Review: Goldfish

Written and directed by Pushan Kripalani, co-written by Arghya Lahiri, with help from a neighbourhood and a past she has shunned, a young woman returns home to deal with her mother’s dementia and the scars of her childhood. Starring: Kalki Koechlin, Deepti Naval, Bharti Patel, Gordon Warnecke, Rajit Kapoor, Noa Bodner, Harry Attwell, Ravin J. Ganatra and Shanaya Rafaat.

There are a few key topics which Goldfish dives into, firstly there are the most obvious of family conflict and dementia but it’s also about community and representing Britain with a bigger dose of realism. Even today there are plenty of stories which don’t reflect the real diversity that exists in the UK, particularly in London where you can find wonderful pockets of different cultures from all over the world. In this case, it’s a close-knit Indian community and the story explores how the immigrant experience impacts their choices as parents and in turn, the next generations. It directly influences the story between Anamika (Kalki Koechlin) and her mother Sadhana (Deepti Naval), how it was warped by Sadhana’s difficulty in finding her place in a new country. Twisting her views towards her child because she felt alone, while her husband and daughter were so close. Sadly, it’s a story that isn’t entirely unique, and you’ll likely find it reflected in other immigrant’s experiences with marriage and family.

One of the interesting and unusual elements of Goldfish is how it approaches that strained relationship, it’s filled with manipulation and toxicity but is dealt with in a fairly understated manner. It’s a choice that again shows this is not a singular experience, Anamika internalises it because it isn’t entirely out of the norm for the community she’s grown up in. However, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need to deal with the emotional damage that she was left with because of it. Her animosity to her mother then conflicts with Sadhana’s declining health and mental awareness. With dementia raging against her mother while Anamika’s feelings are perfectly valid, it pushes her to find another way of dealing with them. The story moves back and forth between their complicated relationship and caring for someone with dementia, having to understand their life to know what they need. It’s a bundle of emotions and Pushan Kripalani and Arghya Lahiri’s writing deals with them sensitively. Particularly in the way that you can feel the complex history and tension even before it reveals itself.

A lot of that is due to the performances from Kalki Koechlin, Deepti Naval, Bharti Patel and Shanaya Rafaat. As soon as each of these actresses appear on screen interacting with Koechlin’s Anamika, you can sense the distance that she has created, how she’s strayed from her home and has to figure out how to reconnect with it. Koechlin’s performance centres around the idea of balancing her anger and resentment towards her mother and her childhood, with her responsibility to take care of her while she’s vulnerable. It’s complicated but at the same time it’s extremely simple to relate to and sympathise with. Deepti Naval gives a blend of outright resentment and frustration, it’s in Sadhana’s best interest to rebuild a relationship with her daughter but she so fiercely denies any wrongdoing in the past and wants to hold onto her independence. It’s a constant battle between the two of pushing one another away only to come closer. The surprise here though is Bharti Patel, the vulnerability, defiance and complexity that she brings to the table is impressive to watch.

However, the directorial and editing styles don’t quite match up to that emotional nature, leaning into an overly understated atmosphere. There’s almost a coldness to the way that it moves visually, it doesn’t entirely embrace the evolving nature of its story. It’s quite a simple style and part of its difficulty in building a warmth or emotion with its aesthetic is the use of chapter like editing. It frequently cuts to black, reverting to an inner monologue from our leading lady which makes sense thematically but undermines the flow of the story. Just when moments are building to something, the rug is pulled out from under them with a jarring cut. It’s a shame to not see this complex story elevated by its visual, which could have pushed it further.

Goldfish is a complicated and unravelling story of family relationships, exploring a difficult situation that’s enhanced by a fraught relationship. Kalki Koechlin and Deepti Naval bring to life that complexity in a fierce but sensitive manner, their conflict is clear but it’s handled without a need for cheap physicality or melodrama. The only outlier is the visual which falls more into the initial distance than the later emotion, it doesn’t grow alongside its story. The use of chapters feels jarring and undermines the development of its characters and atmosphere. It’s a great story which is hugely relevant both in its family story and discussing dementia but it misses out on the opportunity for its direction to push that even further.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Screening at Raindance Film Festival 2022 on 5 November & Nominated for Best UK Feature

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