The Pool (Vitagraph Films, NR)

thepoolposter.jpgThe influence of money and class in these character’s lives is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated. It brings to mind Warren Buffet’s famous question: if you could trade in your place as an American in return for taking part in a lottery where you could be reborn as any other person in the world, with your chances proportional to the actual numbers of people now living and their stations in life, would you?

Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan: all characters in The Pool share the first names of the actor playing them) is a hotel cleaner in Panjim, Goa. When he’s not working at the hotel, he’s selling plastic bags on the streets with his best friend Jhangir (Jhangir Badshah). Without education (neither Venkatesh nor Jhangir can read), he has no realistic prospects for the future beyond marrying the village girl chosen for him and continuing to work at menial jobs.

But Venkatesh has aspirations for better things: he tries to convince Jhangir that they should both be going to school, in order to qualify for better jobs. His more practical friends basically responds: right, get back to me when you’ve figured out how to make that work.

The symbol of Venkatesh’s aspirations is a swimming pool in the backyard of an apparently unoccupied luxury home, high in the hills above the city where he works and lives. He likes to sit in a tree and stare at the gleaming pool like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, imagining the life lived by people who could afford such an incredible luxury.

Then the owner (Nana Patekar) and his daughter (Ayesha Mohan) return to the house. Venkatesh offers to help out in the garden, and gradually works his way into the trust of the father, even buying a book on gardening although he cannot read it. Impressed by his native intelligence, Nana becomes a mentor to Venkatesh, eventually offering to pay for his education.
Venkatesh also befriends Ayesha, and together with Jhangir they explore the city together. The gulf between them couldn’t be larger: Ayesha spends most of her time reading and can afford that unimaginable luxury of the middle and upper classes: behaving like a petulant teenager.

Based on a story by Randy Russell, The Pool is a low-key film that often feels like a documentary, as if the camera were simply following the cast going about their everyday lives. This is be surprising, given that director Chris Smith’s previous films have been documentaries, including American Movie (1999) and The Yes Men (2003). He elicits naturalistic performances from his largely unknown cast (only Patekar, a Bollywood star, has extensive film experience), and use of the handheld camera reinforces the modest scale and realistic feeling of the film.

The influence of money and class in these character’s lives is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be stated. It brings to mind Warren Buffet’s famous question: if you could trade in your place as an American in return for taking part in a lottery where you could be reborn as any other person in the world, with your chances proportional to the actual numbers of people now living and their stations in life, would you? Buffett says no one has ever agreed to such a swap, because they know they would have a much better chance of drawing the lot of an illiterate Indian laborer than of, say, one of Donald Trump’s offspring. Even being born to a working-class family in America is like hitting the jackpot compared to the fates of most people in the world.

The great strength of The Pool is that it doesn’t hammer on this point. The characters live in the world as it is, and relate horrifying experiences in a matter-of-fact manner which suggests they have learned to take each day as it comes. A prime example: Venkatesh tells of being kidnapped and imprisoned by a foreigner who wanted to take him back to New Zealand to work as a household slave. But he escaped after three days and that’s the end of the story: no dwelling on the trauma or seeking retribution.

The Pool was shot in Goa, a former Portuguese colony known to the West as a seaside tourist resort and site of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which holds the remains of St. Francis Xavier. Cinematography by Smith shows a different side of Goa, seen through the eyes of the Indians who live and work there. Editing by Barry Poltermann allows the story to unfold at a natural pace, and the soundtrack by Didier Laplae and Joe Wong is a nice blend of Indian and European styles. | Sarah Boslaugh

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