Throne Of Death

Winner of the 1999 Camera d'Or award at Cannes, this impressive, hour-long first feature from Indian director Murali Nair starts out as an earnest, somewhat familiar, parable of rural injustice. But just when you think you know where this bit of neo-realist suffering is headed, Nair takes a totally unexpected, left-hand turn into wicked satire. Krishnan...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Winner of the 1999 Camera d'Or award at Cannes, this impressive, hour-long first feature from Indian director Murali Nair starts out as an earnest, somewhat familiar, parable of rural injustice. But just when you think you know where this bit of neo-realist suffering is

headed, Nair takes a totally unexpected, left-hand turn into wicked satire. Krishnan (Viswas Narakkal) is a 51-year-old peasant from the southern Indian state of Kerala, and is barely able to make ends meet. Toiling under the broiling sun for a pittance doled out by a rich plantation owner,

Krishnan despairs of ever having enough food to feed his wife, Chirutha (Lakshmi Raman), or their young son. In desperation, Krishnan one night climbs a palm tree to steal a few coconuts, but is caught. Unfortunately for him, there's been a murder in the village and it's election time, so

Krishnan is summarily convicted of the killing and sentenced to hang. But here's where things get interesting. The townsfolk are understandably outraged by the obvious injustice and protest Krishnan's innocence, but that's all forgotten once it's announced that he will die in a brand new

"electronic chair," the latest device from the U.S. that promises condemned prisoners "happy" and "easy" deaths. The arrival of the chair — bought with money loaned by the World Bank — also means that Krishnan's little village will be granted the luxuries of electricity, running water

and a municipal budget, which makes Krishnan a local hero; he can't believe his good luck, and can't wait to sit in the electronic chair. Nair works wonders with his unprofessional cast — Raman in particular brings tremendous pathos to her character and, ultimately, the final irony to the

fable. Shot on a variety of film stocks, the handsomely composed images are occasionally murky, but Nair's point is always crystal clear. (In Malayalam, with English subtitles.)

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