Review by Dan Skip Allen
Films come in all shapes and sizes, with filmmakers from all around the world contributing their unique voices. That's what makes cinema and filmmaking so exciting as an art form. A Night of Knowing Nothing is a film from India — a documentary about important subject matter that people in America maybe could have related to many years ago, in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the story took place, but could struggle to find sympathetic in today’s era.
This film uses Bhumisuta Das as a narrator reading the letters of L, a student writing to her estranged lover. Das reads the letters throughout the documentary, describing the events that are going on during this time. Director Payal Kapadia uses this technique to tell this story from various points of view.
The cinematography is mostly in black and white, with a few segments of color thrown in for good measure, all presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The footage is taken from images captured at various events in India during this time. While Kapadia’s approach is an older style, it has been used in films from this era quite a bit.
The documentary focuses mainly on younger people at universities and in the fledgling entertainment industry in India. Students are trying to make films and get their freedom from certain Indian religious dogma, such as Hinduism — a big subsection in this country. The leaders of the country put people in powerful positions that don't go along with the way many youth think at the time. It's reminiscent of our country in the same era. Many youth in this country rebelled against the powers that be.
The motto at the time in India's history was “Educate, Agitate, Organize.” This is the way the youth of India thought at the time, and the film strives to capture this through their first-hand stories. We hear of an act called the Citizen Rejuvenation Act that was put into place to bring the youth back, and a friend of the youth who dies as a martyr, giving this movement a real reason to fight against the status quo in the government. We are told these stories in the film, but we never feel a full connection.
A Night of Knowing Nothing is not an easy movie to watch. Maybe younger people may relate to it more because of how the film tries to give youth in India a voice, but it didn't work for me. Although the narration and filmmaking style are compelling, the political activism and violent nature of the film can be somewhat overwhelming. I am always up to watch experimental films, but this one wasn't my cup of tea.
A Night of Knowing Nothing screens in theaters as a special event on July 28.