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Reviews - The Black Hen

The Black Hen

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

The Black Hen
The Black Hen
To start with,I will just say that I was the person who picked this film; it appeared to be the story of two young Nepalese lads – so I thought it should have wide appeal. They have a chicken whose eggs they want to sell to help alleviate their poverty – so it should offer the Keswick audience a view of life in Nepal. The background is the Nepalese civil war from the turn of the century – so we should get some knowledge of the causes of this. Did it meet my expectations?

Well... sort of. The two lads were appealing, and, moreover, their different backgrounds gave us an insight into something I don't think I realised even existed in Nepal – the caste system. One boy – Kiran - was the son of the village chief; the other – Prakesh - was an 'untouchable'. (Would they be allowed to play together..?) They both shared the extreme poverty of the village life, but the untouchable had to endure far more – for instance, we see him in tears when he is accused of contaminating the water from the well just by standing nearby.

Life in the village was definitely well portrayed – the phrase 'dirt poor' comes to mind when you see people having to live in such poverty. The boys were keen just to see the hen lay one egg, and when it did, Prakesh carried the egg round in his pocket in triumph – its value was almost impossible to understand for me when I can buy a dozen at a time!

The civil war was definitely the major background to this film, though no attempt was made to explain it. All we saw was some Maoist activists trying to recruit (strangely, by dancing to the crowd!). They then kidnapped the bridegroom at his own wedding – again, this was not explained, though, as a tactic, it didn't seem likely to encourage anyone to their cause...

Overall, then, 'The Black Hen' did have all the pieces I had hoped for, but the trouble was that it remained just as pieces to me. The film was far too 'bitty', with the hen almost a side story in what became virtually a documentary. Nothing was explained, events just seemed to happen. If there was a point to the story it might be - as someone pointed out to me afterwards – that life went on whatever was thrown at them, as it probably had for hundreds of years.

I suspect I might have got a lot more out of it if I understood the Nepalese life – the caste system, what the Maoists wanted, etc; the people in Nepal might have understood it a lot more, so maybe they were the intended audience?

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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