‘The Village House’ Review: A Family and the Walls That Enfold It

In “The Village House,” the four sides of the camera frame find beautiful, painterly pockets of space and time within the four walls of an ancestral home. Achal Mishra’s feature debut, set in Madhopur, a village in east India’s Bihar state, unfolds as a kind of autobiography — a decades-spanning portrait of the director’s family, drawn from childhood memories — and also a biography, of the abode that came before him and whose legacy will outlast him.

The film is divided into three chapters, set in 1998, 2010 and 2019. In the first, the sun-warmed house bustles with the activity of an extended family gathered to celebrate the birth of a child. The men play cards on a veranda; the women fry potatoes in hot oil; the children scamper about and pick mangoes.

As we segue from one chapter to the next, the passage of time makes itself felt subtly, in the details. The house grows emptier and more worn, deaths and diseases are mentioned in passing, and conversations become increasingly nostalgic. By the end, the house is in disrepair, and its inhabitants have all either died or moved away to the city. In lieu of plot, the film accumulates rituals, traditions and memories, and charts a larger arc of familial change and rural emigration.

With its patient lens and attention to textures, “The Village House” often evokes the durational cinema of Tsai Ming-liang or Chantal Akerman, though Mishra’s compositions are more mannered. The film’s still, square images feel so much like paintings that any stray movement — the smoke rising in spirals from a mosquito coil, or a palm tree swaying in the breeze — can seem like magic, a picture come to life.

The Village House

Not rated. In Maithili, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes. Rent or buy on Amazon, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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