Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Earth" meant for a wider audience

Deepa Mehta's film “Earth,” about the partition of India 1947 certainly had different impacts on the two reviewers we read during this assignment.

Zarminae Ansari, writing for MIT's newspaper in October 1999, characterized the movie as “a story of a child's confusion about the partition, which embodies the confusion of the millions who are eventually affected by it.”

C.J.S. Wallia's reaction is that the idea of shooting the movie through the eyes of the young Lenny-baby is “simplistic” and says “Mehta manages to distort the complex history of the partition an din the process depicts the role of the Hindus and Sikhs falsely and negatively.” But the criticism goes deeper – to Bapsi Sidwa's novel on which the film was based. Of “Cracking India,” Wallia says the book “does not come to grips with the events of the partition of the Punjab and the historical roles of the British, the Muslims, the Hindus and the Sikhs.” Wallia goes on to say that a “more skillful writer” might have been able to expand on the ideas.

From my perspective, getting the entire history of conflict in the region captured in one book or one two-hour movie would have been nearly impossible. For historians and scholars, I'm sure the depiction of the events does seem thin – but for the average viewer – especially a Western watcher, boiling the complicated events of that time down to the eyes of a child may actually be a better portal into the idea.

Certainly the movie isn't intended for children, and the issues are challenging to handle – even for adults. Grasping the concept of 13 million people migrating and 1 million people dying is hard to understand – and seeing the conflict build through the eyes of one child and one small community is more accessible than trying to use a wider lens.

Wallia wanted a more comprehensive look at what happened – which I understand – but as a wide-release movie, I have to agree more with Ansari's look at “Earth.”

Popcorn Tidbits

The stuffing that comes out of Lenny-baby's doll when she tears it apart is black. Not significant, just an odd observation.

The quote, “Some Independence they gave us. Soaked in our brother's blood,” could have come from our previous film, “Before the Rain.” It could also have come from any number of films about the American Revolution, and other movies still to come.

The kite flying scene is such a beautiful bit of the film. Such a stark comparison to the train car full of mutilated bodies that comes rolling into Lahore later in the film.

The gun that Lenny's father brings to his wife is in a satin-lined, green velvet box – more of a museum piece than a savage weapon. It's almost like a gesture – but still a safe neutral one.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Handy Tools

Dr. Jones, I'm sure you already know about this, but for the rest of us, I've been using a great site to find lots of reviews for these movies.

It's a little less cumbersome than getting them through UNCG's library site. It's , which stands for Movie Review Query Engine. It's not comprehensive, but it's a great place to get different ideas.

And of course, there's always, which then scores movies based on score by all the reviewers. For example, "Earth" received a 71 out of 100, which is really high for that site.

Out-of-class movie topic - Benjamin Button

So I'll admit. I really didn't want to see that movie all that much. Three hours? Really?

But it actually was a really sweet movie, and fascinating to watch. As interesting as it was to see Brad Pitt get younger - I think the effects making Cate Blanchett older were just as great.

It definitely had a very "Forrest Gump" quality about it, in that it traced historical events, the main characters got together at different points in their lives, and in this case, a hummingbird took the place of a floating feather. But that didn't really distract me from it.

So well worth the price of admission. Especially at student discount prices. :)

About popcorn tidbits

You may notice an addendum at the end of my last blog entry called "popcorn tidbits."

I sometimes notice odd details in a movie that are funny, off, or just odd. There's usually nowhere to include them in an intelligent discussion or review - so I figure I'll just include them there if y'all would like to read them.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Time doesn't wait and the circle isn't round

The title of this post, which is also a tagline for the film, help explain away one of the biggest criticism's of Milcho Manchevski's “Before the Rain.” The plot twists can't actually work in a linear time frame, but the story is better told by appealing to the tradition of suspension of disbelief.

Buying into that loophole to get to the meat of the story is ultimately the reason why I have to say I enjoyed the movie - despite it's often overwrought qualities.

From my perspective, there are several ways to look at this film: as a social commentary, as a story and as a film.

As a social commentary, “Before the Rain” absolutely deserved all of the awards and attention it received.

What better way to illustrate a bloody, ancient conflict than to boil it down into family units and personal struggles. By showing the demons between people who are close, it makes it easier to understand how ethnic battles can escalate quickly.

In his March 10, 1995 review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert laments that the North American media hasn't done a great job of explaining exactly what has been going on in the Balkans. He boils down the average thought by saying "They are basically all a lot of people who hate each other, and the United Nations can't do anything about it." OK. Maybe that's oversimplifying slightly, but it wasn't far from the perceived truth.

The struggle did tear apart villages and families. And as Aleksandar says that he had to take sides, The theme of “taking sides” emerges in almost every story line. The Macedonians and the Albanians is the overriding struggle, but in so many ways, it works as a more intimate story between people. Aleksandar has to choose “sides” when dealing with Anne, Hana, his family, Samira and even his own beliefs. At the very beginning of the film, Kiril must choose between his priestly life and his country and protecting Zamira. Hana has to choose between her affection for Aleksandar and the safety of her children.

As a story, the three parallel parts are a clever way to dramatize the events. The mystery certainly holds the interest of viewers. I agreed with Variety's Sept. 7, 1994 review by Deborah Young that the movie, "owes part of its disturbing magic to its challenging structure."

As a film, I have a couple of complaints that contradict what seemed to be conventional wisdom at the time. In that same review, Young says there are "high production values." Maybe in the context that they were in the middle of nowhere, but there are several directorial selections that took away from the simple message of the story. The shooting of the cat scene was WAY over the top. At some point, it pushed past shocking and ventured toward the seam of ridiculous. I felt the same way about the level of gratuitous shooting in the restaurant scene.

There is a shooting star put into the back night sky at one point when Kiril is returning back to the monastery from the funeral. It was a forced entry. When John Simon wrote on April 3, 1995 in the National Review of the "pretentiously artsy concoction" of a movie, I think these are the kinds of things he's talking about.

I also agreed with Simon that with the exception of Aleksandar, the movie "fails to create rounded believable characters." I didn't really care much about the characters as people. Perhaps it is just that the chronology interrupted that facet of the film.

Overall, "Before the Rain" accomplishes what I think it set out to do: offer a window in an often misunderstood world filled with unbearable violence.


Popcorn tidbits:

* As Aleksandar is riding his bike up the hill after being home for a day, he is singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

* There are two repetitions that are made for effect in Parts 1 and 2, but I couldn't find in "Words." I previously mentioned the Beastie Boys song in my discussion post, but there is also a turtle in both scenes.

* The line about "War is a virus" comes from a medical doctor.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree

I was so proud of myself for getting my blog up before class started. Turns out, I should have been on Santa's naughty list for being a member of the nation of idocracy. Ohhhh..... Class started on the 19th?? I was sure it was the 29th. Oops.

Sorry I'm late to the game, folks. I'll be posting more this weekend.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hello, fellow Reel Worlders

I look forward to this class with you during our Winter Session.
I'll bring the microwave popcorn.