Fantasia 2015: ‘Ludo’ is beyond saving

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Ludo
Written and directed by Nikon and Q
India, 2015

All the youthful energy in the world couldn’t save Ludo. The film opens with bombast, as an exploration of the night life of Kolkata, and two young couples who are hungry for sex. Cultural puritanicalism prevents them from finding a hotel room, but they end up finding refuge in a closed shopping mall where they are free to indulge in their baser instincts. Here they encounter an elderly couple, trapped and hungry, and are introduced to a mysterious game. From here on, the film abandons linearity and expectations, taking us on a whirlwind phantasmagorical journey into the past and the collective unconscious, where it similarly loses all sense of grounding.

Ludo is a failure of ambition, a film with admirable risks and fresh ideas. It aims beyond its reach, and leaves the audience behind. The entire second half of the film, as soon as a monstrous element is introduced, makes little sense. Tenuously about indecent hungers, the demonology and the game, in particular, feel underdeveloped. While thematically the ideas are not beyond the grasp of the audience, they are poorly explored and the mid-film shift to new characters and a new era is at the expense of the established momentum.

The film’s greatest strength is its sound design. The music, the environment and the characters are all built through a fantastic use of sound. This drives the thrill of the film’s early scenes, as they bounce and defy expectations. This section feels palpably contemporary, full of the speed and energy of adolescence. A particular quirk of the sound design is a sort of breathiness that lends sensual weight to the atmosphere. Sighs, frustrated or lustful breathlessness, and silent inhalations of fear bring an added layer to the film. The motif adds a layer of sexual anticipation; it is simple but incredibly effective.

But, the game that is central to the film makes little sense. The board game holds some ancient evil, but it’s not clear how it works or what it does. An ominous final situation where it seems as though the board is being mass-produced fall flat, because how it supposedly works is never made clear. Up until that point I wasn’t aware it was the game itself that was the driving force of evil, because there is also a curse, an evil flute and other nasty spirits floating about. It is entirely possible this is just lost in translation, but as it plays such a significant role in the large majority of the film, it becomes a pretty strong obstacle.

Unfortunately, Ludo never quite comes together. The film aims high but fails to establish enough basic cohesiveness to keep the audience engaged. The stylistic flourishes are just not interesting enough to sustain the vast majority of the film’s running time. It is shiny and fun for a little while, but quickly loses track of clarity or reason.

— Justine Smith

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