Hot on the heels of Lion comes another needle-in-a-haystack mystery set in India. Beyond the Known World will no doubt garner many comparisons to Lion; it is set predominantly in India, concerns the search of a missing family member, and has a contingent of Australasian cast members - one of whom is David Wenham (who also starred in Lion). However, despite these similarities the film is quite different in many respects ... and it will cost you a lot less in tissues.
The New Zealand/India co-production, helmed by Indian director Pan Nalin (Samsara) and written by New Zealander Dianne Taylor (Apron Strings), begins its story in Auckland. Carl (Wenham) and Julie (Sia Trokenheim) are not on good terms due their recent divorce. But when their nineteen year old daughter Eva (Emily McKenzie) doesn't return from India, the couple fear the worst and put their differences aside to go and look for her. Their search takes them into the pot-smoking expat villages of the Himalayan foothills, where they are met with locals who are frustratingly indifferent to their plight. Both Trokenheim and Wenham offer powerfully raw and authentic performances that capture the couple's anguish at the lack of power they wield over their situation. It is also a situation that forces the couple to examine their own relationship and the impact it might have had on their daughter.
Beyond the Known World benefits from Pan Nalin's local knowledge (a loose term in a country as vast and varied as India) as Director. He sketches a mountainous India with ironic subtlety that normalises the characters' surroundings rather than bringing undue attention to itself. Nalin's combination with cinematographer Ian McCarroll (a New Zealander in his second feature film after Fantail) thankfully avoids the temptation to just show off the film's stunning locations. Instead, we are treated to wonderfully textured scenes that are complimented with an editing pace that matches the narrative requirements of Dianne Taylor's very tight screenplay. It gets the balance just right.
With a rich combination of New Zealand and Indian talent, Beyond the Known World is a strong piece of cinema that stubbornly remains in your mind like a limpet. It is certainly a sobering story, and although probably not far from the truth, Beyond the Known World remains a fictional account of a tale that is believably told.
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Rating: 4 stars