Two people with dissatisfying home lives meet via lunchbox misdelivery. The delivery service won’t correct the error because they insist their system is flawless, so the two communicate via lunch notes, while he (Irrfan Khan of The Namesake) deals with an overeager and underskilled accounting subordinate, and she (Nimrat Kaur of sci-fi series Wayward Pines) deals with an extremely inattentive husband. Heads in the obvious direction, but Khan is more crotchety than expected and the movie overall more finely made. The story didn’t linger in my mind after watching, but every minute of the movie was enjoyable, so it’s an Indian food-romance John Wick. Batra’s follow-ups were the Broadbent/Rampling Sense of an Ending (also about a grumpy old man) and the Redford/Fonda Our Souls at Night (also about lonely strangers making a connection).

Woman who lost her son receives cash from local corrupt politician, goes to the city where she is mistreated and eventually locked up for suspected forgery. Maybe it’s a subtitle thing, but they keep mentioning the “rupee note” when she actually got four. Anyway, she and her neighbor are finally released, and she throws away the cursed money. Slick-looking movie, which I had the extreme bad fortune to watch right after L’Argent.

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.