2005, Canada/India, directed by Deepa Mehta
The title of Deepa Mehta's film functions on a great many levels, beyond the obvious literal importance of the river that plays a major role in the spiritual and material life of the Indian city where the film takes place. The river also operates as a division between rich and poor, something that the townspeople must cross order to access the Brahmin residences - and which the Brahmins see as a convenient barrier. But it also represents the slow, inexorable process of change that is happening in India at the time when the film is set, the late 1930s, with the rise to prominence of Gandhi, bringing with him radical ideas about the the caste system and the position of women in a deeply conservative society. The sense of fluid grace also extends to the limpid filmmaking itself, with a narrative that moves insistently yet serenely forward.
Deepa Mehta's use of colour and enclosed spaces evokes the Afghan film Osama, which also has thematic resonances in terms of its clear-eyed view of the treatment of women in a traditional society; Water focuses particularly on the plight of widows, often forced to withdraw from life following the death of their husbands. The film's main weakness is the rather schematic romance that develops between one of the widows and a politically engaged young man, which seems a little too simplistic given the fraught circumstances, while the references to Gandhi tend to re-affirm the outsider's view that he was the only voice for change in India. However, that shouldn't detract too much from the film's achievements, on the levels of both form and content, nor from the fine, humane performances from the many generations of actresses who play the widows, from elderly women to a child of seven.