The Black Hen

 

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An unfamiliar setting makes for an interesting film but one that lacks deft storytelling.

 
Black Hen, The
 

Although technically a co-production also involving France, Germany and Switzerland, this is a film by the Nepalese director Min Bahadur Bham set in his country and co-written by him with Abinash Bikram Shah. As such, The Black Hen, which was a prizewinner at Venice in 2015, has for us the novelty of being set in a part of the world, Northern Nepal, rarely seen on our screens. The year is 2001 and descriptions of the film indicate that it turns on the friendship of two boys, Prakash and Kiran, and their shared quest to recover a hen given to Prakash by his sister but then sold by their father. That makes it sound quite a simple affair but in fact both for better and for worse it is far more complex than that.

 

It is made clear at the start that the story takes place during a ceasefire agreed to by the Maoist insurrectionists who have been propagandising and carrying off youngsters (Prakash's sister joins them by choice but a bridegroom is seized at his marriage ceremony). An end statement mentions that the so-called Civil War in Nepal lasted from 1996 to 2006 but I came to this film without any knowledge of this history and felt the need for more information. In the same way a ceremonial sequence shot in virtual slow motion and the situation regarding untouchables (Prakash is one but Kiran isn't) left one disadvantaged as a spectator lacking relevant detailed knowledge.

 

But, if my own ignorance can be blamed here, it also has to be said that Bham's story-telling is very rough and ready. There are undoubtedly true insights into Nepalese life in this period (it would appear that the story is one that incorporates some autobiographical elements) but the story involves a fair number of characters, not just the members of the families of the two youths but other figures who are part of the village community and to identify them and their relationships is often problematic. For that reason, this heartfelt work with its effective location shooting makes much less of an impact than one had hoped and, indeed, expected. That is not the fault of the child actors in the two leading roles: Khadka Raj Nepali as Prakash and Sukia Raj Rokaya as Kiran. As it stands, The Black Hen treads new ground but in doing so it lacks the narrative clarity that would have empowered it further.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Khadka Raj Nepali, Sukia Raj Rokaya, Jit Bahadur Malla, Hansha Khadka, Belisha Hamal.

 

Dir Min Bahadur Bham, Pro Tsering Rhitar Sherpa, Min Bahadur Bham, Debaki Rai, Catherine Dussart and Anup Thapa, Screenplay Min Bahadur Bham and Abinash Bikram Shah, Ph Aziz Zhambakiev, Pro Des Menuka Rai and Suman Nidhi Sharma, Ed Nimesh Shrestha and Aziz Zhambakiev, Music Jason Kunwar, Costumes Nanda Keshar Bham and Tara Khatri.

 

Shooney Films/Mila Productions/Kaldhungi Films/Tandem Productions/CDP-Matchbox Films.
90 mins. Nepal/France/Germany/Switzerland. 2015. Rel: 9 December 2016. Cert. 12A.