Gopal, a frail-looking man, rows tirelessly across the Ganges carrying western tourists from one river bank to the other. A low-paid job that helped him, over the years, develop a disenchanted outlook on life while observing musingly how foreigners react to the funeral rites of the Hindu tradition. As the pyres raise their flames to the sky and people honour respectfully the deceased, Gopal’s existence goes on unperturbed day by day in its slow rhythmic pattern. Rosi follows one of his days in the boat and gets also in contact with several characters that throng the banks of the Ganges. Among them, a former Italian hippy converted to Hinduism, who shares with the film director his point of view on life and other matters. Thus, two opposite conceptions of the world collapse silently into each other. Boatman, completely shot in black and white and on 35mm film, marks the beginning of the collaboration between Rosi and his long-time editor Jacopo Quadri, while the film director comes to terms with the contradictions and complexities of truth in the so-called direct cinema.
Giona A. Nazzaro