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29 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

A visually stunning reminder of human suffering

8/10
Author: greg-prescott from United States
23 August 2006

I had the opportunity to watch about 3/4 of Louis Malle's documentary Calcutta during a history class that dealt with historical and modern slums. The movie is a hard film to watch at times due to the display of human suffering throughout the movie. As mentioned in the plot outline, there is little commentary or written dialogue in the film and you are given the raw picture, with some sound, of one of the largest and poorest slums in the world. The imagery is hard to take at times. I saw the film roughly three years ago and there are still two scenes which I vividly remember. One is a dramatic funeral scene where members of a woman's family cremate her in the middle of a street. The other was of a small child, with no clothes or shoes, standing next to filthy streams of water that ran through the slums.

Despite being produced almost 40 years ago, Calcutta deals with urban planning issues that are still prevalent today. There are still places like Lagos, the City of the Dead, and Karachi where slums and ghettos exist and exact a terrible toll on those who live there. This is an excellent movie for anyone who is concerned with urban planning and the global impact of slums, but not for the light-hearted.

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12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Considering the budget and how the film is made, it's an exceptional documentary

8/10
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
28 October 2007

CALCUTTA is a very unusual film in that there is no narration for about the first third of the film and even when it is given, it's only used very sparingly. It seems that director Malle chose to allow the many images of an impoverished city to speak for themselves. In fact, I also appreciated how the film did not push a clear agenda. Sure, it was there (as in any film), but often the film just seemed to be a walking tour of the city--ranging from the interesting to the unusual to the awful and disgusting. Malle did not flinch away from lepers, cremations and people living in abject squalor and considering the source material, avoiding these not so lovely images of the city would have been irresponsible and disingenuous. Additionally, I liked how the lack of narration through the film actually encourages the viewer to make their own interpretation of the film. As a result, I am sure that each viewer has a rather unique take on what the film was about as well as what they think of the future of India. An excellent film that is practically yelling out for a follow-up almost forty years later to show us how life in this crowded city has or has not changed.

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14 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

defensive reviews

Author: foxfirebrand from United States
23 March 2009

I wish people who review movies would do exactly that, and not go flying off on political tangents that aren't necessary or relevant. Yes, Kolkata is different 40 years after this film was shot. What bearing does this have on a film made in 1968? And I don't know why one commenter berated the United States in such broad-sweeping terms, beginning with the false assumption that "we" don't know about our own slums-- and the implicit idea, about as inane as it gets, that American filmmakers don't make films about poverty in America. It's hard to find American films that are NOT critical of their own country-- I know this because I pay some degree of attention.

Not that diatribes against the U.S. have squat to do with this film under consideration. It is a FRENCH film.

There are plenty of sites people eager to vent their bigotry against other peoples and other nations can go, and be welcome.

As for this movie, it "speaks" for itself-- mainly by presenting the subject with as little interpretive voice-over as is possible. To see it attacked on trumped up ideological grounds-- well, it makes my jaw drop.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A fascinating film

9/10
Author: PoppyTransfusion from United Kingdom
26 April 2014

Reading the IMDb reviews I was surprised that some were so negative about the film and cynical about its agenda. One review chose to attack the USA as part of their consideration of the film yet had the reviewer watched closely they would realise there was some irony in the fact that the soybean oil cans were labelled in 17 languages to reinforce that they had been donated by Americans. The film had lots of implicit criticism.

The main criticisms of the film were reserved for British colonialism and the heritage it bequeathed, which was to be found alive and well in the economic elite of Calcutta. Most of the film showed ordinary people in varying states of poverty, working, cleaning and celebrating and/or worshipping. It offered special mention at times for the excluded, e.g. the lepers, the migrants from Bihari and Madras to name some. What this film does is include as many of the people who comprised the population of Calcutta in 1968 and it's not always a pretty sight. But the city is complex.

Some favourite moments: One, the jute situation. Under British rule part of the then city grew the plants from which jute is made and the other part contained the factories for its processing. Post-colonialism and the eastern part of the city, containing the farmed jute plants, became Bangladesh, or East Bengal as it's referred to in the film. The factories remained in India. So Calcutta's municipality divided the land formerly used for rice giving half of it to grow jute plants. The consequence for the population was not enough rice to feed the population! A great illustration of the ludicrousness created by partition and the effects it has on the poor.

Two, manual labour. It was plentiful in Calcutta at rock bottom costs and so the unions were keen to discourage technological advance as it would threaten employment. Meanwhile the people are working very hard for pittances. How would one resolve this? Well that's a hypothetical question as technology has advanced nonetheless.

Three, the clay potter in one of Calcutta's slums. A moment of genuine and serene beauty; watching the man artfully spin his potter's wheel and then so deftly remove parts of the clay he's formed into perfect cups. The cups are then stored on the roof of the hut to dry out thereby providing a decorative temporary roof. Temporality was one of the spiritual themes of the film.

Finally, another complaint in one of the reviews was that the film intruded on subjects' privacy. There were moments when a person spotted being filmed and tried to cover themselves. So there's some legitimacy to this criticism. BUT I wonder if the reviewer picked up this minor detail - and it was minor as most subjects were curious about the camera - because they did not want to see certain people in certain states. The camera in the film lingers on its subjects but it spent time looking with attention. Whether the attention was on faces and hands ravaged by leprosy, a man washing himself in public view, or guests at a bourgeois wedding eating. The camera attended to its subject.

If you have the opportunity to see the film then take it, as it's not easy to get hold of. I have it as part of the Eclipse volume 2box set of Malle's documentaries. The set includes Malle's lengthy documentary called Phantom India. The footage he used in Calcutta was to form part of Phantom India but when he saw what he filmed he realised it was so compelling that it deserved to be a film in its own right.

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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

By making Calcutta, French director Louis Malle has created a harrowing cinematographic experience !!!!

4/10
Author: Film_critic_Lalit_Rao from France
6 June 2010

French director Louis Malle's feature length documentary "Calcutta" would turn out to be a harrowing experience for anyone who is interested in serious cinema.It is not the depiction of abject poverty which is shocking but the manner in which this film was shot is quite revolting.Etienne Becker's camera did not show least bit of concern for his subjects as their privacy was violated in many ways.It felt as if some intruders were hell bent on snatching moments of innocence from common people.This disputatious position would surely play a leading role in polarizing viewers.It can be surmised that even hardcore documentary cinema admirers would doubt this film's neutrality as it appears much too prejudiced.Louis Malle has not been able to strike a fine balance between what he personally experienced in Calcutta and what Calcutta really had to offer.This is one of the reasons why he chose to highlight what he experienced more than what was being offered.As this is a documentary with minimal commentary,viewers would be forced to draw their own conclusions.City of Calcutta is synonymous with its strong political stance.This aspect of Calcutta has been depicted by Louis Malle in a very light manner.This film's few moments of relief were filmed only when Louis Malle chose to become a sociologist.Those are the moments which would please audiences not accustomed to the depiction of anything controversial.

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6 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Colonial Glaucoma

8/10
Author: Rodrigo Reyes from United States
25 May 2009

It's not a matter of pride so much as it is insecurity which leads people to be so defensive towards this film. In sociological terms, they are still playing the role of oppressed subjects. It is an outright denial of reality coupled with a love affair with a myth of identity that never existed in reality.

Why must art be channeled into a half-baked political agenda? Louis Malle did not make it up, he just shot what he found. You must be ready to look at this film as a cultural artifact, as a work of art. Making a critique from a strict nationalistic point of view is less than superficial: it demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what film-making is all about.

In fact, look at the craft Malle used in this film. He avoided narration and let the events carry the film in a direct and simple way. The fact that it avoids narration or music help it to become an open film, one that invites reflection and thought from the viewer. But I guess there is only so much technique can achieve when people refuse to listen.

Perhaps it is more comfortable to enjoy films about the nasty sides of other societies. Overwhelmingly, the reference for films is American Cinema. Look at polls of critics and directors: Citizen Kane is voted number one and often Godfather or Godfather II come in second. These films deal with the breakdown of American society in one way or the other, looking at it's most corrupt extremes. And in fact, both Godfather films are definitely among the most watched films in history, throughout the world.

However, for the sake of decency and if national pride is to be preserved, than we ought to ban films like the Godfather and Calcutta altogether. We should take the historical example of those few intelligent regimes who went through a tremendous effort to control art in their societies, not only films, but also books and music and even painting. It is too easy to cite Hitler's Germany as an example, but the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, North Korea and many others fall into this list.

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Calcutta : French director Louis Malle creates a harrowing cinematographic experience !!!!

2/10
Author: FilmCriticLalitRao from FIPRESCI/Cinema of the world
6 August 2014

French director Louis Malle's feature length documentary "Calcutta" would turn out to be a harrowing experience for anyone who is interested in serious cinema.It is not the depiction of abject poverty which is shocking but the manner in which this film was shot is quite revolting.Etienne Becker's camera did not show least bit of concern for his subjects as their privacy was violated in many ways.It felt as if some intruders were hell bent on snatching moments of innocence from common people.This disputatious position would surely play a leading role in polarizing viewers.It can be surmised that even hardcore documentary cinema admirers would doubt this film's neutrality as it appears much too prejudiced.Louis Malle has not been able to strike a fine balance between what he personally experienced in Calcutta and what Calcutta really had to offer.This is one of the reasons why he chose to highlight what he experienced more than what was being offered.As this is a documentary with minimal commentary,viewers would be forced to draw their own conclusions.City of Calcutta is synonymous with its strong political stance.This aspect of Calcutta has been depicted by Louis Malle in a very light manner.This film's few moments of relief were filmed only when Louis Malle chose to become a sociologist.Those are the moments which would please audiences not accustomed to the depiction of anything controversial.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Powerful and Unrelenting Document of a City: Have Times Changed?

8/10
Author: museumofdave from Corning, California
12 March 2013

You think you've got troubles? Spend a few hours trolling the crowded filth-infested lanes of Calcutta with Louis Malle's roving camera and take in the nightmarish reality that results from millions of people living in the filthiest of circumstances. Narration in this film is minimal, and images tell the story--whether pictures of the sick and dying stuffing their mouths in a death house or children rooting around in the muddy garbage with hogs, this powerful immersion in a city jammed with rootless humans struggling for survival is powerful and unrelenting.

While the arc of a story does not exist, the tale of this city is shown in vivid clarity and Calcutta is not easily forgotten; it's amazing that the film was made forty years ago: could living conditions be any worse today? (One day later--out of curiosity I looked up present day Calcutta on Wikipedia--and was not surprised to find an entirely different picture of that immense metropolis on view--an excellent way to balance the "truth"of what appears to be an objective documentary).

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4 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

Pathetic Entertainment for the Colonial Masters at cost of 300 yrs of colonized India!

1/10
Author: indiglo from India
4 July 2008

This is one sick & dark Documentary! Seems like they were bent upon finding & filming all the Hell that lurks in any other place, here Calcutta! Now,that place has undergone a radical transformation, first-has got its original & proper non-Englished name- " Kolkata " ..& has now,got all its positivity & charms of a sparkling Big city-all for the Better! It was Feb'1968,when the film was shot & its now 2008, more than 40 years has elapsed & generations have changed & so has the city! To all apparent views, the documentary throughout,is very vague & highlights all the abject & absolute poverty in parts of the city without any justifiable reasons for the horrid truth & chaotic state of existence of the time.It is but a failure in finding to analyze the intricacies of the soul & mind of the great city striving to survive with its millions & exponentially growing populace for more than 300 yrs!Inspite of its chaotic portrayal & shock value, the film is incomplete,with it's skewed point of view like many other superfluous mindset & skin deep research of the white skinned western world, would so much want to believe! No pity for the others & to each Best of its own-the Great Grand Kolkata lives & breathes in full life in its very own wonderful World today!!!There are many a things that does NOT meets the eye & to find that hidden beauty there,give yourself a visit to "Kolkata".

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5 out of 34 people found the following review useful:

why do people always focus on wretchedness of countries like India?

Author: tintinkg from India
24 October 2007

So my Question is that do you have slums only in countries like India & not in USA. Open your eyes , for the poor in your country are more worse than ours And also you should be more ashamed of the poverty that exists in your country before passing sanctimonious comments on our wretchedness. The reason, your country is one richest countries in the world & whereas our country of for any country under colonial rule has suffered more than 200 years of complete exploitation in the hands of British/colonial powers. & just after 60 years of independence the improvement we have made is just short of stunning. The chances of an Indian living below the poverty line or living on the breadline been successful is much higher than if the same person lived in US.

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