Skip to main content


Netherlands, 1988 (MIFF 1990, Documentaries)

Director: Johan van der Keuken

A couple of years ago, distinguished filmmaker Johan van der Keuken and his wife and collaborator Noshka van der Lely visited Kerala, a coastal province in southwestern India. There he conceived and realised The Eye Above the Well, a serene work which affirms the adage "Good listeners make the best storytellers".

Part poetic meditation, part vivid documentation, the film catches us up in the flow of its gentle pace as we are transported through Keralan life. A precocious little girl practices dance. A group of boys play in the river. A moneylender does his daily rounds. Elephants and buses negotiate a crowded street. A village projectionist prepares his afternoon matinee. Teachers impart their "wisdom" on a variety of subjects, ranging from mathematics to temple life and the martial arts.

For this minimally mediated portrait (which eschews voice-over commentary), van der Keuken dwells on three principle aspects. These are (i) the way a culture transmits knowledge from teacher to pupil, from parent to child, (ii) the concrete rhythms that compromise daily existence and (iii) the role of magic and ritual in the transference of knowledge.

Never resting too long in one place, The Eye Above The Well apprehends the dignity and rich beauty of a culture whose soul is centuries old and too rarely revealed. The journey is sublime.
- (LT)

"A recurring theme in my work is the tension between traditional knowledge and modern science and technology. In recent years, the focus of my attention has shifted from the mere need for change to the resistance to change, which seems to be embedded in the very structure of human societies. Education, a prerequisite to change also serves to introduce every new generation to their established values and helps to maintain their resistance to change. This paradox is at the very centre of my new film The Eye Above The Well.
- Johan van der Keuken

See also...


This remarkable film marks a new departure in the career of a unique director. Having shed the early classification of a modern Joris Ivens or a Dutch combination of Peter Watkins with the ... More »


“A circus should steer clear of politics.” Along the ancient Silk Road connecting China to Europe, the circus is a deeply rooted cultural phenomenon. In Uzbekistan, it is as alive today as it ... More »


Despite what Nike keeps telling everyone, it's perfectly OK to lose a ball game. The Other Final—an exceptionally funny, good natured, cheer-along documentary—celebrates the greater part ... More »


Paris' famous Père Lachaise cemetery is the resting place of famous artists - from Marcel Proust to Jim Morrison - and is the setting for this uplifting documentary. Through the simple concept of ... More »


This is Me examines a group of veteran transvestites, entertainers and assorted eccentrics and the closure of La Bodega Bohemia, a Barcelona night-club-cum-refuge where they bloom at night. The owner ... More »


One of the surprises of this year's programme looks like being Paul Cohen's Part Time God, a challenging and extremely original work about the origins of the earth, free will and human endeavour. ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director