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CANNES 2024 Competition

Review: All We Imagine as Light


- CANNES 2024: Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia has created a bewitching hybrid work that delves into the hearts of the women of her country and their longings for another world

Review: All We Imagine as Light
Kani Kusruti (centre) in All We Imagine as Light

“Some people call it the city of dreams, but I don't. I think it's the city of illusions,” “there's an unspoken code: even if you live in the sewers, you're not allowed to feel anger. People call it the spirit of Mumbai,” “you have to believe in this illusion or you go mad.” After her highly acclaimed debut with the documentary A Night of Knowing Nothing [+see also:
film review
interview: Payal Kapadia
film profile
, Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia has taken her undeniable style, a blend of poetry and realism, into fictional territory with the bewitching All We Imagine as Light [+see also:
film profile
, which went straight into competition at the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

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What hasn't changed is the director's intention to give a voice to the voiceless in her country, in this case women. And it is in a skilfully constructed whirlwind of conflicted feelings in search of freedom that she plunges her main characters (two roommate nurses and an older friend, a hospital cook) into the centre of the vast circle of a sprawling city of 21 million inhabitants. These lives and the film are bathed in the very special atmosphere of impermanence that is characteristic of Indian culture, where the Hindi word ‘Kal’ means both today and tomorrow, where religious barriers, arranged marriages and emigration separate lovers, and where property developers are restructuring neighbourhoods like steamrollers.

In their day-to-day professional lives, the experienced Prabha (Kani Kusruti) and the younger Anu (Divya Prabha) are perfectly familiar with the music of the human body (they talk about Sims' vaginal speculum, arterial clamps, vasectomies, contraceptive pills, etc.). But in their private lives, a culture of restraint is supposed to be adhered to. The eldest puts up with it, keeping her torments a secret (her husband, who has gone to work in Germany, hasn't called her for a year, only reached out by sending a brand new rice cooker) and her reserve in the face of a doctor's romantic advances. The youngest daughter, on the other hand, defies the rules by dating the Muslim Shiaz (Hridhu Haroon), a romance full of practical complications. The cook Parvati (Chhaya Kadam), a widow fighting an unjustified eviction, decides to invite the two nurses to her native village by the sea...

Woven together with a captivating blend of hyper-realistic documentary density and melodramatic romanticism in the tradition of Indian cinema, All We Imagine as Light shines particularly brightly in its first two-thirds, which are urban and nocturnal, Payal Kapadia demonstrating her very fine ability to aesthetically and narratively distil the many small and scattered elements of everyday life. And while the transition to light is, although pleasant, more artificial, with a disconcerting finale, the filmmaker nonetheless imposes a hybrid, personal feminist signature full of charm and very high artistic potential.

All We Imagine as Light was produced by French production company Petit Chaos and co-produced by Arte France Cinéma, Baldr Film (Netherlands), Chalk & Cheese (India), Another Birth (India), Les Films Fauves (Luxembourg) and Pulpa Film (Italy). International sales are handled by Luxbox.

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(Translated from French)

Photogallery 23/05/2024: Cannes 2024 - All We Imagine as Light

23 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Payal Kapadia, Hridhu Haroon, Kani Kusruti, Chhaya Kadam, Divya Prabha
© 2024 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa -,

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