Haunting yet ethereal, "The Warrior" is an idyllic epic about revenge, redemption and reverence. Lafcadia, our protagonist, is a drudge-like warrior who serves a ruthless (and bored) master in a feudal Rajasthan. And just like the harsh desert they call home, the fate of innocent villagers is entwined with the bitterness of their circumstances. When taxes are not paid (through drought or disease) Lafcadia and his consorts carry out their lord's sadist whims with crimson violence. Men, women and children are dispensed torrents of brutality; without thought or reconsideration. During one such assignment, Lafcadia – in a beautiful, surreal sequence - suddenly realises the vile life he has led and decides to disown the way of the sword. But before he embarks on a pilgrimage to spiritual redemption, a cruel penalty results in an unspeakable tragedy and plunges his resolve for morality into uncertainty. Will Lafcadia succeed in his journey – filled with characters both real and imagined - to find inner harmony? Would he be able to reconcile with the demons from his past?
Or will revenge prevail in the face of brute transgressors who won't let him be?
"The Warrior," astutely set in a period and place which only adds to the mystical subtext, is a simple story told with fervent imagination. It is only intensified by a wonderful lead performance by Irfan Khan who plays the anguished warrior fighting (symbolically) his own inner turmoil. The cast also includes cherry-picked, untrained actors whose inexperience brings a new level of vigour and rawness to the proceedings.
Though not completely faultless (some character motivations are questionable), writer/director Asif Kapadia easily makes a strong debut with this film. Very obviously influenced by legendary director Sergio Leone (Kapadia is reportedly very passionate about Westerns), he creates an interesting visual symmetry to heighten the emotional drama. Verbal communication is used only when absolutely necessary; the emphasis put squarely on visual expressions. Equally interesting is the fact that the violence in "The Warrior" usually comes from out of nowhere and is deliberately kept off-screen to maintain the rhythmic pace. Roman Osin's cinematography breathless in its copious use of wide-angle shots lends a grand, epic look and feel to the screen canvas. The sensory experience is also complimented by Dario Marianelli's subtle but lush score of traditional beats, drums and instruments.
Like Lafcadia's voyage, "The Warrior" ironically was an arduous journey for its makers. A labour of love in the true sense of the word, Kapadia convinced his crew of 250 to camp out in the scorching deserts of Rajasthan and later in the sub-zero foothills of the Himalayas in order shoot the last act. Disqualified as Britain's entry for the foreign-language Oscar because it is filmed in the Hindi language and set in Asia not Britain, Kapadia was finally honoured by his own at the 2003 BAFTA awards. He won in the "Most Promising Newcomer" and also picked up "Best British Film."
In a time where audiences are desensitised by pretentious commercial fare it is a joy to discover a young director who can adapt contemporary film school sensibilities with the minimalist techniques of the golden age. Easy to praise, "The Warrior" is an important addition to modern cinema. This one comes highly recommended, folks. - Adnan Khan