TIFF 2019 Movie Review: ‘Jallikattu’

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‘Jallikattu’ has nothing to do with the Tamil Nadu spectacle of the same name, director Lijo Jose Pellissery, clarifies. It’s about exploring the space between man and beast. A part of TIFF 2019’s Midnight Madness line-up, the film premiered to a full theatre, including curious cine-goers and die-hard fans.

‘Jallikattu’ starts with the routine ticking of an average morning in the village. But as the local butcher’s buffalo escapes, destroying everything in its path, the same ticking fuels a sense of urgency, eventually escalating to something to measure your pulse against. A group of villagers gather to capture the runaway buffalo, but the harder the task becomes, the more “heroes” from the village emerge, ready to single-handedly save the day. Somewhere between good intentions and great egos, the mob of men turns into the beasts they sought out to tame.

‘Jallikattu’ has all of Pellissery’s signature filmmaking amplified and perfected: the stunning crowds, the seamless music score, the sense of humour. But the pacing doesn’t resemble his other work. Instead of a slow build-up to the eventual chaos, this film is a high stakes chase sequence from start to finish. This time, Pellissery takes small moments of disorder and snowballs them into a grand finale of utter mayhem, leaving you in awe.

Cinematographer Girish Gangadharan, known for the infamous 11-minute scene in ‘Angamaly Diaries’ (2017), captures the Kerala forests beautifully. The breathtaking night shots of the mob flashing through the trees, the calm of the forest, all contrast with the increasing madness of the people. The shots are lit enough to clearly see what is happening on screen without taking you out of the atmosphere of the wilderness. The sound created by Prashant Pillai and Renganaath Ravee adds another gripping layer to ‘Jallikattu’, making a symphony out of seemingly nothing.

The characters of Chemban Vinod Jose (Varkey), Anthony Varghese (Anthony) and Sabumon Abdusamad (Kuttachan) serve as the different perspectives within the mob that consists of amateur actors. As old loyalties and rivalries come to fore, they become the faces of passivity, jealousy and revenge.

‘Jallikattu’ is a Lijo Jose Pellissery film in the best possible way. The crowds are bigger, the chaos is grander and it all comes together to create an unforgettable experience.

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