The curvy poetry of “Peepal Tree” blunts the message
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Bio on the Indian filmmaker’s website Kranti Kanade says he has planted over 8,000 trees. This kind of environmental concern is the driving force behind his latest film, “Peepal Tree,” in which Kanadé plays a conscientious man driven to activism after discovering that the police school adjacent to his property was illegally cutting down old peepals and banyan trees. (These varieties of figs have historical and religious significance in India.)
Initially, the situation, which we are told is inspired by real events, creates a kind of bureaucratic comedy, with the character of Kanadé (named “He” in the credits) and his wife (Eesha Thaker like, you l ‘will have guessed, “She”) complain to the police about her own offense, which they then learn is an offense without the power of arrest. When shame, logic, and spirited harangues about ecology get the couple nowhere with their neighbors, they turn to a tree activist (Vinay Sharma) steeped in toothless environmental laws that have allowed developers to crack down without any penalty. He introduces the couple to a community of like-minded citizens who meet regularly to disrupt the felling of trees.
Filmed in a pocket-sized style, adjacent to the documentary, which favors argument and humor over conventional storytelling or character-building, “Peepal Tree” claims a compelling immediacy to its central issue, presented – with precision – as a threat to life everywhere. But he also suffers from a (hum) uprooting in his tones and structure, so that the enlightenment is always blunted by the meanders of his poetry and his passion. When we can’t figure out who the central couple is, for example, the journey seems like a glance, not a consequence.
Although the seriousness of its purpose and its images of entire, pruned trees make “Peepal Tree” intermittently convincing, one wishes the sharper daring of Kanadé’s latest film, the elegant drama school melodrama “CRD “, or in fact here to revive the urgency of what is clearly a deeply personal crusade for the filmmaker.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.