26 June 2013 | oddity94
Less than illuminating
In too many ways, Festival of Lights betrays itself as Shundell Prasad's feature debut. In particular, Prasad's writing has a tired, clichéd air ("He's not my Dad!," Reshma yells at her mother and second husband as she arrives home from school one day). The actors seem hampered by the lines they have to speak and no one comes off very well. Every character is two-dimensional at best, and the ensemble offers little beyond the "Guiding Light" school of dramatization.
It is also surprising, given Prasad's background in nonfiction film, that Festival of Lights avoids informing the viewer very much about Guyanese history (the Jim Jones incident is never even mentioned). Compared to Chantal Akerman's recent Almayer's Folly, with its similar family story—though set in Malaysia and with a much harsher indictment of colonialism—Prasad's effort is disappointing.
The aesthetic annoyances include the fact that some of the characters barely seem to age over the decades, Ronen Landa's original score is poorly used at times for melodramatic emphasis, and Valentina Caniglia's exterior cinematography is adequate but she harshly lights some of the interior scenes. (Caniglia's best sequence comes early, in the Diwali, or Festival of Lights, celebration of Indo-Guyanese culture.)
What keeps Festival of Lights at least somewhat absorbing is the story itself. Like daytime soap operas, the film holds one's attention by maintaining a narrative of the sort where one wants to see what happens next. This is especially true in the final reel, as Reshma and her father's friends try to free him from prison. Lacking the stilted dialogue of the earlier scenes, this build-up to the action climax comprises one of the better parts of the movie. Unfortunately, the pat ending spoils what, at this point, was starting to be a better-than- average melodrama.
In the end, Festival of Lights is less than illuminating.