Critic and festival selector
Cameron Bailey on Four Women
Four Women World premiered
in Toronto International Film Festival 2007 in the Masters
section – A selection of 20 new films from the World’s
As deeply rooted as
they are in the soil and soul of his of his native Kerala,
Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s films speak universal truths.
None does this more than Four Women.
The film distills to a rare purity four tales of village women
in south India. Their titles are elemental:”The Prostitute,
The Virgin, The Housewife and the Spinster”.
In each, woman submits to a role society decides for her.
Each role offers a paradox of freedom and bondage in nearly
In the first story,
Kunju pennu accepts a proposal from Pappukuttty and enters
into an informal marriage, giving up her profession as a prostitute
to do so. Both are desparately poor and live outdoors on the
pavement, but they believe in the honour of their new status.
That honour is shattered when police catch the couple in a
compromising position one night and drag them to court on
obscenity charges. Their only defence? They are husband and
In “The Virgin”,
Kumari’s parents are happy to marry her off to a man
from another village but disgusted when he returns to visit
and eats every last morsel of food they can offer. These scenes
are both comic and alarming. After the meal, her new husband
leaves, never to return. Kumari must face the shame of the
stiutation, but also the ironic fact that her husband’s
only gift to her was the one thing he should have –
by traditional right- taken.
The last two stories
play out in a similarly trenchant fashion. A housewife is
unable to produce a child. An old school friend offers himself
to her as a surrogate stud, and his moustache is no doubt
tempting. But what of the consequences? And in “The
Spinster”, Nandita Das gives a heart-breaking as a woman,
whose younger sister marries before her. With spinsterhood
fast approaching, she eventually moves in with her sister
and husband, but that causes more problems than it solves.
She soon opts to face the world of her own.
of deft narrative strokes and delicate characterization produces
deeply satisfying insights. Wherever one finds parents anxious
for their daughters, gossips eager to talk and women navigating
the deep waters of men and social standing, Four Women will
Cameron Bailey in Festival Programme Book