Forced into a physically and psychologically abusive arranged marriage at the age of 14, Selvi contemplated suicide as her only way out of a torturous life. Instead, she hopped on the very bus she was thinking of throwing herself underneath and ran away. While away at a home that protected her from harm, she learned how to drive and became one of the first and only female taxi drivers in her region. Today, Selvi has found some degree of happiness, acting as a human rights advocate and raising a happy family of her own.
Driving with Selvi, from Canadian filmmaker and cinematographer Elisa Paloschi, is a well-meaning documentary that touches on some important subjects with a great deal of uplift and poignancy, but it also frustratingly doesn’t have much of an idea where its going or what it wants to do. All of Selvi’s tragic life gets put out in the open very quickly, and since no one—including the film’s subject—wants to relive the bad times in too great of detail, there’s not much there.
It becomes the story of a woman who doesn’t want to get too personal, but still wants to tell her story. It makes her an interesting, but not all that captivating subject. The film is sorely missing other perspectives and contexts to bring the issues around arranged marriage and child brides to light. It’s a massive problem, and this doesn’t feel urgent enough despite the dark subject matter.
Also, about halfway through, the film stops being about Selvi overcoming her demons and starts being a story about living below the poverty line in India. Again, a great idea for a documentary, but this isn’t fully fleshed out, either.
It’s not a bad film, and only a true cad would dismiss the subject and themes, but considering the amount of time Paloschi spent with Selvi, there should really be a lot more to this one.
Is Driving with Selvi essential festival viewing?
Yes, in the sense that it’s about an important topic that almost never gets talked about even in documentaries. No, in that this could be a much more insightful film on the whole.