In the Rajasthan desert light, the mounted warriors are magnificent. Their costumes and weapons, their long jet-black locks, even their flesh tones, glow in the pellucid light. Lafcadia, their leader, is skilled, noble, self-possessed — everything his son Katiba wants to be. He’s also a stern and careful father who’s bringing up Katiba alone. When the warriors ride off, Katiba has to stay.
These opening moments suggest a western — these are the good guys, on a noble quest. The visual style, the focus on the human face, the lack of dialogue, suggests Sergio Leone. However, as we soon realize, this is no spaghetti eastern.
The feudal lord is collecting taxes — the warriors are his enforcers. When an elder claims his village cannot pay, Lafcadia promptly decapitates him. Yet later, when razing the village, his sword drawn to a young girl’s throat, he drops his weapon. He leaves and his vow — never to kill again — offends his master. No-one, simply no-one, leaves the lord’s service. The lord demands Lafcadia’s head. Instead he gets the head of Katiba, the warrior’s son.
What follows is subtle, interesting and resonant. Lafcadia embarks on a quest that is spiritual rather than vengeful. He needs to come to terms with his past life and his grief. His experience, even as he treks into the remote Himalayas, is internal and contemplative, and Kapadia’s close-ups are more akin to Bergman than Leone.
The almost entirely non-professional cast, with life experience etched on each face, is superb, and the attention to detail — scuttling scorpions, padding camels’ feet — is beautiful. The Warrior is an accomplished, innovative and bravura début.Malcolm Lewis