Zero Bridge

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Kashmiri teenager Dilawar (Mohamad Imran Tapa) is one of life's aimless rejects: Abandoned by his mother and now living with his strict uncle (Dar), he spends his days picking pockets or doing classmates' homework for cash. Writer-director Tariq Tapa---who shot much of this vrit-style film by himself---does a beautiful job attuning us to Dilawar's drifting routine, but what's especially striking is how he gives equal weight to the supporting characters. Dilawar's problems are not the be-all and end-all: The uncle's viciousness is affectingly contrasted with his religious devotion, and Bani (Khan), the mail-office clerk whose passport Dilawar steals in the opening sequence, quickly becomes more than just a passing victim.

It would appear we're in for an empathetic ensemble piece more focused on quotidian existence than plot---but that's not to be. A halfhearted structure eventually emerges and Tapa's unique authorial voice gets subsumed by indie-cinema clichs. Melodramatic twists (an arranged marriage) and creaky metaphors (that titular bridge on which Dilawar stands so gosh-darned ambivalently) abound---call it the Sundance effect. Yet the director still has a notably keen and compassionate eye, particularly for faces and locales. Hopefully he'll let that instinct more readily guide him next time out.

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