This had weird similarities with Mountains May Depart, which we watched the night before. It spans about the same amount of time, during which a boy is separated from his mother, moves to Australia and forgets her native language.

This one’s the true story of “Saroo” who gets lost while adventuring with his big brother then accidentally rides a train to Calcutta where he doesn’t speak the language and almost gets captured by a creepy man then ends up in an orphanage from where he’s adopted by Nicole Kidman and the corrupt police chief from Top of the Lake. Years later he is Dev Patel of Slumdog, going to college and dating Rooney Mara when he learns about online satellite-map programs and becomes obsessed with finding his home town, which he’s been mispronouncing all his life, and seeing his real family again.

Besides obviously getting choked up by the climactic family reunion (and the inevitable footage of the real people being dramatized) I got much of the same feeling as Garth’s Top of the Lake – it’s a good-looking prestige pic tackling Important Issues, but when it was over it didn’t reverberate in my head in any meaningful way, just made me wanna go see another movie.

Also: Darth Gavis.

Movie #3 in our irregular Criterion Thursdays series. Dazed and Confused was #1, a Linklater link from Before Mondays to Criterion Thursdays, then after a month we picked up with The Cranes Are Flying. Last time I wrote up Cranes I didn’t note the insane life-flashing-before-eyes scene, all overlapped images, when the romantic hero gets shot. The point of the Criterion Thursdays was that I wanted to watch more new/unseen movies but so far they’ve all been rewatches… starting slow, but maybe we’ll get there.

I guess we last watched this pre-movieblog. Since then we’ve seen a bunch of movies about family drama before/during a holiday or event (Rachel Getting Married and A Christmas Tale come to mind), and none of them get the balance right… conveyed chaos vs. artful filmmaking, joy vs. conflict, individual vs. group scenes. But Mira Nair nails it, even managing to pull out a dark family secret at the last minute without upsetting the flow too badly. Between this and The Namesake she seems unusually great at family dramas.

The bride has been carrying on an affair with her boss. Her little brother wants to sing and dance. Her uncle used to molest the bride’s cousin and is showing interest in a new young girl. Bride’s mom thinks nobody knows she smokes, dad is stressed out, and the wedding planner PK Dubey is fond of marigolds and falls for the family’s maid Alice. That’s just the parts I remember. Won the Venice Film Festival, same year as Waking Life, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Secret Ballot and The Others (No Man’s Land won the oscar and Amores Perros the bafta).

Gorgeous movie. Looks different from the Apu flicks: strange angles and camera follows, and some stills at the end. Charulata (Madhabi Mukherjee, also of The Big City and The Coward) is a bored, rich housewife whose husband Bhupati is too busy with work on his newspaper, so he gets his cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee, Apu in the third movie) to come hang out with her, which sparks her creativity as she and Amal both try to get stories published. What will happen when the neglected housewife spends all her time with an energetic young man? As a hint, the source novel was titled The Broken Nest. And while the husband’s relative is with his wife, Charulata’s relatives are supposed to be working on the newspaper but rob the accounts and skip town.

P. Kemp

It’s widely believed that the story was inspired by [author] Tagore’s relationship with his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, who committed suicide in 1884 for reasons that have never been fully explained. Kadambari, like Charulata, was beautiful, intelligent, and a gifted writer, and toward the end of his life, Tagore admitted that the hundreds of haunting portraits of women that he painted in his later years were inspired by memories of her.

The further, depressing adventures of doomed Apu (now played by newcomer Soumitra Chatterjee) in an uncaring, godless world. Apu now lives alone, trying to write a book while dodging the landlord. When he finally attempts to find a proper job, he claims to be less educated and take a manual labor position, but then decides that won’t be any fun. Still with no ideas or direction, he accepts an invitation to the country and accidentally gets married.

Well it’s a weird situation – he’s going to his friend Pulu’s cousin’s wedding, but the groom appears to be insane. The girl’s dad is convinced that there’s an “auspicious hour” during which she must marry to avoid curse, so they ask Apu. “Is this a play or a novel? What do you take me for?” But he does it, returning to his city apartment with his bride Aparna (Sharmila Tagore, star of Devi the following year).

Aparna makes the best of the situation, seems to be a caring and hard working wife. Things are going well for Apu, so we know this can’t last. She goes home to her parents’ after getting pregnant, dies in childbirth, then he wanders away to finish his novel, leaving his son with the in-laws.

Pulu tracks him down five years later. Apu has abandoned the novel and is working odd jobs from town to town. He’s more of a fuckup than I thought he’d end up. He comes to see his son, convinces the boy to leave the disapproving grandpa and come a-roaming, in an apparently happy ending.

Film Quarterly called it “the most important single film made since the introduction of sound” and I’m not even kidding, while Rosenbaum calls it “the final and weakest part” of the trilogy. At least we can say it’s authentic Indian cinema, the same year Fritz Lang released his “Indian Epic”

Lovely, colorful 30-minute movie. Main character is a ringneck parakeet who escapes from a lonely princess, flies away to be captured by Irfan Khan (he’s asleep and has no lines). The bird, who speaks as fakely in Hindi as Hollywood parrots do in English, convinces a pretty goth boy to release it and leads him to the princess. Sensual-looking movie, with more bare breasts than I’ve seen in an Indian movie before, and a longer-held close-up on a navel than I’ve seen in any movie. Katy didn’t get it, and NY Times agreed, calling the movie: “a succession of brightly colored images that almost tell a story.” Somehow this is based on three different literary sources, despite its short length and basic story. I’ve read that Mani Kaul was a great artist, never checked him out before.

From Upperstall’s bio: “undoubtedly the Indian filmmaker who along with Kumar Shahani has succeeded in radically overhauling the relationship of image to form, of speech to narrative, with the objective of creating a ‘purely cinematic object’ that is above all visual and formal.”

Irrfan Khan is Pi, having a quiet day at home when an annoyingly Richard Dreyfuss-looking writer (Rafe Spall, one of the Andys in Hot Fuzz) shows up demanding to be told a story. So Pi starts at the beginning – he is named after a French swimming pool and lives with brother and parents (Tabu, who played Khan’s wife in The Namesake, is his mom) at a zoo, and is interested in religion.

One day the family packs up their zoo and heads off in a ship, which sinks in stormy waters, presumably killing Pi’s whole family. He finds himself on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orangutan, a rat, a hyena and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker, but the animals soon eat each other until it’s just Pi and the tiger. He fashions a raft so he can sleep without getting killed, but loses all his food and water due to a leaping whale. Formerly vegetarian, Pi learns to catch and eat fish. Boy and tiger stop on a “carnivorous island,” then get the hell out of there after loading up on edible roots. Finally, land and rescue, though Pi is sad that he never managed to connect with the tiger.

Rafe Spall thinks the whole thing is pretty far-fetched, so Pi gives another version of the story (told, not shown), where the lifeboat survivors were people, including Pi’s mother and a sadistic cook from the boat (Gerard Depardieu), then asks Rafe which story he prefers. The center of the film is just perfect – more colorful and awe-inspiring than a shipwreck story has any right to be.

G. Kenny:

But the frame story, in which an older Pi, a happily settled vegetarian living in Canada, tells his tale to a white male writer who in the credits is called “The Writer” is both a little cloying and forced and smacks a bit of, dare I say it, colonialist thought. I know that it’s a faithful adaptation from the book, and I know the book’s author is a white male writer, but I personally am just a wee bit tired of the convention in which a representative of The Other relates a tale of profundity to a white dude. Changing it up a little can’t hurt. Hell, a white woman would be less boring. I understand that second-guessing the artist is poor critical practice. But that fact remains that this convention, which was always pretty patronizing to begin with, has ossified into cliché, and the movie suffers for it.

Starts out with a chattery narrator, dropping wordplay over straightforwardly tourist-doc images of the city. After some minutes of this it shows various episodes with very slight stories, which almost feel like they were scripted after the fact when writing the voiceover, if not for a few scenes that prove otherwise. T. Gallagher’s book says the movie was shot just how it looks like it was shot – piecemeal, one sequence at a time, as R.R. focused on raising funds, having an affair and breaking up with Ingrid Bergman.

I had subtitle problems on my copy, but managed to make it through since there’s little dialogue. Overall not one of my favorite movies, except I was blown away by the first sequence after the tourist-doc intro: loggers on elephants. The director of the Vienna film festival agrees: “The real reason for including the film in the Viennale is my love for the elephants.” After the logging (the elephants knock down threes then lift them on their tusks) the men scrub their elephants clean.

Quick time out for a puppet show, then a boy elephanter is climbing trees to catch glimpses of the girl he likes. Marriage negotiations follow. Cows, a deer, a warthog, and an old man versus a tiger.

Final story: a pet monkey’s owner dies in the desert. Awesome/sad scene as the monkey stays with the owner as long as he can, with vultures approaching and the man not responding. Then the monkey heads to the city, chain leash still trailing behind, and tries unsuccessfully to make new friends. A weird place to end the movie.

Rossellini had already shown a knack for filming children (perhaps why Truffaut loved him so), and now he proves a master at animal drama – which is good, since he’s almost forgotten to include any human drama in the movie. A four-hour India miniseries came out the same year – not sure if it’s an expanded version of this same material or something completely different.

A family picture: Nita is our beautiful protagonist in love with Sanat, brother Montu is in college, brother Shankar (Anil Chatterjee, the goofy groom traveling with his uncle near the start of Ajantrik) sits under trees singing all day hoping to be famous, and younger sister Gita does nothing much. The family’s father is a schoolteacher, and mother sits around meanly bitching at everybody.

L-R hovering over father: Nita, Shankar, mother, doctor, Gita, Montu

Soon, Montu has failed out of school, gets a factory job and is hurt in an accident. Shankar continues to be a load on everyone, dad has to retire from disability, and while Nita is working to support her failing family, Gita steals away her man.

scheming Gita:

The strain is too much on poor Nita. Shankar is finally the famous singer he dreamed of becoming, but Nita has caught tuberculosis and dies alone in a sanatorium.

Nita: Supriya Choudhury, still acting, recently in The Namesake

Dad: Bijon Bhattacharya also played the director-surrogate character in Ghatak’s final film

Unusually gorgeous and interesting, and with unusually tolerable music for an Indian movie (and more of the pleasingly bizarre sound design that Ghatak used in Ajantrik). The filmmaking is probably a few steps up from Ajantrik, but I preferred that movie’s sadly comedic story to this one’s family misery. Wikipedia says this was the beginning of a trilogy “dealing with the aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947 and the refugees coping with it.” I didn’t realize it took place in a refugee camp outside Calcutta, so might’ve missed other details.

A. Martin on a strange musical scene:

The whole of this bleak scene … is marked by breaks, ellipses, “unmotivated” camera movements, unrealistic pools and speckles of light in a painfully obscure darkness, and above all a wild sound mix that passes from ambient noise throughout song to the echoing lash of a whip that expressionistically conveys Nita’s increasingly manic despair. Every cut, every sound cue is an event in Ghatak: rather than simply “establish” a scene, he restlessly withdraws and redraws it, according to the turbulent pressure of the emotions within it.

Bengali movie with a couple of red herrings. Starts out following a man and his idiot nephew on their way to the nephew’s wedding. They hopped the wrong train and have to take a taxi – the worst, forty-year-old beat-up jalopy, full of holes and loose parts, which manages to get them to their destination safely. But instead of following them to the wedding, the movie stays with the cab driver, the real protagonist. His car is the laughing stock of town, and the movie laughs with them, adding kooky sound effects, having the car respond and telegraph its mood via headlights-as-eyes facial expressions when the owner speaks to it. The comic trappings are another red herring – the movie is a realist social drama in a comedy’s clothing, about the cab driver’s attachment to the car, his financial and emotional struggle to keep it running in spite of its obvious imminent collapse. And I’m so glad it wasn’t the story of the uncle and nephew going to their wedding – looked like The Hidden Fortress all over again.

Not the stars of the film:

The stars of the film (man and car):

Taxi driver is called Bimal, and he calls his car Jagaddal (I can’t figure out the meaning of that name or the film’s title). A boy named Sultan is his friend/assistant/hanger-on, who helps get him fares. The only recurring fare is a young woman who runs off with her boyfriend, then gets a ride some days (months?) later to the train station, alone and ashamed. Bimal judges her, but makes up by buying her train ticket.

I fell asleep in the middle, continued the next night. But first I watched an episode of The Story of Film which gave away the ending – thanks a lot. The only time I’ve ever seen Ajantrik mentioned anywhere, and it’s right in the middle of my watching it. It’s a good ending – the car (which was Bimal’s best friend, making him a local laughing stock) finally gives up the ghost, sold for scrap metal, but Bimal smiles again seeing a child playing with the horn.

This came out the year after Aparajito and Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, all part of the Indian New Wave or “parallel cinema” movement. Wikipedia claims it influenced Ray’s Abhijan (and therefore Taxi Driver) but also the Herbie series, a mixed distinction.

This Just In: an old issue of Film Quarterly gives the English title as Non-Machine.