Ben (Joel Edgerton) and Fiona (Rhada Mitchell) are a self-absorbed Australian couple who believe adopting an Indian orphan will fix their lives. Baggage goes missing on arrival at Calcutta airport, an early signal that metaphors will play a big part in writer/director Claire McCarthy's daring sophomore feature. It's a remarkable achievement filmed entirely on location with an immediacy that plonks the audience in the middle of India, and in the middle of a relationship meltdown. The experience is an unsettling one that's intensified by the use of queasy-cam employed, no doubt, from technical necessity. It can be overwhelming to watch, no doubt desirable, as the emotional punch of the couple's public and personal difficulties comes to a head.

Watching the pair is Krishna (Samrat Chakrabarti), a hotel worker who befriends Ben and Fiona. A new father, he has some strong views on parenthood, adoption and Mother India – views that Fiona in particular is singled out to receive, often unwillingly. It provides McCarthy with another avenue to reveal the couples secrets and issues that are teased out throughout the film.

McCarthy mostly avoids the cliché of a spiritual awakening, of young tourists enlightened by old India (although a new understanding is central to the story). The Waiting City is smarter than that, concerned more with personal revelations that occur in times of change and stress – both of which abound. The title says it all as red tape forces the couple to sit it out before they can take their new daughter home. Yet for a film about heart, there’s something lacking in its own. A victim of many under-developed ideas (one shocking revelation goes virtually nowhere), the story searches for a rhythm before slipping into a repetitive cycle of bicker-fight-resolve, one that never feels entirely honest. Certainly the pivotal argument that launches a surprising third act is not particularly convincing.

On the up side are two excellent performances from Mitchell and Edgerton, aided by the stunning work of McCarthy’s cinematographer Denson Baker. The production fairly glistens under Indian light. The Waiting City is an agreeable film and one that distinguishes itself from similar stories. While it entertains throughout its length, offering much to consider on the way home, it never fully reaches the heights to which it clearly aims.

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