Court is a maddening film, and while likely this is intentional, befuddling an audience does not work without an effective moral.
The set-up for Court is that an Indian musician made a reference in a public performance of a song through wishing death on a manhole worker. In fact, it does not really matter too much the specifics of the case.
In a very bold move, the particulars of the criminal matter are not of the utmost importance. Instead, the film focuses upon abstraction, deviation, error, menial details—in short, everything that another movie would likely leave out.
But Chaitanya Tamhane clearly has other intentions in mind, and we are treated to such scenes as the musician’s lawyer buying groceries, the defence attorney sharing diet stories on the bus, the judge of the case on vacation at a later date, the courtroom being shown without lights on, and on and on. It’s maddening.
Yet somehow all of this distraction seems to work. It is as though Gett: The Trial of Vivianne Anselem didn’t go far enough in displaying the kind of incompetence at play in the higher courts. Though a viewer might be hasty and invoke Franz Kafka’s The Trial, this film is about more than a bureaucracy accusing an innocent man of a crime for which he does not know if he has committed or not. Instead, Court finds the entire institution to be void of substance, and it is a feat by Tamhane to prevent a sense of creeping nihilism from inhibiting the entire proceedings.
What we receive from Court leans slightly on the understanding of cultures and customs from India. There is a subtext of castes and class division, but again, these concerns do not deviate from the message of the film. The exercise works in part because of the steady camerawork and vibrancy given to highlighting the ordinary and the mundane. The action is hardly spoon-fed to the viewer. There is much subtly and nuance given to a probing interpretation of how inept the court system seems to be in India, and perhaps underscoring a close-up focus on trivial events. Court may be in session, but where is the notice?