Queen Of The Beach: Review. By Daniel Theophanous.
Queen of the Beach details the compassionate, if clumsy, mammoth task of Canadian filmmaker Christopher McDonnell to help Shilpa, a young girl he meets selling jewellery on a beach in Goa. Child labour is illegal in India, yet on this beach it is ubiquitous. India’s social services appear to turn a blind eye, as do the tourists who are happy to pick up bargain souvenirs from an endearing bright-eyed child or find them unbearably hassling whilst trying to sunbathe.
Initially there is naivety on his part; perplexed by Shilpa and her siblings’ incessant need to ask and negotiate for things, obtusely unaware that this a survival mechanism. These kids are fully aware of the disproportionate exchange rates, little for him goes a long way for them. Eventually naivety subsides to resignation, as helping Shilpa is predictably not as straight forward. As sisters are married off, a father crippled by stroke and her family home demolished by severe weather, the responsibility as the sole earner weighs heavy and her connection to McDonnell a life support.
Filmed over five years, it’s a rather formulaic participatory styled documentation (McDonnell appears as a talking head throughout), which follows a chronological and expeditionary narrative that is more akin to a CNN news reportage; further accompanied by a truly unimaginative musical score.
You can see why McDonnell is instantly smitten by Shilpa. She is stunningly pretty, wise beyond her years, tenacious, and impressively clever. Along with her tragically impoverished background, it all ignites an impulse within the observer to help. Unfortunately, the side-effect is that the documentary reeks of ‘white saviour complex’ which at points is unpalatable. Yet I cannot completely discredit McDonnell’s efforts, if only that they highlight the futileness of one person’s actions; that ultimately real change will happen if the powers that be ever allow it.
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