SHADOW KILL (2002)
Who inherits the guilt in the case of death penalty? Thats the question posed and rather obliquely addressed by Shadow Kill (Nizhalkkuthu), the latest film from Indian New Cinema pioneer Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Set in colonial India in the early-1940s, the film examines the guilt-ridden life of a state-appointed hangman named Kaliyappan (Oduvil Unnikrishnan). While he works for the state of Travancore, hes assigned to live outside its boundaries since the officials arent comfortable with him being around people he might have to hang one day. So, Kaliyappan and his family -- a wife, a pubescent daughter, a Gandhian, freedom fighter son -- reside in a small rural village whose inhabitants ironically believe that the ash from his rope contains healing powers. The beautifully paced and consistently engrossing first half, which promises more than what the film ultimately ends up delivering, features Kaliyappan in a state of despair due to his belief that the last man he hanged was innocent, and hes taken to drinking to ease the pain. His son may not want to continue in his fathers footsteps, but he doesnt get a say when a sick Kaliyappan is called in to perform an execution and hes asked to accompany him. At this juncture, Gopalakrishnan veers to overlap his narrative threads that may or may not meet at the ends as Kaliyappans daughter and her sexuality become the focal point after a state official starts to tell a story about a young girl who was raped and murdered. The second halfs melodious images also undermine and distill some of the complexities the film established earlier on. However, Shadow Kill, which is possibly a minor work in the directors much celebrated oeuvre, still has resonance because Gopalakrishnan with his trademark subtlety points toward pertinent issues surrounding the death penalty.
*The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2002.
*SHADOW KILL was part of the GFI (Global Film Initiative): "A New York-based, nonprofit foundation working with leading American cultural institutions to promote cross-cultural understanding through cinema. Each year, The Initiative acquires ten narrative films from the developing world that tour the country for one year." GFI's partner First Run Features recently established a Global Lens Series, allowing them to release the features on DVD.
*A DVD is now available.