Modest in scope and temperament, Chris Smith’s The Pool serves as a pleasing neorealistic dip for foreign film aficionados who may have somehow been suckered into recently seeing Bangkok Dangerous. Set in Goa, India, the story centers around 18-year-old Venkatesh Chavan (below) and his orphaned 11-year-old friend Jhangir Bhadshah, who have survived their traumatic childhoods, and work at a small hotel and restaurant, respectively, sleeping on mats and making extra money by selling plastic bags at a local market. After an upper-class family moves back into their home — which happens to have a shimmering pool that goes unused — Venkatesh befriends the head of the household (Nana Patekar, the film’s only professional actor), strikes up a friendship with his upstart teenage daughter, Ayesha Mohan, and tries in wayward fashion to point his compass toward a more comfortable way of life.
With its few pantomimed or otherwise casually played “reveals,” The Pool‘s proper drama is reduced to a couple minor-chord arguments. Influenced equally by Vittorio de Sica and Satyajit Ray, writer-director Smith (American Movie, The Yes Men) was inspired to make The Pool after serving as cinematographer on a friend’s Bollywood remake of Romeo & Juliet, and his film is the rare example of an American production that doesn’t overly fetishize its Eastern setting. Working with non-professional actors (Bollywood superstar Patekar being the exception), Smith’s directorial touch is deceptively simple; eschewing close-ups, he crafts a film about simple acts and everyday friendship. The result is a solid work of fuzzy adolescent yearning — when even good advice had to be derided in front of friends — and quiet uplift, free from mawkishness. For more information, click here. (Vitagraph Films, unrated, 95 minutes)