The story is set in a village in the Munsiyari region in Uttarakhand. The film begins with a visual of a woman running across a bridge amidst verdant mountains with a gushing waterfall and a sky that is sharp blue, like the color of Paul Newman's eyes. But within seconds, debutant director Ajitpal Singh slices through the striking scenery.
Through the snapshot of one family, struggling to stay afloat, Ajitpal constructs a strident critique of globalized India. There is a sharp contrast between the guests at the homestay and the actual residents of the home. In a telling scene, we see all the guests lost in their own flashing devices.
Even when surrounded by such breathtaking scenery, they are tethered to their phones. This new connected world is also changing the contours of Chandra's world. The film is peppered with radio commentary about the country's progress but there is little evidence of it in Munsiyari. This village continues to be paradise lost.
Fire in the Mountains reminded me of Ken Loach's Sorry We Missed You, also about a family perched precariously on the edge of disaster. These are ordinary people chasing small dreams – a steady income, a future for their children – but even these elude them.
Later, I kept thinking about Chandra – her toil and her sacrifice. Fire in the Mountains is a powerful and empathetic portrayal of the load that women carry. There is a rage in it that will move you.
Ajitpal deftly combines the realistic textures of a documentary with the drama of fiction. DoP Dominique Colin showcases the natural beauty of Munsiyari but also the confined spaces of the family. There are several shots in which characters are framed in windows and doorways that reflect their circumscribed lives. Ajitpal and Dominique permeate their tragedy with lyricism. Which makes it more haunting.
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