The Waiting City: film
This is a most moving film – excuse the pun. A childless Australian couple arrive in India to meet and collect an orphan child. The visual chaotic life of India’s streets is mirrored in the chaotic attempts by Fiona (‘the wife’) to keep in touch with her work in Australia.
The couple are gradually immersed in India’s life as they negotiate lost luggage, street crowds, Indian bureaucracy and the complex layers of spiritual life.
The ‘waiting’ of the title describes the experience of this Australian couple as they negotiate the paperwork and interviews. (As an Australian viewer aware of some of the complexities of inter-country adoption, I found it an uncomfortable wait.) There is a waiting that the couple undergo, but it is gradually revealed that their waiting conceals a deeper longing, based on the experience of depression, failed sexual love and the lack of a child. Deeper still, the film takes them (and us) into an encounter with the forms of Indian belief and religious practice (the Hindu guide and attendant explains that on a Muslim holiday everyone takes the holiday), and Fiona as ‘woman’ is also confronted with the maternal goddess of ‘Mother’. The film takes us to the mix of spiritual devotion and pragmatism here. (According to their guide, if you don’t believe in the gods of the Ganges and it holds no power for you, what harm can it do to simply touch the water?) The logic leads to Fiona not merely stepping into the water at ankle depth but immersing herself completely for an unexpected and prolonged moment; an agonised waiting for those who watch. With that immersion (as with the blind seer’s sight), the Australian woman who declares that she is an atheist is taken into a life she had not expected.
There is failure in the relationship. The man removes himself from the grand hotel, plays music where he can with Australian ex-pats and locals. He is immersed too.
But when it comes to reaching into themselves, exposing their intimacies, that very act opens up more than it seems their relationship can sustain. Where will this end? Can a solution be found in the orphan child, a sickly girl, cared for since birth by a catholic sister. (‘I am her mother too.’) The vulnerable girl has also been waiting. Will it really be best for her to be taken from her Indian family to foreign Australia? Will it really save the marriage of this longing Australian couple? And what hope can be drawn from her serious illness?
The film is powerful because it unflinchingly depicts the longing heart, human resistance to Spirit, the mix of self-absorption and egotism, and the desperation shared by the two fallible human beings waiting for fullness of life, in the streets of Indian cities, where poverty is fully visible, and yet where people are sustained by families and rituals. Lest we be inclined to romanticise, there is judgementalism toward the ‘barren’ woman and shame for a family without children. Here there is to be no sentimental conclusion (indeed the film ends without such a conclusion) and the great expanse of poverty is not removed. But there is a hint in the film’s echo of the biblical saying ‘out of death comes life’. Here, as in the weakness of the cross, an apparently wasted death of the orphan girl has the power to transform longing lives. Her death, whose life had been weighted with such longing, gives unexpected sustenance to those who are waiting.
Below are a couple of links to reviews.
20th July 2010