In Retreat: A Poetic Exploration of Home

In Retreat: A Poetic Exploration of Home

In Retreat has marked a significant milestone in Indian cinema by being the first Indian film to be screened at the Cannes International Film Festival, under the ACID Cannes sidebar program. Set against the ethereal backdrop of Ladakh, the film tells the poignant story of a middle-aged man who returns to his hometown after a long absence, only to arrive too late for his brother’s funeral. The film leaves many questions unanswered, offering a poetic nod to the life and landscape of Ladakh.

In a conversation with filmmaker Maisam Ali, we delve into the making of his debut film and the inspirations behind it.

Exploring Ladakh Through Film
Maisam Ali aimed to portray Ladakh in a manner deeply personal and detached from conventional representations. “This is a personal story. I don’t care much about representation in the typical sense; that’s not the idea of my film,” he explains. For Ali, space is significant as it carries meaning, expression, and personal significance. However, he emphasizes that this importance doesn't necessitate conforming to any socio-political or geographical understanding of the space. His objective was to align the narrative with the demands of the story and the film's mood and theme. As a native of Ladakh, Ali found it natural to shoot there, as the location forms an integral element of the film’s essence.

In Retreat: A Poetic Exploration of Home

The Wandering Protagonist
The film’s protagonist, a man who returns to his hometown only to wander aimlessly, represents themes of home and belonging. Ali shares, “The main idea of the film is that he can’t really return. He is there, but he cannot be there.” This attraction to themes of home, belonging, and the ambiguous relationship one has with these concepts is a reflection of Ali’s personal experiences. “Home is a place of rest and peace, but it also creates boundaries, separating ‘my place’ from ‘not my place,’ ‘my people’ from ‘not my people,’” he explains. This theme resonated with Ali from a young age when he encountered someone who embodied this sense of displacement.

Pop Music and Classic Poetry
In In Retreat, Ali weaves traditional and modern elements seamlessly. The film features the voice of Mahmud Darwish's poetry alongside scenes of young kids playing a Billie Eilish song. When asked about these choices, Ali states, “These elements are part of our reality. We all listen to different kinds of music, reas different kind poetry and it reflects our current lives.” The inclusion of both classic poetry and contemporary music creates a tapestry of fragments that form a cohesive whole, much like a large painting.

In Retreat: A Poetic Exploration of Home Maisam Ali

Maisam Ali

A Journey into Filmmaking
Ali's foray into filmmaking stems from a desire to communicate through a medium that often transcends words. “Cinema allows us to communicate things we can’t express otherwise. It’s a language of images and melodies,” he says. For Ali, filmmaking offers small realizations and satisfactions inherent in any creative endeavor. He views cinema as an exciting and poetic medium with immense potential, likening the process to constructing a new world from scratch.

Looking Ahead
As a writer and director, Ali faces the challenge of creating new worlds. “It’s like going to an empty studio and making a home there,” he explains. This process, though exhausting and emotional, is profoundly rewarding. Ali hints at future projects but remains focused on the creative process, drawing parallels to building a house—an endeavor that, while demanding, can result in something truly remarkable.

Words Paridhi Badgotri
Date 29.05.2024