Strangely, if somehow confidently, a snarky Midwesterner, Chris Smith, still best known for chasing down wanna-be horror director Mark Borchardt in American Movie, has reinvented himself as a chronicler of small-scale Subcontinental drama. The Pool, Smith’s India-made latest, may remind you of Chop Shop or Offside, two recent tales that quietly evoke life on the margins. This isn’t Wes Anderson brassily pushing his luggage through The Darjeeling Limited. The respectfulness is winning.
Let’s not question the whys or hows. The Pool takes its original Iowa-based material, written by Randy Russell, and translates it to simmering Panjim, Goa, where industrious youths Venkatesh (Chavan) and Jhangir (Badshah) seem to be constantly cleaning floors. They make a funny couple, the tall, sullen Venkatesh and his tiny, forthright buddy. After toiling daily, they sit in a high tree and observe a serene backyard dominated by a still pool. It is a place of wealth and exclusion, and already, there’s something not quite right about it.
Even as Smith introduces more predictable elements—notably the throaty cool chick (Mohan, ideal for a Sofia Coppola movie) whose backyard this is—the film never rushes into hyperbole or cuteness. If anything, The Pool feels slightly underdramatized, with surrogate dad Nana Patekar providing a needed shot of gravitas. But the events of these languorous weeks sustain an insistent pull, not in the direction of aching hearts so much as differences of class and the desire to make worldly amends. Guilt and forgiveness hang over the movie; it’s hard to think of a more welcome piece of American filmmaking.