The atmosphere of mourning in Deepak Rauniyar’s wistful White Sun isn’t just the result of the sudden death of the revered former leader of a remote mountain village. Nepal, as the remaining elders once knew it, died when the monarchy was overthrown after a decade of civil war. Fallout from deadly earthquakes in the spring of 2015 then toppled a teetering coalition government. That September, the villagers of White Sun (a symbol on Nepal’s flag) anxiously awaited the announcement of a new constitution.
Rauniyar (Highway) and co-screenwriter David Barker deftly show how recent Nepalese history affects its most isolated citizens, and cinematographer Mark O’Fearghail’s unobtrusive naturalism captures the region’s punishing poverty and exquisite beauty. Adopting the philosophy of neorealism, Rauniyar reveals the overarching forces (religion, caste, patriarchy) that forge Nepali communities, but his characters are also profoundly shaped by individual decisions.
Returning from Kathmandu, Chandra (Dayahang Rai) climbs the narrow mountain roads weighed down by his possessions and a heavier malaise. Joining the Maoist forces distanced him from loyalist family members, and the party’s postwar compromises left Chandra disenchanted and defensive. His estranged wife Durga (Asha Magrati) only looks ahead, preparing a move to the city and embracing the promise of sweeping social change.
Durga’s daughter Pooja (Sumi Malla) and Badri (Amrit Pariyar), the orphan who follows Chandra home, embody Rauniyar’s hesitant optimism. Burdened with the past, adults stumble and halt, while the resourceful, precocious children of wartime charge forward. Their questioning voices and haunted stares are a rebuke to stagnation and restrictive tradition.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on September 6, 2017 by KimStim Films
First published in The Village Voice, 2017.