The film sticks resolutely to the perspective of the navel-gazing outsider, looking on this vast nation with the filmmakers' characteristic tone of slyly ironic emotional reserve tinged with moments of quiet melancholy. That approach works well enough for the 1920s segments of the film, appropriately conveying the tragicomic nature of British imperialism, but it renders the contemporary sequences dispassionate and dramatically murky.
With the world falling apart all around us, watching a Merchant Ivory film from 1983 might, at first, sound like the dumbest fucking thing anybody could do right now. Or maybe it’d just be an understandable, comforting response to the untenable chaos of the moment — “sheetcaking,” I believe, is the parlance du jour. But let’s not judge the morality of anyone’s viewing choices... Let’s just note that there’s a whole lot of cathartic pain in Heat and Dust, if you know where to look for it.