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Maisam Ali In Retreat Movie Review

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In Retreat | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

In Retreat | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

A Man of Constant Sorrow: Ali Explores the Network of Disconnection

There’s an inescapable sense of mournfulness throughout Maisam Ali’s debut In Retreat, in which the forlorn protagonist has realized, quite irrefutably, that one can never go home again. But in this odyssey of gloom, he perhaps also hasn’t realized that home is where the heart is. Or, in less sentimental language, ‘you can’t always get what you want, you get what you need.’ Set in the Ladakh region of India, where the director spent some of his formative years, the film also feels like a pseudo travelogue of the capital city of Leh, a region rarely explored in narrative cinema.

A grandfather has been laid to rest, his son and grandchild quietly going about their ceremonial business. The dead man’s brother (Harish Khanna), who has willingly estranged himself from his family, is aware of the event, and is slowly making a journey back home, though he’s reluctant to get there. As the colder days of autumn segue to winter, he makes various stops and partakes in a number of distractions, all of which highlight his role as an eternal outsider. The possibility exists he might not make it to his final destination, at least not in the expected, traditional sense.

Maisam Ali In Retreat Movie Review

As one orients oneself in the narrative, the initial bitterness inherent in the man’s family might go unnoticed. “Those who are not here will never be,” mutters a woman offscreen as we understand the funeral of a grandfather has just transpired. We slowly piece together that the dead man is the brother of the absent one, a man whose omniscient narration confirms “I wanted to be gone and keep going.” With great reluctance, he seems to be making his way back slowly to the familial home, having various interactions with strangers along the way. He remains on the periphery, attempting to interact with his grand-nephew via Facebook, though the boy’s parents seem a bit dismayed to hear of his imminent return. Ultimately, it seems as if no one is truly happy in these encounters with the drifter, even when tagging along with a group of people on their way to a wedding, only to find the hosts are dismayed to see an interloper.

Maisam Ali In Retreat Movie Review

There are other, friendlier encounters, such as a woman whose guest house he frequents, but Ali seems more keen on making the connective tissue all about disconnection. Sequences of another supporting character, a young girl we see doodling, converses with a relative unable to attend a wedding, as if to suggest there’s a similar sense of detachment for those who remain, stuck in place. We get little sense of characterization from Ali’s drifting man, with Harish Khanna (part of Anurag Kashyap’s gangland epic The Gangs of Wasseypur, 2012) existing as an object whose internalization has seemingly crystallized.

In essence, In Retreat is quite similar in tone to Tsai Ming-Liang’s Walker series, featuring Lee Kang-sheng as a slowly perambulating monk through various landscapes. Ultimately, the man makes it to his final destination, but Ali seems to suggest in the film’s final moments he may always remain the self-anointed outsider, a phantom in a time and place where he’s from but cannot remain.

Reviewed on May 20th at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – ACID section. 75 Mins.

★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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