For many, the appeal of films with strong philosophical themes has receded. Opinions vary on whether poetic films are a little too much to handle, too tedious, or just spin in circles without a clear way forward. Still, there’s a certain enchantment to every creative form of art that draws us in its own unique way. Afrad Vk’s “Riptide” fits all the criteria to be classified as a poetic cinema with creative insights that contain a million messages bundled in them.

So here we have Suku and Charlie, two college students who are very close and have a great vibe with one other. Because of their mutual love of literature, the relationship between them initially appeared to be a close friendship. Viewers would see them reading aloud from famous works, such as poems by Neruda, during their reading sessions. Soon after, we get a glimpse of them having intimate moments to fulfill their inner desires, which liberates them.

This is reminiscent of the neon effects and celebratory scenes at a nightclub, as portrayed in filmmaker C.B.Yi’s “Moneyboys.” A great deal of Suku and Charlie’s interactions take place in the company of one another, creating the sense that the world is theirs and that they are the only inhabitants of a precious, enclosed space. Next comes the question: Is it all real, or is it just a fantasy that has been developing between them all this while?

Filmmaker Afrad Vk comes up with a concept of engaging the audience in a slow-paced mind game of fantasy vs reality. In the course of the movie, two opposing narratives emerge, and the filmmaker seems to be aiming for the audience to accept both concurrently. Take a moment when Suku, in the midst of a little argument with Charlie, discovers that Charlie is nowhere to be found. At first, Charlie pushes Suku out of the room, but when Suku opens the door again, Charlie disappears. Here, viewers would likely conclude that Charlie was just a figment of Suku’s imagination.

However, in a separate scene, Suku asks Charlie to close his eyes as he tells him a new story, and somehow, Suku vanishes. With no clear-cut answers, the filmmaker invites viewers to pick a path that resonates with their own decision-making process. In my opinion, this is the part where the varied human mind gets a hold of things when people make decisions based on their own experiences and judgments. The director seems to be luring us into his surreal universe, where we are expected to decipher every possible interpretation of the plot.

Speaking of narratives, the film’s use of juxtaposed short stories as hidden messages is another intriguing aspect. This strategy was used in unexpected and abruptly emerging segments. These tales, nevertheless, don’t just seem to be fiction. Instead, they provide viewers with clues to various inquiries that arise throughout the narrative. A memorable story is the one that Charlie told Suku about Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. In fact, a deeper explanation of the film’s fantasy components is concealed in the story’s rationale. In my opinion, the analogy behind “Riptide” being free from any form of structure is compared to the tales of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan here.

Riptide (2024) “IFFR” Movie Review
A still from Riptide (2024)

What really grabbed my attention was the story of Dawson, an adventurer who loved mountains but was terrified of rivers. Here, the central idea of confronting our fears is illustrated metaphorically, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the serenity of the narration. It feels like a bedtime story for adults who need an answer to their bewildering thoughts.

Meanwhile, “Riptide” extensively covers the difficulties of being in a same-sex relationship in India in the late 1980s. Looking at Charlie and Suku together, we see two young men who love each other unconditionally. Their remarkable compatibility is conveyed through the slow-motion shots of them joyfully being together. Still, there was also the complex reality of the LGBTQIA+ community’s oppression prior to its legal acceptance. The struggle to be low-key about homosexuality and the effects of closeting in public have taken a toll on both protagonists in different ways.

The depth of Charlie’s attachment issues and depression are revealed by his abrupt despair following Suku’s departure from the hostel. For Suku, the advice from his friend to vacate the hostel room triggered a mix of remorse and prior trauma, which has been bothering him. Additionally, there seem to be repeated instances of Suku and Charlie receiving derogatory comments about their sexuality from their dorm mates. The movie engulfs the viewers in a world of pure affection while simultaneously providing an overview of what it’s like to be in the middle of a toxic atmosphere.

Technically, Siraj Shameem’s background score and music deserve appreciation for infusing Western traditional music with a hint of creativity. The flawless synchronization of Vivaldi’s composition with several Western tunes brought the symbolism of love to life in every manner. Filmmaker Afrad Vk’s editing and screenplay are credited with structuring the film’s plot into various forms of imagination and fantasies. Faris Hind’s Charlie and Swalah Rahman’s Suku perfectly maintain the momentum of the movie through their splendid performances.

“Riptide,” which started as a student short film, was selected in the Bright Future category at IFFR this year. “Riptide” offers a profoundly philosophical and surrealistic idea that doesn’t hasten to make declarations or aspire to be a common motion picture. Instead, it invites viewers to immerse themselves in its carefully thought-out concept and allows them to experience the mind’s maze. What’s extraordinary about “Riptide” is how it invites viewers to participate in an interactive system while simultaneously depicting the manifestation of memories through fantasy. Is the filmmaker trying to convey that ideal partners are only available through one’s perceived imagination? Or does love have endless possibilities where no one can predict what will happen next? All I can say is the film is completely shrouded in mystery.

Read More: 10 Great Drama Movies of World Cinema

Riptide (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, MUBI, Letterboxd
The Cast of Riptide (2024) Movie: Faris Hind, Shafeeq Kodinji, Nishanth Krishna
Riptide (2024) Movie Genre: Drama, Runtime: 85 mins

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