Judge Gordon Sullivan prefers to cross One Bridge.
Cinema loves a scoundrel. Whether it's Harry Lime to Rhett Butler, those riding that thin line between respectability and outright criminality are always fascinating. More importantly, cinema loves a criminal. From early Warner gangster movies to modern heist flicks, we love to watch people breaking the law. Director Tariq Tapa knows this. When it came time to make his debut feature, Zero Bridge, in his father's native Kashmir (the region between India and Pakistan that each country claims as its own), he took a dash of criminality and a whole helping of neorealism to make a film that shows a lot of promise, but doesn't quite deliver the goods.
Dilawar (Mohamad Imran Tapa) is a seventeen-year-old juvenile delinquent in Kashmir who decides to add picking pockets to the list of petty crimes he commits when not working for his uncle's construction company. On his first job, he steals the purse of the older Bani (Taniya Khan). The purse includes her passport, which she plans to use to get to America. Dilawar meets her again late while working for his uncle, and the two spark up a relationship, complicated by Bani's anxiety about her passport and Dilawar's lack of commitment to anything.
Making a film about a pickpocket—especially a relatively low-budget one with first-time actors, filmed on the streets—is to immediately precipitate dangerous associations. Robert Bresson's famous Pickpocket is similarly about a young man who must face the consequences of his criminal activities, and it is justly celebrated as a classic of international arthouse cinema. Against such an august predecessor, Zero Bridge has no hope of succeeding.
It's obvious from the first handheld scene on a bridge it is obvious that Tapa is familiar with the neorealist tradition of filming on location with inexperienced actors attempting to capture the flavor of life as it is lived on the streets. Between the somewhat jerky movement and the amateurish performance, Zero Bridge announces itself as a film that's just as much about filming in Kashmir as it is about Dilawar and his budding romance with Bani.
This is, of course, significant. In the same way that the Italian Neorealists used their films to document Italy after World War II, Tapa uses Zero Bridge to document Kashmir as it is after years of struggle between India and Pakistan to control the area. Tapa may rightly claim this is the first example of filmmaking in and from Kashmir for generations since fighting began in earnest. I devoutly wish that this political and aesthetic significance was enough to make Zero Bridge an enjoyable film, but the elements just aren't there.
In his director's statement, Tapa claims to use the tools of realism to aspire to the level of folk art, to remove himself as director from film so that it may endure. It's a fine goal, but these same tools have been worn away by use. Though the film aims to present the daily life of Kashmiri citizens, what it ends up doing is reducing those Kashmiri people to the same level as everyone else. That might be a good thing—recognizing similarities across humanity is important—but it utterly fails to capture what makes Kashmiri unique, why Tapa would choose to tell this story about Kashmiri people instead of Iraqi, French, Belgian, or even U.S. people. Just about everyone has somewhere they'd rather be. So, the film unites the struggling people of Kashmir with struggling people everywhere, but only at the cost of reducing them to just another group of people, negating whatever force their particular situation had in the first place.
I don't want to be too down on Zero Bridge, however. Though I think it doesn't succeed in its ambitions, I appreciate that Tapa is trying to do something and the film shows definite promise, should Tapa continue to hone his storytelling instincts alongside his craft. Hopefully, larger budgets and more experienced actors will find Tapa making a more mature brand of cinema.
This DVD, though, is a great way to experience the film. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is generally clean. There's a gritty, handheld feel to most of the footage, so this transfer isn't pristine and reference quality, but it does present the film appropriately. The stereo audio keeps the Kashmiri/Urdu dialogue audible and well-balanced, and there are optional English subtitles. Extras include the aforementioned director's statement, a 15-minute radio interview with Tapa, and another 15-minute audio recording of a Q&A with the director after the film's premiere in New York. There are also some text reviews and the film's trailer.
Zero Bridge is a thoughtfully packaged film that attempts to show daily life in Kashmir through the lens of a juvenile delinquent. Though it gets credit for ambition and understanding the tradition of cinema, it never quite hits home as a compelling drama. The nearest filmmaker I can compare it to might be Pedro Costa, though Tariq Tapa's film isn't nearly as bleak. It's worth a rental for those following trends in international art cinema, but for most viewers, the slow pace and lack satisfying action will be a turnoff.
Not quite perfect, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
• Director's Statement
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