The Warrior

2001, Movie, R, 86 mins


Twenty-nine-year-old U.K. director Asif Kapadia's award-winning first feature marries a fairy-tale narrative to the mannerisms of an existential art movie. Inspired by a Japanese short story and set in the Northern regions of feudal India, it revolves around a conscience-stricken professional killer whose decision to renounce his old life has consequences that try his soul to its limits. Lafcadia (Irfin Khan) is head liegeman to a cruel and capricious local lord (Anupam Shyam) whose personal army is often called upon to exact brutal vengeance upon his impoverished, uneducated subjects. Lafcadia lives with his adolescent son, Kitabi (Puru Chibber), who wants to follow in his father's footsteps but lacks the single-minded focus and discipline their harsh family business demands. Already tired of bloodshed, Lafcadia has an epiphany when he and his men, including his second in command, the unquestioningly vicious Biswas (Aino Annuddin), are sent to punish the tiny, hardscrabble village of Tarang. Finding himself with a sword to the throat of a young shawl seller (Sunita Sharma) who, only a few days earlier, defended Kitabi against a gang of bullies, he vows to put down his weapons forever and return with his son to Kulla, the mountain village where he was born. But Lafcadia's lord will tolerate no disloyalty and sends Biswas to kill his former commander: If Biswas doesn't bring back Lafcadia's head by the following day, he'll have Biswas' head instead. Lafcadia's heartsick journey back to Kulla takes him from the baking desert to the snowy mountains, much of it in the company of a fugitive thief (Noor Mani) and an elderly blind woman (Damayanti Marfatia) making a pilgrimage to a holy lake in the mountains. Shooting on location in India under considerable duress, writer-director Kapadia assembled a mix of experienced actors and amateurs; Annuddin is a stuntman, Mani was cast from a shelter for homeless youth and Marfatia was running a telephone booth in Delhi. Taking his cue from Sergio Leone, Kapadia explores their faces in extreme close-up, blurring the line between landscapes of flesh and landscapes of stone, sand and scrub. Kapadia is deliberately vague about details — the era, exact location and even character's names are subordinate to his desire to tell a universal story about loyalty, redemption, revenge, forgiveness and faith. But the film's epic look is undermined by his narrow focus; in the end it feels rather thin and less than the sum of its handsome parts. (In Hindi, with subtitles) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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