Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Siddhartha" moves at a snail's pace

Cleveland Press December 6, 1973

"Siddhartha," a 1922 novel by Hermann Hesse and a campus best-seller in the 1960's, has come to the screen. For the millions of Hesse devotees the production is probably welcome, putting his novel into visual terms.

Considered purely as a movie, however, the picture is a noble try rather than an achievement.

Any novel as interior as this one is headed for trouble when attempts are made to turn it into a screenplay. Even more difficult is capturing the novelist's language which in this case is a Biblical simplicity.

The result with "Siddhartha" is philosophical, not episodic or thematic.

Its time is 2500 years ago; its setting, India. A young Brahmin named Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor) sets out on a quest for the meaning of life.

He leaves his home to practice asceticism among wandering holy men, meets Buddha but decides not to follow, goes to the city where he learns of sensual pleasures with the courtesan Kamala and the pleasures of luxurious living while working with a merchant. After a few years of unlimited worldly delight he becomes disgusted with himself and walks away from this life. He eventually finds harmony in the near poverty existence of ferrying people across the river.

The events in the film are few and between them Siddhartha engages in philosophical dialog with others and with himself.

Unless you are completely tuned in to this sort of thing it all comes out rather dull. Philosophy is better in a book.

The work has been adapted by producer-director-writer Conrad Rooks. It is a labor of love but not a very interesting film.

The movie was made entirely in India and photographed by Sven Nykvist, a photographer who has worked with Ingmar Bergman. Some of the photography is artistic, much of it is merely self-consciously arty. He has an annoying habit of shooting into the sun.

The players perform in English and some of their awkwardness may be a language problem. Both the leads are extremely attractive.

None of these plus factors keep the movie from moving at a snail's pace.