A Canadian documentary filmmaker traces her Anglo-Indian heritage back to a jail cell in Pune.
Claire Spencer, 38, knows little of her father’s extended family beyond a few loose facts and one tantalizing clue. In the years before Indian independence, her grandfather, an Anglo-Indian civil servant, was Gandhi’s jailer. This story has always intrigued her, and in the years following her grandfather’s death, she decides to use it as the subject for her second film. She also hopes to make peace with the ghost of her father, an aloof, authoritarian figure from whom she’s often felt estranged. But as she begins her research, Claire is presented with an even more immediate reason to trace her family history: she discovers she has a rare, perhaps genetic heart disease that causes violent palpitations and seizures. Could the life and mysterious death of her grandmother Alice hold some clue to her illness? Claire’s hope to make some sense of her father’s homeland soon becomes an attempt to understand the erratic patterns of her own psyche and body. Miller’s narrative is equally erratic as it imitates the form of the film that Claire will eventually piece together by jumping, cutting and looping in time. Between sequences of Claire and her boyfriend, David, discussing terms like “distanciation” and “jouissance” in 21st-century Toronto, the story leaps back 70 years and over a hemisphere to follow Alice and Denzil, Claire’s grandparents, on tiger hunts and across deserts in the years leading up to Indian independence. In addition, Miller offers dream sequences, snippets of film script, digressions into second-person narrative and mystically unexplained interjections by the oracular voice of Nur, a 16th-century Mughal empress. The material is rich—at times too rich: Miller’s debut is occasionally engrossing, but overburdened rather than illuminated by its own structural play.
A sometimes clever, sometimes ponderous montage.