DFF '15: Ludo (Q & Nikon, 2015)

by Jason Suzuki

One of my favorite films seen at a film festival (where tiny, wild films should be showcased over early previews of forthcoming wide releases) was Gandu (2010), an Indian film from a director named Q. The film was sort of an experimental rap musical but even then that description won’t prepare someone for the experience of Gandu. Q’s latest film, with co-director Nikon, is Ludo, named after the board game featured prominently in the film. Unfortunately Ludo is a lot more conventional than Gandu but that still doesn’t stop the film from bursting every now and then with energy despite not being very ambitious.

The film starts with the familiar territory of a group of horny young people looking for a place to have sex. Because of the prudishness of parents they have to find someplace outside of home to accomplish this task but are met by a society who target them for the outfits the girls are wearing or alternately ignore them when trying to check into a hotel for the night. “No customers for only one night” they are told by one clerk during the montage of their failures. With no place else to go they decide to break into a shopping mall closed for the night to drink some more and finally get going on the main reason for their outing. From there we continue on to even more familiar territory in the form of a homeless couple also hiding out in the mall. Their encounter with this strange couple spells doom, and punishment for their sexuality, for our four young protagonists.

Q once again features local hardcore music acts, him and Nikon having set up a contest online where alternative metal bands competed to be featured in the film with their “edgiest” song. Like the film itself though, the chosen band, or at least the song featured, could have been edgier. To their credit Q and Nikon make each beat very watchable even if not particularly striking or engaging through experimentation. We spend thirty minutes with the couples before they even enter the mall and it doesn’t feel like it. But once the homeless couple comes in and the board games come out, the length is felt when the film form doesn’t match the supposed wild qualities of the imagery.

Some life is injected into the film by spending the majority of the second half in flashback, focusing on the backstory of the homeless couple and their connection with the game. It’s the best sequence in the film as it links the two with our current young couple and brings back the social aspects of the film with its critiques on society’s treatment of youth and sexuality.  This point is further driven by inventive cutting which seamlessly blends time periods and characters through graphic matches while playing the board game (Nikon was the editor for Q’s previous film Tasher Desh).

Gandu felt more like a living organism than a medium to convey a story, able to morph and mutate over the course of its running time, arguably the film’s only restriction. Ludo seems to have been put under other restrictions, some of those being genre conventions and reigned in creativity. Instead of embracing the freedom the horror genre can allow in terms of subject matter and how you can convey it, this film feels like it was hindered by the genre, being swallowed by conventions, never fully breaking free when it attempts to do so. Its transgressive qualities are not transgressive enough, boundaries are not fully pushed, and lines are not even close to being crossed. While news of sequels being planned by Nikon and Q may cause worry, hopefully they can pull a [REC] and split up for two separate sequels. I have a feeling Q’s might be a lot more interesting.

Ludo plays Friday, November 13, 11:45 pm; Saturday, November 14, 9:45 pm; Sie FilmCenter.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.