Declaration – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Mahesh Narayanan

While more than one celebrity career has been built on a sex tape, in reality, they tend to destroy the lives and reputations of ordinary people. The stigma surrounding intimate videos is the subject of Mahesh Narayanan’s film Declaration screening in the Debate strand of the BF London Film Festival 2022, which uses the discovery of an online video as a tool for corporate espionage and examines the fall-out for a married couple caught in the crossfire.

Trying to arrange visas in order to leave the country, Hareesh and wife Reshmi secretly film skills footage in their factory to give confidentially to their agent but the film ends up online with an additional scene of a masked woman performing a sex act on her unseen male partner. Ridiculed by the police after they lodge a complaint against the agent who they suspect is behind it, the couple’s suspicions come between them as the video participants and the leaker remain elusive.

Declaration is a skilled examination of the ease and speed with which reputation can be damaged and the disproportionate effect of public shame directly separately to men and women. Although on the surface Narayanan’s film is a million miles away from the recent Pam and Tommy television serial, there are consistent themes including the implications of a private moment being shared beyond its participants, the consistency of the Internet to keep the content alive and the very personal breakdown of a marriage as a direct result.

That Narayanan is keen to retain sufficient ambiguity until the last possible moment helps to maintain the film’s drive across its 1 hour and 50-minute running time, but it avoids any sensationalism. It principally follows Hareesh and his pain until the focus eventually shifts to the quieter Reshmi which restore the balance without losing the mystery. That neither character actively proclaims their innocence as either participant or leaker is interesting, keeping the audience guessing as well.

Wrapped around this Narayanan’s shots of the medical glove factory at work are rather lovely, an industrial scale and vision that has a kind of ordered, even surreal beauty as the hand-shaped mechanics roll by. The espionage plot in which used gloves are deposited among the fresh batches is enhanced by the Covid-setting where the protection of the product’s reputation becomes intertwined with the personal integrity of the leads.

Divya Prabha is a shy and restrained Reshmi whose natural introversion makes the sex tape all the more ludicrous, but Prabha displays a subservience to Kunchacko Boban’s Hareesh that suggests his dominance over her, so it is really interesting to see her inner steel later in the film. Boban is not always likeable as Hareesh, quick to temper with most people so the recourse to violence feels inevitable, but Boban still retains some empathy for his position and the powerlessness he feels in the face of a corporate and police resistance.

Declaration is ultimately about the assumptions people make about each other both in a work and personal context. That both Hareesh and Reshmi believe the other capable of cheating and then releasing the video dooms their relationship from the moment they see it, and whatever dreams they once had together, Narayanan’s film watches them slowly die away.

Declaration is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Avoids sensationalism

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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