Review: The Valley of Saints by Musa Syeed
Valley of Saints won the Alfred Sloan Feature Film prize and the Word Cinema Audience award at the Sundance Film Festival 2012. It most recently played at the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
The audiences highly appreciated The Valley of Saints in both Sundance and Rotterdam and with a good reason: the story finds its way to the heart of the spectator, it evolves around a friendship and a love-story that takes place in a paradisiacal place – The Valley of Saints, but it doesn’t ignore the reality of the Kashmiri conflicts, for some instants becoming the valley of pain. Two friends, Gulzar (Gulzar Bhat) and Afzal (Afzal Sofi), who live on the Dal Lake in Kashmir try to run away, but they can’t leave the city because of protest, followed by military curfew. Blocked in the city they’ll get to know a young scientist, Asifa (Neelofar Hamid), who does tests on the water of the lake and who looks for possibilities to preserve it’s unique environment.
The story of the movie can be sketched in these few words, but it won’t make up for the film itself. It can be watched rather as a series of touching situations, formed by the games the two friends play or the expression of their rivalry when it comes to winning the attention of Asifa or the caring guidance through which Gulzar shows the world he lives in: the Dal Lake and all its beauty.
The interactions between the friends don’t feel strongly directed; as if the shooting team just caught them playing and a sensitive editor and director put together in the editing room the best moments. It seems almost plausible, since Musa Syeed, the director and Yoni Brook, the cinematographer of the movie have both worked on documentary projects together. This time again they have used all the resources that were given: Gulzar’s expertise being a real boatman and knowing all the secrets of the lake, his poems and the moments of a real friendship between him and Afzal, of a friendship that was born during the preparations of the shooting.
Besides the naturalistic play of the actors and the touching story, there is another very realistic element to this fiction feature: the documentary and news-style footage, that was shot by the team shows that the armed conflicts and the curfews are part of life in Kashmir. No local and no tourist can escape becoming a witness to them – and to a larger degree, no person who will get to watch The Valley of Saints.
Boglarka Nagy is a film writer and festival programmer from Romania. She recently attended the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012.