dramatic. The first hour is pretty uneventful and slow in a very good way, but things unfortunately begin to pick up. The obligatory death of a family member moment is pretty uninspired and somewhat tacky, but the section which it moves into is even worse. It is here, in the last twenty minutes, that the principle character becomes paranoid to a pathetic extent and then the story eventually teeters out to its conclusion. For a majority of its running time, though, Rat-Trap is really great and if anything, it makes me wish there more films from Adoor Gopalakrishnan readily available.

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