Vfrom Idaiyapatti to Ettimalangam, two towns in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India, there is a bus in which passengers have to pay extra for water containers. The area is so dry that people travel long distances to get their fluids. Only Ganapathy has no water bottle in the scarf he tied around his waist, but something more spiritual.
The dark-skinned man with a full beard is walking barefoot. His feet must be used to the hot, sandy ground. He stands at the exit of the village of Ettimalangam and waits for his son, whom he has sent to his in-laws to bring his mother back. She left the family because she could no longer endure the despotic behavior of Ganapathy. In the film “Pebbles” by PS Vinothraj, the boy Velu is the reference figure for the audience. He trudges at a safe distance in front of or behind his father, always focused on avoiding the sudden violence emanating from Ganapathy.
At the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), which ended on Sunday, “Pebbles” won over the jury so much that it awarded the Golden Tiger, the first great prize at a European film festival this season. In the German perception, the IFFR is traditionally somewhat overshadowed by the Berlinale, which usually takes place immediately afterwards. This year, however, the gap was greater, and because Rotterdam had decided on a format comparable to the current Berlinale plan, it was also of interest to take a closer look at the festival for this reason. Last week’s digital pass will be followed by a public event in June. The Berlinale will do the same.
Pictures like from the outback
The fact that “Pebbles” finally stood out from the 16 films in the IFFR competition has probably to do with the unusual landscape that the film shows: an exposed arid zone that is reminiscent of images from the Australian outback in many ways. There are even rock formations that resemble Uluru (better known by the colonial name of Ayer’s Rock). And when Velu once looks up to the sky because he sees an airplane there, it is a sign of civilization that contains its own ambivalence, because air traffic contributes its small part to the warming of the planet, which is particularly noticeable in India.
It is no coincidence that science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson starts his current climate catastrophe novel “The Ministry for the Future” with heat death in the millions in India. For Velu, however, the airplane is also an image of an inaccessible way out. He exchanges a look with a girl he meets on the road with a family who get away with smoking out rats, breaking their legs and then roasting them alive. With such drastic scenes, “Pebbles” proves itself to be a typical festival film, which highlights one of the many inequalities and injustices on this planet.