It’s been a long time coming on these shores, but Chris Smith’s The Pool has finally arrived. Made in 2007 and released in the states in 2008 but never on foreign shores, it is forgivable to wonder what has prompted this sudden rethink, it is a difficult prospect to get excited about at first. A film that never built the momentum to an international release implies that it may have not been received highly enough to merit one. Cast any aspersions you may have aside as The Pool is a genuinely perspicacious and moving piece of cinema that may in fact be more prevalent four years on from its conception.
The story follows an 18 year old Indian named Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) who lives and works in Goa along with his 11 year old friend Jhangir (Jhangir Badshah). The Goa they know is dirty and poverty ridden but just over a wall there are large summer houses with glorious blue pools. Venkatesh dreams of swimming in the pool, from high atop his perch in a mango tree he watches the owner of the house (Nana Patekar) and his daughter Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan) lounge by its rippling water. He decides to offer to help the father in the garden in order to get closer to his desires but in doing so forms bonds with the man and his troubled daughter.
Chris Smith has effectively made an American Indie in Hindi, common traits of which can easily be found. There is the American dream, bonding of strangers, struggle with loss and depression, familial strains but most importantly an analysis of the wealth divide. This in particular is somewhat more relevant after the financial crisis or at least because the wealth gap is now more transparent than before. In India it becomes more obvious, the poor enjoying only menial and casual labour while the rich seem to do nothing and live in luxury. The most staggering aspect of course being that it differs only aesthetically from the divide between rich and poor in more developed countries. The pool becomes a symbol of hope and affluence for Venkatesh but riches are not a guaranteed source of happiness.
Being primarily a documentarian, Smith includes issues such as education and its ability to free people and allow them to climb the economic ladder. Venkatesh and Jhangir dream of not having to work so hard, they live in harsh and unforgiving situations, struggling every day to afford places to stay and food to eat, and when they finally think their selling of plastic bags will make them some money the authorities ban it. But theirs is also a life of simple pleasures, sharp in contrast of the well to do Ayesha who is enshrined in sorrow and melancholy. Smith’s approach is quiet and thoughtful and his attentive lens captures every nuanced moment of Venkatesh’s life and his burgeoning relationship with Ayesha, his honesty and simplicity is something that greatly beneficial to her.
Through long pondering shots and a simple story Smith conveys a lot about life, not just in Goa but around the world. There are aspects here that are on a more personal level but also themes of exploration of a socio-economic level. A resolute gaze allows images to flow together beautifully culminating with a spectacular long shot of the pool towards the end of the film. Though the film lacks any dramatic punch, possibly due to Smith’s lack of experience in fiction, it moves at a calm pace whilst infusing enough poignant moments to resonate with the viewer. The Pool is a surprise from the past that may cause more ripples in the present.
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The Pool is released in the ICA and the Mall in London on 16th November and nationwide thereafter