Chris Smith, The Pool, 2007, still from a color film in 35 mm, 95 minutes. Nana (Nana Petakar) and Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan).


WITH HIS MINIMALIST AESTHETIC, working-class politics, deadpan humor, and empathy with the uncommon aspirations of unsung Americans, Chris Smith is one of the more successful and least categorizable of American independent filmmakers. The MoMA retrospective “Chris Smith: An American Original” includes his two fiction features: American Job (1996), a painfully funny, spot-on depiction of an overqualified midwestern minimum-wage slave, and The Pool (2007), which, because it was filmed in India, seems a world away from American Job but nonetheless has the same working-class sympathies. Also on the MoMA program are Smith’s three documentaries, of which The Yes Men (2003) is the most hilarious and politically prescient. Directed with Dan Ollman and Sarah Price, it follows the eponymous political performance artists as they expose the audience’s failure to resist even the most absurd pretense of authority, precisely the lazy, uninformed, scared-ass mindset that led to the reelection four years ago of George W. Bush.

The Pool, which opens for a run at Film Forum on September 3, has a lyricism that is new to Smith’s work. Based on a short story by Randy Russell, the star and cowriter of American Job, it focuses on Venkatesh (Venkatesh Chavan), a young man who scrubs floors and delivers cups of chai in a hotel in Goa. He projects his dreams of a better life onto the glittering blue surface of a backyard swimming pool that belongs to Nana, a wealthy man—played by one of India’s greatest stars, Nana Patekar—who lives alone with Ayesha (Ayesha Mohan), his beautiful, rebellious daughter. Shot with a handheld 35-mm camera that gives a fairy-tale radiance to the riot of colors on the city streets and in the lush gardens around the rich man’s house, The Pool roots its fantasy in the details of daily life. Ventatesh escapes the hotel by becoming Nana’s gardener. The scenes in which the two repot plants and clip hedges are as magic as those in which Venkatesh and his best buddy make friends with Ayesha. For a few weeks, at least, they throw class to the wind and share the possibility of a freedom unknown to both Hollywood and Bollywood.

Amy Taubin

The Museum of Modern Art in New York presents “Chris Smith: American Original” from August 29 to September 1. For more information, click here. The Pool screens at Film Forum in New York from September 3 to September 16 and will be screened at theaters across the United States throughout September and October. For more information, click here.