Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2012: Abu, Son of Adam

Michael Hayward

Abu and his wife Aisumma are a devout Muslim couple who live in a rural setting in the southern Indian state of Kerala. They are poor, and their one child, a son, left home many years ago and is no longer in contact with them.

Abu, Son of Adam is the story of Abu and Aisumma's attempt to participate in the annual Hajj, the sacred pilgrimage to Mecca. Over a lifetime they have been tucking rupees away into a slot on the lid of an iron-bound wooden trunk, but when they open the trunk they discover that all of their scrimping and saving still leaves them short of funds.

Strict Muslim law prevents them from accepting charity from anyone other than a blood relative to pay for their Hajj (and you'll recall that their son is absent from the scene). So Abu is forced to sell their jackfruit tree to a local timber merchant; they sell the cow and calf from whose milk Aisumma has been earning a bit of money. The couple make the round of their friends and neighbours to seek forgiveness for any slight that they, Abu and Aisumma, might have made, in order to ensure that they can embark upon their Hajj with unblemished souls.

The setting is gorgeous: the lush greens of the vegetation, the blue skies stained orange at sunset -- but the pace of the film is slow, and there are times when you want to reach out and shake Abu in an attempt to persuade him to waver, if only slightly, from his unswerving piety. He is human, we tell ourselves; who besides himself would ever know if he were to make some minor compromise in order to achieve his dream?

What this impulse does not take into account, though, is that Abu, Son of Adam is a fable rather than a film of social realism, and the characters and the events of the film are iconic rather than strictly true to life.

We have seen these people before, or variations of them, in Aesop, or in Grimm's fairy tales: the elderly couple who, despite a lifetime of disadvantage, now appear to be on the brink of realizing their dream; the feckless son, who has failed to live up to his parents' hopes, and who appears undeserving of the sacrifices that they made on his behalf; the scheming neighbour who has instigated a dispute about a boundary line; the corrupt minor police official who will not perform his duties without the payment of a bribe.

Abu is apparently India's entry in the Best Foreign Film category of the upcoming Oscar season. You can watch the trailer here.

There are two VIFF screenings remaining: Wednesday October 3rd at 3:00 pm; and Saturday October 6th at 3:00 pm. Both screenings at the Empire Granville 3



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