Ramin Bahrani’s Chop Shop came and went almost unnoticed, which is one way of describing the lives of the underclassmen it depicts. Only Nathan Lee, writing for the Village Voice, seemed to nail the film’s value—its “sense of being found, not made.” The same can’t be said for Chris Smith’s The Pool, another story of a young boy dreaming and trying to persevere in a harsh environment. Though not without its own value, it doesn’t have the spontaneity of Bahrani’s production, giving a calculated child-lit spin to neorealist tradition. To a predictable one-two beat, Smith toggles back and forth between snippets of young Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan) and Jhangir Badshah (Jhangir) working menial jobs in the Indian city of Goa and scenes of Venkatesh trying to ingratiate himself into the world of a rich man, Nana (Nana Patekar), and his pretty young daughter, Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan). This rhythm is soporific, with the rich man’s pool easily understood as a metaphor for privilege and the Portuguese-inflected soundtrack hinting to the region’s colonial past. Unlike Chop Shop, then, The Pool conveys a sense of having been made, not found, but Smith avoids mawkishness and has an ear for how young people speak and relate to one another, and in a heated exchange between Venkatesh and Jhangir at a literal crossroads, how they rebel against each other. The film’s saving grace, though, is Smith’s refusal to reduce Nana’s pool entirely to a symbol of attainment, because upon learning why Nana and Ayesha don’t swim in it anymore, Venkatesh is thrown by how one person’s dream can be another’s albatross. Though not exactly a profound comment on rich-poor relations, this realization nonetheless transforms Venkatesh in fascinating ways, provoking him to selfless action, and with it landing The Pool in the deep end.
- Vitagraph Films
- 95 min
- Chris Smith
- Chris Smith, Randy Russell
- Venkatesh Chavan, Jhangir Badshah, Ayesha Mohan, Nana Patekar
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