One of the questions that’s very standard in American filmmaking is: “How does the character change?” It’s all about the character development, their arc, and how the journey through the film has changed them, made them realize something, etc.
There’s another perspective outside of this rigid definition of what makes a good film. My directing professor at NYU, Jay Anania, used to say, “As long as the audience leaves changed, that is enough.”
Pebbles (Koozhangal in Tamil), by director Vinothraj, is set in a small village in Tamil Nadu, India. The village alcoholic drags his son along on his mission to retrieve his wife and daughter from her childhood village a few miles away.
The film is an observation of that quest.
The director makes three significant choices:
- The film is an observation.
- The film is hyper-stylized. The world is scantly populated and extremely quiet. Both these choices do not reflect the reality of the world, but serve to elevate the observational element, keep the focus on the protagonists. They also result in an ever-present tension.
- The cinematography is stellar. I might go so far as to say this has the boldest cinematography choices I’ve seen in a long time. For example, in one scene where the father and son walk to the village, the boy picks up a broken piece of a mirror. As the boy plays with it, we see the reflection of light on a large rock and the landscape as he walks along.
Through the 75-minute movie, we learn about the protagonists and the world. There is no arc, no inciting incident, none of the characters have a realization or change.
At the end of the film, it is the audience that leaves changed. And that is what makes this film so impressive.