The transition from actor to director was a smooth one for Aamir Bashir, whose debut feature Autumn offers a devastating glimpse into the wartorn wasteland of his native Kashmir, where survival is a daily challenge and dreams persist in the face of monumental loss. Bashir s depiction of this region on India s border with Pakistan which has seen tens of thousands of deaths and disappearances since the 1989 outbreak of insurgency is the meticulous and skilfully restrained work of someone well-acquainted with tragedy.
Rafiq (Shahnawaz Bhat) is a young man with an unsettling, silent bravery. After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the border into Pakistan, he rejoins his parents, who, like him, cannot recover from the disappearance of Rafiq s older brother Tauqir. His father, Yusuf (Reza Naji), suffers debilitating paranoia, while his mother, Fatima (Shamim Basharat), gets by on hopeful delusion. Rafiq all but sleepwalks through the day, contending with ghostly images of his brother. A flicker of hope finally registers in Rafiq when he finds Tauqir s old camera with a roll of undeveloped film. Photography (even the act of holding a camera) offers Rafiq a link to the past, a way to cope with the present and a source of hope for the future.
In Kashmir it is eternally autumn. Everything is on the cusp of destruction: parched leaves fall from trees, power lines spark ominously, while anger, fear and despair simmer beneath exhausted veneers. Death is everywhere. The film s quiet, almost ethereal pacing is punctuated by jarring incidents. The oppressive surveillance of an overbearing military presence is echoed by Bashir s widescreen framing of shots through door frames and windows; we too are implicated as voyeurs in this humiliating world where privacy does not exist. As tensions rise, Rafiq gravitates increasingly towards his camera, through which the boundaries between dream and reality, vision and hallucination, assume a fluid ambiguity.
Autumn is a remarkable achieve