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From the London Film Festival 2017: ‘Beyond the Clouds’

The first Indian film by Iranian film maker, Majid Majidi, Beyond the Clouds is a crime drama set in Mumbai. Aamir (Ishaan Khattar) is a drug dealer who’s sister, Taara attacks her colleague, Akshi (Goutam Ghose), who is trying to rape her. Akshi ends up in hospital whilst Taara is imprisoned. If Akshi dies or fails to admit his guilt then Taara will be imprisoned for the rest of her life. Aamir decides to take a more assertive role in convincing Akshi to confess, but when Akshi’s mother and two children arrive, he finds his priorities challenged.

Beyond the Clouds is a beautifully shot film. The first act is heavy with  glorious shots of Mumbai, from an energetic chase scene ending in a sprawling street laundry, to a gorgeous tracking shot through a bustling apartment block. Even the horrific inciting incident of the film takes place in a vast area where people have hung their drying sheets. An ocean of these pristine sheets billow around them as they struggle, ending is a spray of vivid red blood. There’s a fantasy movie quality to these sequences as the city unfurls before Majidi’s lens.

Such shots become rarer in the second and third act as the focus shifts to the human drama. Smaller spaces are explored with the same sense of wonder. Shots of the wind chimes gently moving in Aamir’s apartment, or two hands reaching out of a narrow doorway to feel the rain, are just as extraordinary as the rich shots of the Indian jungle around the city.

Ishaan Khattar carries the movie as the lead. He is charismatic but volatile. He has an extraordinary physicality that makes his dancing and action sequences very natural. His anger is believable and often intimidating. Goutam Ghose is also hauntingly frail in a number of her scenes, but her emotional scenes tend to play like melodrama.

The film doesn’t quite have the nerve to follow through on its darker themes. Themes such as human slavery, betrayal and prostitution are present as set dressing to a much more conventional story. No character ever makes a tough decision without quickly changing their mind. No one ever parts with something precious to them without getting it back soon after. It’s no bad thing to have made a sweet natured film but the drama and tension is often undermined. The emotional moments therefore tend to feel unwarranted or a little absurd.

At one stage Aamir considers doing something truly awful to raise his sisters bail money. It’s a gut wrenching moment as the act he considers is horrific. This dilemma for Aamir is somewhat absurd though, as we are not given enough evidence that the act would be worth it for Aamir. The characters darkness comes and goes so abruptly that it feels completely out of character. Following this there’s a sequence in which Akshi’s youngest daughter appears to be afraid of Aamir. Perhaps she can somehow sense his self-interest or the hatred he feels for their father. It’s a very interesting change in their dynamic which is immediately resolved as Aamir starts dancing, which amuses the girl. This was the intention of the scene. It was just setting up another beautifully shot but ultimately hollow human moment.

AR Rahmin’s sweet natured score betrays the intentions of the film. Even when the unthinkable is happening, the score assures us that catharsis is never too far away. His music excellently invokes the exotic setting but rarely suggests anything too frightening is happening, even when it is. I’m reminded of how The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s soundtrack would render the mundane utterly terrifying, forcing you to hunt for the ulterior motive that’s threatening our characters. Quite the opposite is achieved here.

Beyond the Clouds is a gorgeous movie with a fantastic lead performance. It is, however, a clumsy film with narrative threads that lead nowhere and characters who drop out of the film altogether. I was so unsure of the film’s core intention that the final scene took me completely by surprise. It’s a spectacle and has some very sweet moments, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t hit a little harder.

3 / 5

Paul Salt is the co-host of One Good Thing.