An artful hybrid of documentary and fiction, That Cloud Never Left zooms in on quotidian life in Daspara, a small West Bengal village where toys are made from reels of discarded film footage. The iconography is clear: these pieces of film are filled with nostalgia and longing, and now bear witness to the beauty and toil of manual labour.
On the surface, That Cloud Never Left appears structurally fragmented, even opaque. There is an opening title that states that this is a work of fiction rather than a documentary; it is actually quite cheeky, considering that narrative is not a priority here, nor are any professional actors used. Instead, the film ditches linearity, and sees the villagers in fragments: a marital dispute over finances, a mother who waits for the monsoon, a boy searching for rubies in the forest. This mix of mundane life and magical daydreams lends an otherworldliness to this little village, as if the content of the cut-up film strips has seeped into everyday life.
In visual terms, That Cloud Never Left is just as eclectic and experimental, alternating between straightforward scenes of toy-assembly with scans of the discarded strips where the images are scratched and intelligible. The sound mix contributes, too: the landscape murmurs, a static-heavy score disrupts, and the news on TV speaks of war and unrest, as well as an imminent eclipse. Out of the blue, dialogue and songs from old Hindi films sneak in.
The symphony of these elements is exhilarating enough, but there’s more to be mined. The scrap film footage travels from wealthier Indian cities to be dumped on poor villages such as Daspara for recycling, meaning That Cloud Never Left becomes something more than a stylistic exercise in experimentation and nostalgia; there’s a hard economic reality here.