Lion: The long road home
by Vittoria Scarpa
- Screened at the Rome Film Fest, Garth Davis’ film, starring Dev Patel, is a passionate epic about a young man searching for his roots, based on a true story
A speech impediment: this is what stops Saroo, who was reported missing at the age of 5, from returning to his village in India, to his mother and brother. When people ask him where he’s from, he names a city that doesn’t exist. But 25 years later, Saroo manages to find the way home from Australia, thanks to Google Earth. The incredible true story of Saroo Brierley, told in the autobiographical book ‘A Long Way Home’, takes shape on the big screen in the engaging debut feature by Australian director Garth Davis (the director of TV series Top of the Lake) Lion [+see also:
film profile], featuring the star of Slumdog Millionaire [+see also:
interview: Danny Boyle
film profile], British actor Dev Patel, alongside Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara.
Shown in the Official Selection of the 11th Rome Film Fest, after having its world premiere at Toronto, Lion is a painful portrayal of society, a reflection on one’s roots and an epic human adventure all rolled into one, which moves the audience without slipping into melodrama. When young Saroo (played by the outstanding Sunny Pawar) gets on an empty train that leaves and then doesn’t stop, we immediately feel for him, in the midst of his shouts and sobs. He got on the train looking for his big brother Guddu, who left him asleep at the station with the promise that he would come back for him, and ends up finding himself in Calcutta, thousands of miles from home. A life on the streets, child trafficking, and an orphanage: awaiting him is a life of extreme abandonment, but one in which Saroo meets other children just like him, who offer him a helping hand.
Adopted by a loving Australian couple (she played by Kidman, he by David Wenham), we find Saroo 25 years later, in Melbourne, living a calm and fulfilled life, in love with a girl called Lucy (Rooney Mara). Grateful to his adoptive parents, he has forgotten his roots, until an Indian speciality he tries at a dinner with friends unlocks a world of memories, like Proust’s madeleine. And so he decides to find out where his home village is – with the help of Google Earth and sophisticated calculations on the possible distance travelled by that fateful train – and to look for his biological family. He becomes almost obsessed, driven by a deep sense of guilt: how could he forget them? How many times must his mother have cried his name? What remorse must his brother feel?
In Lion it is the editing that is charged with emotion. After a first part focussed on Saroo as a youngster, the director shows us what became of that docile and fearful child. But as soon as the protagonist decides to reconnect with his past, quick flashbacks start alternating with his present-day reality, evoking memories and stirring feelings within him: his mother’s embrace, his brother’s face, the train, the river, his home. Even the shacks and dirt take on a certain beauty, as it was there that his people were born and live. The images from Google Earth, zoom after zoom, start to mesh with his distant memories, in a breathtaking crescendo. The viewer is pulled right in, and stays right there with him, by the side of the little big Saroo, including throughout his moving journey home.
Co-produced by the United Kingdom (See-Saw Films), Australia and the United States, Lion will be released in Italian theatres on 22 December with Eagle Pictures. It is slated for release in Poland, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Croatia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Germany, as well as Singapore, Canada, the United States and Australia for sometime between November 2016 and February 2017.
(Translated from Italian)
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