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“We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice.” – John Berger
This is the quote attached to Raghu Pratap’s latest short film, A Night of Soap Water. I reviewed Pratap’s previous short in the July of last year, and remember being really quite impressed with it, especially when taking into consideration that the film was only three minutes in length. I made comparisons with that film to the likes of Brakhage in its beautiful and very expressive use of colours (ironically, this new film is in black and white!) and its fragmented editing style, and A Night of Soap Water also suggests a similarly intellectual wave of inspirations in its techniques.
Whilst evoking the likes of Lav Diaz (one of my favourite directors, personally) and Pedro Costa in its harsh, gritty black and white (which is much more like black and dark grey for the majority of the film’s runtime), and Diaz even more so in its consistent use of static shots, Pratap also makes sure to make his own presence felt by sticking to his own very enigmatic and, to me, really quite cold and detached visual style (the camera itself feels detached, and yet the stories focus on people so beautifully, so it is hard to really specify why it feels so far away from these characters as a whole). As I said when speaking of An Image Through the Ceiling last year, Pratap has a surprisingly bold visual style that shines through immensely, especially considering that he is still working in such short runtimes and is able to generate a specific mood with the way he frames, blocks and edits his visuals together.
In fact, Pratap shows that he isn’t afraid to focus almost solely on his visuals, and though Abhijeet Dey’s sound work is brilliant when it does come to the forefront of the film, I found myself most entranced by this discomfort emanating from these stark, lonely visuals that the film seems to be built upon. The framing, subtly showing the influence of Bresson in the more abstract focus on dancing feet and hands that feel as if they belong to no body, really pushes this general feeling of slight discomfort, enigmatic curiosity. In fact, my one qualm with the film is that I wish we did receive a little more to chew on, however, the film seems content to work with its cards very close to its chest, which does admittedly help to enforce the lonely focus on mood that is quite clear from the start.
Though he never speaks, I also found myself quite entranced by actor Prafulla Baruah, whose longing looks into the distance feel so desperate to reach out for some kind of connection in the lonely world that this film establishes so quickly. His occasional looks into the camera also suggest this same desperation, one that is seeking connection in a world that is silent other than the drone of passing cars and the incessant yelping of a nearby dog, whether they are actually intentional or not (I assume so!).
It does need to be said, this film is, above all else, very much a mood piece. There isn’t a dense story, there isn’t even any dialogue (unless you’re a dog whisperer…), but all of the expected cinematic density can easily be discovered in the desolate framing, in the restricted performance, in the moody lighting. It feels like there is a connection to be made, but it is never entirely forged and therefore it leaves the audience in a type of cinematic limbo which gives this quite the eerie lasting power. I think I’ll find myself reflecting on the eldritch fourth wall breaks for quite some time…