Film Review: Lion @ London Film Festival 2016
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★★★★☆The debut feature film from award-winning commercial director Garth Davis, Lion tells the moving true story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian street child adopted in Australia, and his search for the family he lost. Dev Patel only stars in half of the film - unexpectedly, the first half chronicles Saroo’s experiences as a child, played by outstanding young talent Sunny Pawar. It is these memories of his early years with his family which haunt Saroo all those years later, so it is fundamental to the emotional journey of the film that the audience is as involved with those memories as the character. Luckily, Saroo’s love for his mother and his admiration for his older brother are so convincingly played that it only takes a few short scenes of them together to convey the enormity of their absence when he is separated from them. Skilfully shot, the stillness and silence of an empty train station at night makes the tiny Pawar look so painfully small and alone, whilst the chaotic bustle of the packed train station in Calcutta, thousands of miles from his home, where most people speak a different language, has the same effect. The pumping fear he feels as he runs away from men snatching street kids, the grief and desperation as he cries for his mother, the helplessness and resignation as he realises nobody has heard of his hometown and he is stuck here - the audience is right there with him on this terrifying journey. The pathos is huge - there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as a kindly police officer asked for his mother’s name so they could try and contact her, and little Saroo with all his five-year-old wisdom simply replies “Ammi (mum).” Eventually taken to an orphanage from which he is adopted by an Australian couple, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, we follow Saroo as he travels even further from his home and his family, but gains another home and family in its stead. It is here we jump forward twenty years, and Patel appears, speaking fluent Australian-accented English - a far cry from where Saroo started. The film becomes an interesting discussion on not only cross-cultural adoption, but the wider case of the children of immigrants, brought up in a culture different from their parents’. “I was adopted here, I’m not really Indian,” Saroo tells his Indian foreign student classmates, and although he gained so much by being raised in Australia, there is a grief here at at something lost. Not just his family but his heritage and history, erased in exchange for his comfortable life. There is no condemnation on either side, but simply an acknowledgement of the opportunity cost.
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