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Reviewed by:
  • Alain Daniélou: Into the Labyrinth dir. by Riccardo Biadene
  • Leonardo D'Amico (bio)
Alain Daniélou: Into the Labyrinth. Directed by Riccardo Biadene. FIND Foundation and Kama Productions. DCP, color, 78 mins, 2016. English, Italian, French, German with English subtitles. Distributed by Poorhouse International: info@poorhouseintl.co.uk and www.poorhouseintl.co.uk.

Alain Daniélou: Into the Labyrinth is a biopic dedicated to the renowned French Indologist and musicologist Alain Daniélou (1907–94), who lived in India between the 1930s and the 1960s, where he researched authoritative texts and closely studied the theory and performance practice of Hindustani vocalists and instrumentalists.

Watching the very first images of this engaging documentary by Venetian filmmaker Riccardo Biadene, the viewer is carried on the Ganges, at night, with the lights and the mystical atmospheres of Benares (Varanasi), the sacred city of Hinduism. This animated "postcard" is the preamble to a dense, profound film that, inspired by the intense life and professional career of Alain Daniélou, becomes a path into Indian culture, experienced viscerally in all its multifaceted nature: religious, philosophical, musical, literary, and artistic in a broad sense.

The voice-over narration is taken from a selection of writings excerpted by the autobiography of Daniélou himself, The Way to the Labyrinth (1987). Daniélou's unique life is narrated through a work that goes beyond the usual [End Page 170] standards of such a product, combining the excellent research of archive materials (a selection of nine thousand photos taken in India between 1935 and 1955 by Alain Daniélou and Raymond Burnier) with the delicate lyricism of the images shot with two Full HD cameras between 2012 and 2015 in the Indian cities visited by Daniélou: New Delhi, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Kolkata, Shantiniketan, Bhubaneshwar, Konarak, Puri, Gurgaon, Chennai, Mamallapuram, Pondicherry, and Chidambaram.

The film starts with a short portrait of Daniélou's adolescence in Brittany. Born into an haute bourgeois French family—his mother an ardent Catholic, his father an anticlerical left-wing politician, his older brother a cardinal—Daniélou's whimsical figure was crushed by a closed and conservative society, oppressed by the extreme bigotry of his mother. But the young artist and scholar soon moved beyond all of this. After studying ballet, he decided to move to Paris where he met members of the Parisian avant-garde: Jean Cocteau, Sergei Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Max Jacob, and Maurice Sachs. His dream was interrupted by his austere mother, who found him in Paris and broke all relations with him after learning of his unconventional conduct, his homosexuality, and his declared interest in dance and music. Undeterred, Daniélou set off to discover India in 1932 with his companion, the Swiss photographer Raymond Burnier. They ended up in Shantiniketan at the Bengali school of the renowned poet Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore offered Daniélou the opportunity to serve as director of Tagore's school of music (the same school where, between 1925 and 1929, Dutch ethnomusicologist Arnold Adriaan Bake spent three years translating the Sanskrit musical treatise Sangita darpana).

Daniélou was struck by the way Tagore composed his poems by starting from the melodic lines of Baul songs. Later, Daniélou and Burnier moved to Benares, where for 15 years they made their home at Rewa palace on the banks of the Ganges. There, Daniélou immersed himself in the study of Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy, converted to Hinduism, studied Indian classical music, and learned to play the vînâ (zither). His studies were focused mainly on Shiva—Nataraja, "king of dance"—the god of all arts in the Hinduist pantheon and the deva who is supposed to be the originator of music through his cosmic dancing and drumming. Daniélou claimed to be one of the few Westerners to be initiated to Shivaism, acquiring the name Shiva Sharan (meaning "protected by Shiva"). In his house by the Ganges, Daniélou also received visits from Indian and Western personalities: Jawaharlal Nehru, Jean Renoir (during the filming of The River), Cecil Beaton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Roberto Rossellini.

While staying in Benares, Daniélou started recording many performances of Indian classical music, folk music, and Vedic chants...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-5630
Print ISSN
0044-9202
Pages
pp. 170-175
Launched on MUSE
2019-06-25
Open Access
No
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