Controversial filmmakers are always fascinating. They aren’t afraid to shove boundaries into the dirt, to tell a story that turns hearts and stomachs, or to insert the audience into a darkness they’ve never experienced before. Indian filmmaker Qaushiq Mukherjee – self-abbreviated to Q – is no stranger to this; his first film Gandu reportedly caused cinema audiences to walk out because of its graphic sex scenes. Unlike the great provoc-auteurs of our time (Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noé, Nicolas Winding Refn), Q’s latest feature Garbage doesn’t seduce the audience into a story.
Set in Goa, India, the narrative kicks off with a sex slave (Satarupa Das) tethered by a chain around her neck and wrist. She is kept by Phanishwar (Tanmay Dhanania), a religious taxi driver who worships local preacher Baba Satchitanand (Satchit Puranik), trolls people online and suffers from testicular cancer. Rami (Trimala Adhikari) escapes to Goa after a video of her having a threesome surfaces online; here she is driven from the airport by Phanishwar to an isolated house. Both of their worlds spin out of control, swirling into a disturbing abyss.
Garbage puts politics before story, which is never a good idea. Q presents some especially gruesome imagery of rape and torture, no doubt based on reality (as conveyed in the opening title card: “Although the events are dangerously true, this is a work of fiction”), and strikes the audience with some not-so-subtle messages about violent misogyny and religious fanaticism existing in India, as well as the world.
But these efforts are at the expense of a substantial narrative. The characters are good starting points, yet never progress or develop between the opening and the end. The transparent metaphors are stretched thin, and the director resorts to bizarre instances of Rami locking herself in an arbitrary cage (literally). And the picture is bookended with graphic feminist poetry which, though brilliant, overloads the political statement Q tries to make. He has plenty of respectable ideas, but no story to order them in.
Garbage is dark but disappointing. Dhanania and Adhikari give excellent performances, providing gritty layers to their characters, but they are ultimately replaced by Q’s excessive politics. Garbage goes nowhere, besides the bin.
Garbage does not have a UK release date yet.
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