A man returns to his hometown after many years away to bury his father, reigniting tensions with his estranged brother.
The conflict of “White Sun” is so universal that it could have easily been an old French novel, a Western movie or an Arthur Miller play. That “White Sun” is set in a remote village in Nepal only enhances the elemental conflict at its heart.
The film by Deepak Rauyinar screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., as part of the Spotlight Cinema series. Admission is free for museum members, $7 for all others.
Rauyinar depicts Nepal as still recovering from a civil war in which a Maoist uprising defeated the Royalists loyal to the king. Chandra (Dayahang Rai) went off to join the resistance and hasn’t been back to his mountain village in a decade or so.
When the death of his father brings him back, he finds that the revolution hasn’t reached the town, where many of the locals are still staunchly traditionalist and royalist. In an opening scene that could be almost comical if it weren’t so tragic, we see the men of the town trying to maneuver the dead body out a tiny upstairs window, because tradition forbids that the body be taken out the front door.
Chandra clashes almost immediately with his brother Surja ((Rabindra Singh Baniya), who like their father, remained loyal to the king. They argue over whether the corpse should be draped in the country’s former flag, with the village elders siding against Chandra. The argument, which encapsulates the rift within the country, escalates even as the two brothers are carrying their father’s body down a steep, rocky hillside for burial.
Meanwhile, Chandra reunites with his ex-wife Durga (Asha Margranti), who wants Chandra to claim that her 10-year-old daughter is his, because she won’t be able to attend school if she’s not “legitimate.” There’s a rumor that another young boy in town, a war orphan named Badri (Amrit Padiyar), is really Chandra’s illegitimate son, but Chandra refuses to acknowledge him.
The father’s dead body serves as a metaphor both of the weight that Chandra is carrying because of the past, and the weight that Nepal is carrying, still haunted by the aftereffects of the war. The village elders are stubbornly welded to tradition and the old ways, while Chandra’s generation is torn between past and future.
Only the children of the village, who have never known war, seem hopeful for the future. There’s a stunning image of Badri walking through the tall grass, swinging a dud land mine he found in the hillside back and forth in his hands like it was a toy. For him, the past is past.
“White Sun” is a beautifully shot film, with lush widescreen compositions that suggest the work of Terrence Malick. And it suggests that, even if the brothers will never reconcile, their struggle is a necessary sacrifice for the next generation to move forward.