This year’s Slamdance Film Festival boasts fascinating lineups from first-time feature filmmakers. One of these filmmakers is Ronny Sen. His film, Cat Sticks, is an expressive examination and dramatization of addiction and its effects on those suffering from it.
The film follows a group of addicts, as they roam around the streets of Calcutta one rainy night, desperately on the hunt for brown sugar. The film captures the raw reality of the fixation and dependence these characters have on experiencing long-lasting intoxication. To do so, they must subject themselves to gruesome and, at times, degrading acts which speaks volumes to the hold that addition has over its victims.
Ronny Sen’s bold style and storytelling is one that will leave audiences speechless and captivated yet overtaken with sympathy and concern. The black and white feature is reminiscent of a community stricken by the repression of freedom. Through the dark, rainy scenes, Sen’s unique framing of such a community of junkies shows how powerful addiction truly is. This is represented both by his stylistic direction and somber sequences as well as the actions his characters take to reach their intoxicating haven.
As the story progresses, the narrative expands beyond just the classic story of junkies waiting to get their next fix. In actuality, Sen gives us a close-up of what it feels like to reach such an abysmal low that the only other decision to make is to seek help. His sequences depict such raw and gritty yet poetic textures to the story that audiences won’t help but to fully submerge themselves into this world.
Before its premiere, Slamdance considered Cat Sticks to be “one of the most gorgeous and affecting films presented [at the film festival] in recent memory,” and this couldn’t be said more accurately. The way Sen shows his characters weaving in and out of the (literal and figurative) darkness, latching onto the source of their hallucinatory euphoria is beautiful cinema at its finest. More so, there’s an underlying beauty in the way in which his characters cling to each other amidst their stupor. And as a result, the film reminds us how dangerous the world of addiction can be when there’s no reason to seek sobriety.
Depicting these characters and emotions are Dhanania, Sumeet Thakur, Joyraj Bhattacharjee, Rahul Dutta, Saurabh Saraswat, Raja Chakravorty, and Kalpan Mitra. Together, this ensemble brings to life the evocative brutality of dependence on drugs and the way it affects their livelihood, relationships and well-being. The acting is flawless as the characters weave through the highs and lows of craving brown sugar. From the body language to the delivery of the dialogue, the cast perfectly constructs director Ronny Sen’s vision effortlessly.
As far as rich and raw storytelling goes, Sen’s Cat Sticks is exemplary. His showcase of addiction is not only visually stunning, but his feature debut captures the essence of loss souls with a poetic yet strong consideration for its sensitive content. Audiences will get lost in Sen’s captivating and, at times, shocking imagery, but it’s a testament to his strength in representing a world of desolate souls desperate for a fix or healing. But above all, Sen’s first feature shows his experience in crafting an elegant story rich with profound textures that will leave audiences craving for more.