Masters

Once Again

Adoor Gopalakrishnan

After years spent living off the modest wealth of his in-laws, a man hatches a desperate plan that draws his respectable middle-class family into a vortex of crime, in this first feature in eight years from south Indian master Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

It's been eight years since the last film from south Indian master Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The director of such acclaimed classics as Swayamvaram and Kathapurushan takes his time, and the effort shows in the layers of detail that reveal themselves in this story of love, sacrifice, and, most surprisingly, murder. Set in Adoor's home state of Kerala, Once Again opens with the discovery of a man's corpse in a hotel room. As the police begin to investigate, the story shifts to the family of Purushothaman Nair (played by Malayalam movie star Dileep). Drowning in debt after years of looking for a job, Purushothaman drew on his in-laws' modest wealth even before he married his wife, Devi (Kavya Madhavan). When he finally gets a visa to work in Dubai, his wife, daughter, and in-laws celebrate. But the naïve Purushothaman takes out an expensive insurance policy, then can't keep up with new demands for money from relatives and community members eager for what they think is his overseas wealth. Pushed to the breaking point, he hatches a desperate plan.

Once Again establishes the extended Nair family as the essence of middle-class respectability, but as the financial knots tighten around them their true natures begin to emerge.

Despite the ugliness it reveals, the film remains light and graceful, its widescreen images composed with an eye both to visual harmony and to relaying the shifting power relationships among the characters. Similarly, the performances are calibrated to deliver impact without excess: Madhavan is especially strong here, working in a dramatic register that is decidedly different from the many romantic comedies in which she's co-starred with Dileep. As Kerala's rains descend and Devi is drawn into a much darker marriage than she could ever have imagined, Once Again becomes a scintillating contemporary noir.

CAMERON BAILEY

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