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CANNES 2023 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: Agra


- CANNES 2023: Indian filmmaker Kanu Behl delves into the nightmarish chaos of an Indian family to address the consequences of frustration

Review: Agra

Fasten your seatbelts and sensitive souls please proceed with caution! If the Indian city of Agra [+see also:
interview: Kanu Behl
film profile
, the title of Kanu Behl's new film, presented at the 55th Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival, is world-famous for the Taj Mahal, it is also locally well known for housing the country's largest psychiatric hospital. And it is into a real human, family and urban nightmare that the filmmaker propels the spectator with his second feature film after Titli (selected at Un Certain Regard in 2014). A hard-hitting and audacious film that will leave no one indifferent and that only a formally talented filmmaker like Kanu Behl could bring to a safe harbour beyond its ambient darkness.

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"The terrace is mine! I will take it no matter what." At 24, Guru (Mohit Agarwal) is in the throes of a crisis, like an animal in a cage. He has never had a girlfriend and can't seem to find one, projecting his fantasies day and night in a state of sexual frustration so intense that he is on the verge of exploding, which does little to help his very fractious relationship with his loved ones. The household is in turmoil as the father (Rahul Roy) lives upstairs with his second wife (Sonal Jha) while the mother (Vibha Chibber), who is brimming with hatred over the marital abandonment, shares the ground floor with Guru. As for the famous terrace, it is also coveted by cousin Chhavi (Aanchal Goswami) who wants to set up a dental practice there. Homeric and violent arguments, threats of suicide (with detergent and petrol), hallucinations of Guru, a terrible fight with a doctor, sexual assault: the chaos is total until the young man finally meets a woman (Priyanka Bose), a widow with a limp, and a new deal is made in the family since the father now has a third wife and wants to rebuild the house on five levels to satisfy everyone. Lies, manoeuvres, negotiations with a property developer: the dysfunctional family is not at the end of its tether...

A scathing portrait of an aggressive Indian micro-society deranged by frustration around sexuality and lack of space, a patriarchal power blocking the hopes of youth and a culture of complications whenever money is involved, all set against a cacophony of urban noise, Agra is a more than gripping film. Not hesitating to rely on a main character who is almost repulsive in the first part of the plot, the director then changes his tune to widen his subject to the obsessive quest for individual territories of personal existence within a rediscovered family solidarity ("if we don't fight together we'll end up on the street", "in such a big city, we can't live alone"). Two facets of excess staged with indisputable mastery, but which will probably offend some because of the initial unleashed crudity, and others because of the nebulosity of the subplot. But no one can say that Kanu Behl is an ordinary filmmaker.

Produced by the Indian company Saregama India and co-produced by the French company UFO Production, Agra is sold internationally by Les Films de l'Atalante and Saregama.

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(Translated from French)

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