By Winnie Wang
When a dirt road is paved between the remote, mountainous village of Balankha and the city of Dharan, the two-day trek by foot collapses into a swift bus ride. This promising expansion introduces access to shiny conveniences and gadgets, flooding the countryside with confections, fizzy drinks, toy cars, televisions and smartphones. Insistent on the benefits of technology, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs who can afford these minor luxuries comfortably manufacture new desires in their neighbours despite a lack of opportunity for economic growth for most villagers. While Maila, a weaver of bamboo mats and baskets, is wary of metropolitan offerings, his seven-year-old son Bindre eagerly embraces modern amenities, seduced by his neighbour’s flatscreen and the Coca-Cola commercials which appear on it. With his first feature after seven years, director Nabin Subba returns with an urgent interrogation of the struggle between tradition and progress faced by Nepal as a developing country.
At times, the film overstates moments of conflict between family members to produce sentimentality, distracting from a critique of the champions of development who hoard wealth, bribe officials, and manipulate the impoverished. Bindre develops a bottomless hunger for bigger and better overnight, his mother reacts in violent outbursts at his entitlement, and his father is just trying his best. A Road to a Village is most successful, perhaps, when the relationship between father and son holds a measured tension that reveals the interpersonal stakes of remaining on one’s ancestral land in favour of migrating abroad. When Maila finally ventures into the city with his wares in tow, his motivations aren’t simply rooted in keeping the lights on, but proving his devotion to his family as a father and husband, and to his cultural heritage as a keeper of traditional knowledge. A community-funded project, this insightful, expressive portrait of a rural village at the cusp of change affirms Subba as a noteworthy figure in Nepal’s independent film movement.