The strength of Malle's intense look at the Indian city of Calcutta is what some would consider a weakness: a willful disregard for narrative cohesion. Where most documentary filmmakers would be tempted to impose order on these images, Malle presents them en masse, letting their sheer force stand for itself. Men and women washing themselves in the river, beggars at a train station, drummers and dancers, believers destroying homemade deities, a corpse's head burning on a funeral pyre, society heels at the racetrack: such images are arguably archetypes of Indian travelogues, but Calcutta's constant assault moves into far deeper territory, its gaze never faltering along the way. With Calcutta, Malle impressively wills himself to forget eighty years of cinema history, and returns his camera to the days of Lumière, when a film's images, not its narrative, could leave audiences enraptured.

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