Skip to main content

BOATMAN

Italy, 1993 (MIFF 1994, Documentaries)

Director: Gianfranco Rosi

The boatman is Gopal. He rows the waters of the Ganges, the Sacred River of India, guiding his vessel through Benares, the city of Shiva, the city of the Dead. Creating the illusion of a moving point of view, Boatman takes on the shape of a journey without destination, in which Gopal is both charismatic protagonist and wryly humorous narrator. Characters and images emerge and sink from the screen, yet he remains at the centre of the whirlpool of contradictions that is life on the riverbank.

During the course of a hypothetical day, director Gianfranco Rosi travels with the boatman, training his camera on the bathers and the tourists, Indians and foreigners, both residents and those who have run aground on the hallowed shores in search of divine inspiration. Using Benares as a microcosm of Hinduism, this fascinating, often confronting, documentary fashions a portrait of the solemn rhythms and inexhaustible variety of life. It is a tale of small encounters in the search of the deep and startling religiosity of a culture. The anomalies are astounding, the rituals and ceremonies spectacular, the caste system rigidly defined even in death - Cadavers weighed down with stones and thrown from funeral boats or simply dumped (for the poor), cadavers burned on pyres (for the well-provided). The Ganges absorbs all. All human life returns to the river.

Shot over a period of 3 years, Boatman elicits the essential from the unexpected and the inexplicable, making cinematic poetry of the cycles of life and death.

See also...

ITALY: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

You have to focus on the beautiful if you're going to live in Italy. ... The lease on their apartment is up and Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi (Suddenly, Last Winter) must decide whether to stay in ... More »

PRIMO LEVI'S JOURNEY

“[A] gently moving vision of people and lands struggling to reconcile the past with an uncertain present.” - Variety Primo Levi's horrific account of surviving Auschwitz, If This is a Man, is ... More »

THE MOUTH OF THE WOLF

Documentary and fiction is blurred to striking effect in this love story between a macho ex-con and a transsexual, former drug addict. ... Mary and Enzo's unusual union commenced behind prison bars ... More »

ROSSELLINI SEEN BY ROSSELLINI

Roberto Rossellini is a filmmaker who is anything but homogeneous, and in Rossellini Seen By Rossellini the great Italian neo-realist director is reflected in his own cinematic mirror. From Rome Open ... More »

BLACK RIVER

Black River is a sumptuous and compelling adaptation of one of Australia's boldest contemporary operatic works, featuring Abo­riginal mezzo-soprano, Maroochy Barambah (Bran Nue Dae, Women of the ... More »

THE JOYS OF THE WOMEN

West Australian folk singer Kavisha Massella discovered by chance a choir of Italian Women in Fremantle. ... More »

Select a festival
Search The Film Archive
Browse By Director