Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I can't believe how long it's been since I posted here. I've been posting on live journal, which has a somewhat different and more friend-friendly interface, but when it's time to talk about movies, books, etc, this is the place. I'm feeling that the critical faculties are somewhat rusty, so we'll see what we come up with here in this run-on of a thought.

What a watery weekend. I saw a screening of Poseidon on Friday night, and then Deepa Mehta's Water on Sunday. Two movies with absolutely nothing in common, except perhaps that they deal with disasters on some level--one of a ship, and the other with lives. I'll let you take a wild guess which was the more affecting.

I'll start with Poseidon. As my friend Dave said, it's "big, dumb fun". In fact, I may actually see it again in a bigger, better theatre this Thursday. There is really nothing to recommend it except the spectacle, which is great. But why would you see this in the first place anyway if you weren't there for that? It has none of the character development of the first one. In fact, it's more fun to figure out who is actually going to make it than to care about the characters, who have the eensiest sketch of a backstory. Mostly, it's about the boat. And it is awesome--bodies flying, underwater explosions. It is all about fear and catharsis, and I had a great time. Disaster movies--not my genre, but I have to say this was a ride. And if you're looking for a ride, you could do much worse. I did miss Shelly Winters--in fact anyone who looked like they actually ate food, but still in all it was good. Even some over-wrought acting from Emmy Rossum, who has now earned the moniker "goober" from me, displaying big-eyed, over-important earnestness in two films now. Kurt Russell has some good moments, and Josh Lucas is a pleasure to watch. Just in general, but he's good in the film, too.

Water, on the other hand, had it all about the characters. It's stirring up controversy, as well it should, but it's also one of the most affecting movies I have seen in a long time. I am finding not only the characters are staying with me, but images as well. Unexpectedly, the film manages to combine elements of Bollywood romance, tragedy, and issue-filmmaking into an unforgettable film. I almost don't want to give any plot summary, because a lot of my joy in seeing this film was in knowing nothing about it, and being surprised, shocked, moved at every turn. Suffice it to say that it explores the way widows were and are treated in India, forced to live in ashrams and beg for food once their husbands have died. The centerpiece of the movie is an incredible performance by Sarala as Chuyia, a seven year old who is forced to live in the widow house. We follow her as she gets to know life with the widows, and begin to meet other characters: the head of the house, Madhumati, the woman who actually has the power and respect, Shakuntala (a wonderful, powerful Seema Biswas), and a beautiful young woman, Kalyani (Lisa Ray). Her radiance is matched by one of the most handsome men I have seen on the screen in a long time, John Abraham, who plays Narayanan. There is a romance, a tragedy, and even Ghandi. There is even a transvestite pimp. And one of my favorite things--films with people of many ages who haven't had plastic surgery.

Set in 1938, the film catches India on the cusp of Independence, and having to deal with the changing of the world and of ideas about how people should be treated, especially the ideas of Ghandi. The treatment of the widows is based on 2000 year-old scripture about the nature of a woman and who she is in relation to her husband. At the crux is a question that Shakuntala poses near the end of the film "What if your conscience conflicts with your faith?" I won't share the devastating reason given for the treatment of the widows, but suffice it to say it's disturbing and more than likely true. At the base of matters of faith there is always a more human reason, mostly a more selfish one. The treatment of these women is no exception. One of the most devastating moments of the film for me is the statistic at the end of how many women still live like this in India. No wonder Mehta is controversial in India. I'm glad she found a way to make this film, after halting production due to protests. And even more incredible, the casting had to be changed due to the change of filming site. Her last film, Fire, was about lesbians. She's not afraid to throw a punch. And it looks like from the press it was worth it.

This is not to say the film is all sadness and tragedy. What gives it energy is it's moments of life, and I found myself smiling a good deal, especially in the scene where the widows, normally dresed in white, cover themselves in stunning vibrant powders for "his festival of color" and exalt in the joy of the color.
I hope I have piqued your interest, and not given too much away; there is much more--this is a beautiful film that for me straddles the lines of many different genres and manages to evoke a past world while exposing an upsetting reality of how we treat each other. Go see it. And it's nice to know that we live in a country that would never try to legislate based on 2000 year old scriptural ideas, isn't it? Oh, wait....

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