TIFF 2023 | Yellow Bus (Wendy Bednarz, United Arab Emirates) — Discovery

By Winnie Wang

“Fatal hyperthermia” is the official designation for four-year-old Anju’s cause of death after she is left on a school bus in the oppressive desert heat. Immediately, accusations are mounted between family members: Ananda (Tannishtha Chatterjee) shouldn’t have let her daughter attend school; Ravina should’ve woken up her younger sister; Gagan (Amit Sial) shouldn’t have exhausted his daughter the night before. When the principal offers diyah—court-ordered compensation in Islamic law for cases where murder is committed by mistake—Ananda refuses the blood money, determined to seek the truth after she senses a cover-up involving a jammed bus door. Despite the threat of deportation back to India from the Arabian Peninsula, Ananda stubbornly initiates a rogue investigation into the bus driver and attendant, rejecting condolences from everyone around her in favour of accountability at any cost. As the film unravels, Ananda’s understanding of culpability is complicated by a cast of characters whose similarly dire circumstances become increasingly clear.

In this mighty feature debut, writer-director Wendy Bednarz skillfully contextualizes the tragic accident with the conditions surrounding the parties involved, exposing a system founded on low wages, exploitation, and migrant workers. These revelations don’t intend to justify the negligence that resulted in the death of a child, but rather depict the bleak reality of a community extended to its limits, unable to afford the appropriate care and protection Anju deserved. The film slightly falters, however, during moments that centre Ravina, who seems to display less empathy for her mother’s method of processing grief than strangers. Ravina’s resentment and stiff attempts to pacify Ananda feel somewhat misplaced and disproportional, suggesting a history of parental favouritism that is never quite explored. Mostly, though, Chatterjee’s performance carries the film, a compelling force that can erupt or remain dormant with fury. While balancing the intricacies of familial dynamics and cultural differences, Yellow Bus renders a moving portrait of a woman’s unwavering commitment to justice for all.

wwang@cinema-scope.com Wang Winnie