Scottsdale International Film Festival: The Salt in Our Waters, an exploration of changing cultural values

The Salts in Our Waters, a film out of Bangladesh, explores the disconnect between the old rule of the world against a dissenting outsider that provides a new perspective. The classic distrust when facing an unknown entity, finding their mere existence to be a threat to the established way of life.

Rudro (Titas Zia), a sculptor from the big city with ties to the Bangladeshi Delta through his late fisherman father, returns to his village to find inspiration and connect to his roots. The artist’s dilemma of inspiration is the backbone to a cultural conflict that shows the deficiencies of existing in the past. Rudro is first shown great hospitality from the chairman (Fazlur Rahman Bablu) and village. He becomes especially close with the children and a charming young woman confined to the village’s strict rules, Tuni (Tasnova Tamanna).

The early portion of the film is pleasant, captured in the wide shot cinematography, showing the full scope of the beach village through beautiful compositions of run-down buildings and the brown, salty water. It’s only until the second act when the conflict is introduced and the divide starts to split the people into two groups. One with Rudro – a free-spirited, humble, and empathetic person not adhering to any predetermined law. Or the Chairman, a traditionalist with values rooted in the history of the village who makes decisions not based on sound reasoning but how things have always been done.

As a result, Rudro’s sculptures are looked at as idolatry rather than expression. This attitude turns from hospitable to hostile quickly and Rudro’s safety is questioned, as the seasonal catch for the village is lacking and the chairman points the blame to the sacrilegious practices of Rudro. Each decision Rudro makes is examined thoroughly by every single character and his actions are taken out of context by the self-serving Chairman who deeply fears change.

The exploration of a isolated Bangladesh

The Rezwan Shahriar Sumit script isn’t rich in nuance, taking a straightforward journey to explore these themes, but he writes complex characters that resonate. Rudro and Tuni, for example, are such an endearing point of entry into this story. As their wanting desire for each other and new things challenges the way things are but it’s deeper than that. The writing reflects the outlook of two generations, where the newer ones want to carve out their world while not forgetting tradition – we see this in Rudro’s connection to his father – and the older generations see any change as inherently bad. The entire script floats around these ideas with Sumit taking a hardened stance in the script against the rigidity of change, making it clear who is morally correct in his eyes.

Thankfully, the small village aesthetic works wonder for the film, and the hand-held cinematography kept me engaged outside of the script’s themes. There’s one scene in particular where they explore an abandoned oil rig off the coast that speaks to the beauty of this lifestyle. The compositions in that scene are surreal and show a playfulness that gets overshadowed later by the villagers’ pliability. The cinematography also has an attention to detail, not letting the allure of the village go to waste, with lingering shots that hold on to the vision of nature unrelated to the character. Even if the script is criticizing the old way of life, the direction captures the sheer majesty of it all in profound ways

In closing, it’s small-scale filmmaking that feels larger. It’s simple in terms of plot, running down tropes we can recognize, but presents them with a sense of grandeur. It goes from lighthearted to incredibly serious in subsequent scenes and the balance of tone is handled wonderfully. I wanted to spend more time in this village, soaking up the atmosphere and living with the character of Rudro who I identified in many distinct ways. I love his empathy and patience with others, and found his story arc to be enlightening. And the final shot was a nice way to send this story off even if it gives us no definitive answers. It’s a splendid gem of a film that surprised me with its thoughtfulness and beauty.

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