WHITE SUN, drama, not rated, in Nepali with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
White Sun signals a true coming of age for its director and co-writer, Deepak Rauniyer. It’s his second feature film, following his debut,
Highway, in 2012. Highway began to suggest Rauniyer’s talents, but White Sun truly confirms his abilities. Not only is this work much more dramatic and flowing in its execution, it’s also a polished, full-bodied parable that captures the changing political and social conditions in Nepal.
The story, co-scripted by David Barker, follows the turmoil in a Nepalese village after its longtime mayor suddenly dies. A towering figure, he stood with the tradition-minded elders, still practicing rites passed down through generations in this remote outpost perched alongside the Himalayas. In keeping with custom, his portly corpse must be hefted down a mountainous trail, to be cremated by a river. The two sons of the mayor, Chandra (Dayahang Rai) and Suraj (Rabindra Singh Baniya), have the task of carrying the corpse.
They must adhere to strict guidelines enforced by a Hindu priest — a challenge made all the more difficult by their constant bickering and feuding with each other. Suraj, a doctor, has remained behind in the village and embraced his father’s reverence toward the old ways, including the royalist monarchy that once ruled the country. But Chandra left home to fight with the Maoist rebels, who are now governing Nepal from Kathmandu. Chandra, or Agni (“Fire”), as he’s known among the rebels — has not returned in more than a decade. He bristles as the villagers scold him for his modern thinking.
Besides these two squabbling brothers, Rauniyer introduces the perspectives of the tough-minded, fiercely independent Durga (Asha Maya Magrati). Formerly married to Chandra, she cared for his sick father, and lately has been seeing Suraj. There are also two young children — Durga’s daughter Pooja, who thinks Chandra is her father, and the war-orphan Badri, who is hopeful he can latch onto Chandra and finally gain some grounding in his hard-knocks life.
At his best, Rauniyer evokes the poetic realism of Satyajit Ray. Most of the scenes have a bustling, quasi-documentary flavor. But every once in a while a quiet, often quite powerful, metaphor emerges. Take Chandra’s encounter with his Maoist commander, who is now commuting from village to village via helicopter, swooping down from the heavens.
The film’s title comes from the Nepalese flag, the only country’s flag, worldwide, that is nonrectangular in shape. It features a white sun emblazoned next to a white moon, the sun representing Nepal’s warriors, the moon its peacekeepers. Nepal has chosen White Sun as the country’s official submission for Oscar consideration as best foreign-language film. The final nominees will be announced in January. — Jon Bowman
Firebrand: Dayahang Rai