Documentary director’s storytelling works swimmingly in ‘The Pool’

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, October 30, 2008 6:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

I don’t know why the setting of “The Pool” was changed from its Iowa origins in a short story to the lush coast of India for the film version. That’s quite a culture shock.

The remarkable thing is, the fablelike story translates just fine. We are in the seaside state of Goa, in a well-to-do enclave in Panjim.

The main characters are street ragamuffins, however. Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) is a teenager working in a hotel; he and his younger sidekick Jahangir (Jahangir Badshah) try various entrepreneurial gambits to make extra money — selling plastic bags to tourists, for instance.

In his ramblings around the city, Venkatesh becomes fascinated by the beautiful swimming pool in the back yard of a somber businessman (Nana Patekar). Although the pool is maintained, nobody ever seems to swim in it.

Vowing that he will someday use the pool, Venkatesh begins ingratiating himself into the life of the owner. Another source of interest is the businessman’s daughter (Ayesha Mohan), a caustic type who just wants to keep to herself.

Randy Russell wrote the original story and scripted the movie with director Chris Smith. They keep the emphasis low-key, scrupulously avoiding any hint of exaggeration — a quality not shared by Venkatesh, who is perpetually relating wild tales of his youth, which might or might not be true.

Smith directed the classic documentary “American Movie,” and given his background in nonfiction films, it makes sense that he gravitates toward a realistic view of life. But “The Pool” is also gently lyrical at times. I think it would be hard to take a movie camera to India, even if you’re making a neorealist look at life on (or at least near) the streets, and not somehow come under the sway of the place.

The cast is credible, including young actors who had little experience in making films before this one. The fact that they have the same first names as their characters would suggest that Smith is trying to blur the line between fiction and nonfiction. And if the results are as agreeable as “The Pool,” why not?

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