'The Song Of Scorpions': Locarno Review
Anup Singh’s ambitious third feature stars Golshifteh Farahani and Irrfan Khan
Dir/scr: Anup Singh. Switzerland/France/Singapore. 2017. 119 mins
Love moves in the most twisted, mysterious ways in The Song Of Scorpions, a film whose gentle manner belies it darker themes. Anup Singh’s ambitious third feature, following Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost (2013) and Ekti Nodir Naam (2002), grows more compelling as it unfolds, following an independent woman as she struggles against hardship and treachery to remain true to her own instincts. This emotional journey allied to a handsome production and the international allure of stars Golshifteh Farahani and Irrfan Khan should be enough to ensure a solid commercial future for the film.
The Song Of Scorpions is an original screenplay by Singh but has the feel and complexity of a novel
Filmed in the Thar desert of Rajasthan, The Song Of Scorpions is undeniably eye-catching. Cinematographer Pietro Zuercher makes the most of the contrast between the bright sunlight of day and nights illuminated by the stars in the clear desert sky or the comforting glow of a camp fire. It is a film full of contrasts between ancient and modern, where bustling cities nestle alongside vast, arid deserts, camels and motorbikes are equally valid modes of transport and traditional values still hold sway over a population which has embraced the technological advances of the 21st century.
Nooran (Farahani) is equally torn between past and present. Stubbornly independent, she is learning to be a healer from her grandmother (Rehman), a celebrated singer renowned for her ability to save anyone poisoned by the sting of a scorpion. Nooran attracts the devotion of camel peddler Aadam (Khan), who will do anything to prove his love for her. When she is attacked and raped in the desert, Nooran is treated as an outcast by her own community and Aadam is given the chance to prove that he will love her regardless of what tragedies befall them.
The Song Of Scorpions is an original screenplay by Singh but has the feel and complexity of a novel. As the plot twists and turns, leading to a betrayal that is almost Shakespearean, the focus remains on Nooran. Is she is able to look beyond a thirst for revenge and find a positive, healing way to deal with the poison that has entered her life?
Although leisurely in places, The Song Of Scorpions retains its grip, especially as we grow more involved in Nooran’s refusal to become a victim and her response to the many challenges placed in her path. The material could easily have lent itself to melodrama or sentimentality but Singh’s understated direction lends it a steely conviction that is further underpinned by some deft casting. Golshifteh Farahani retains a sense of the fire in her character even as events conspire to crush her spirit. A soulful Irrfan Khan makes Aadam such a charming, sensitive figure that it is hard to think ill of him even when we start to discover that he is not quite the saintly figure that we had first imagined.
The selection of beautiful songs woven throughout the story lend an extra dimension to an accessible and satisfying, life-affirming tale.
Production company: Feather Light Films, KNM, Cine Sud Promotion
World sales: The Match Factory, firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Saskia Vischer, Shahaf Peled, Michel Merkt
Executive producers: Justin Deimen, Gin Kai Chan, Shiladitya Bora
Cinematography: Pietro Zuercher
Editor: Marie-Pierre Frappier
Music: Beatrice Thiriet
Production designer: Rakesh Yadav
Main cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Irrfan Khan, Waheeda Rehman