TW: Sexual abuse and rape
Set against the backdrop of the 2012 rape case in Delhi, the movie Black Lake is an artistic reproduction of the lived realities of women who have survived sexual crimes. The director K. Pervaiz, who is also the writer and co-producer of the film, have mentioned in her notes how she was psychologically torn as a woman having heard the news of the gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in the streets of Delhi one night in December 2012. With this grotesque reality in mind, Black Lake picturises the psychological or mental trauma that a woman could go through after being sexually abused.
The movie Black Lake narrates the story of a young independent artist named Aarya who leaves her family in the city to pursue her aspirations. She is gifted a red scarf by her aunt, Aayaneh, who bought it on her recent travels to Pakistan. The scarf turns out to be haunted by a churail – that the writer juxtaposes to a South Asian witch. Shot amidst the Scottish landscapes, the malevolent witch tries to desperately convey to the now owner of the red scarf – Aarya (played by K themselves) – the violence she went through at the time of her death. Black Lake – a supernatural take on the violence against women – intensely depicts vengeance and also the psychological repercussions of sexual violence on the victim.
As the film rolls on, we see that there are very few dialogues and most of it has been projected with an expressionist tendency in mind where gestures and postures are louder and more emphatic than spoken words. As the director narrated, the grim reality of sexual violence experienced in the South Asian societies is what is encapsulated in the story of Black Lake. As much as it carries a social message on sexual violence, Black Lake also tries to bring out the psychological trauma and unrest that a survivor of sexual violence faces. The film Bulbbul released on Amazon Prime recently, was made on similar lines but in a much radical color. In that, the protagonist, a damsel turned vigilante witch after undergoing domestic violence and rape, avenged by haunting and killing every man she knew was a perpetrator, including her own, in the village.
In Black Lake, the psychological trauma that the survivor of sexual violence undergoes is also delved into. Filming the story in South Asian landscape would have helped establish better connectivity with the South Asian audience. K, in one of her interviews, explain that although the plan was to produce the film in Pakistan, the villagers often would hamper their shoots. As a result, she had to shift back to shooting in Scotland.
The experience of the girl in Thatta, Pakistan is unfolded by Aarya, the protagonist of Black Lake, while she was haunted by the churail after the red-scarf was sent to her. Aarya begins to get nightmares where she would witness a young girl in Pakistan getting raped. The film is also an ode to the shared lived experiences of many women who have had to face sexual violence and crimes and one woman fighting to bring justice for the other is a beautiful inference from how feminist sisterhood means women supporting each other.
It is important to make films that marks a departure from the idea of complete outcasting or victimisation of women, which has been a popular trend. Black Lake somehow fails to do that. While the film makes an honest effort to portray the relentless efforts of the churail to narrate her story of sexual violence, the film also depicts how women who are violated take the shape of a chudail. Similar to how the makers of Bulbbul thought it necessary to introduce rape as a narrative and in the process, belittling the domstic violence that the protagonist was subjected to. There could have been departures from such film making. A painstaking long portrayal of just the violence perpetrated on the victim has a numbing effect on the audience, who would probably want to move on to see what next the film has to show.
This does not take away from the attempts made in Black Lake to highlight the violence that several women undergo, attempting to be a work that resonates with everyone who thought they had no option but to stay silent on these matters using the interesting genre of supernatural-horror. Black Lake has tried to depict the experience of a young girl belonging to a marginalised community of Pakistan. Although Aarya attempts to bring this experience to light, we find sharp differences in the mechanisms employed by a woman of affluence and one belonging to a marginalised background when dealing with trauma. Not to mention that the difference in responses does not in any way diminish the atrocity of the violence they suffered.
Another aspect that I found problematic was the flow of the story. Instead of making Black Lake into a full-length feature film, the idea could have been well sewn into a documentary film instead. The close-up shots in Black Lake that were trying to project a deeper reality or may be the picturisation of the Scottish landscapes could have been avoided for the story to emerge in a crisp and clearer manner. It just slowed down the pace of the story line.
As much as it is important to normalise the repercussions of rape to the extent of not treating or portraying the victims or survivors in grim light and thus otherising them, it is also important to address the toll it takes on the mental health of the survivors. Occurrences and experiences cannot be belittled therefore it is the earnest duty of films such as Black Lake to be the carriers of social messages to identify and picturise issues cautiously and responsibly.
Featured Image Source: Badwolffilms.co.uk