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.

Won the golden lion in Venice against Throne of Blood, White Nights and Bitter Victory. Apu’s family gets settled in the big city by the river. Dad seems to be making a good living as a priest, but he gets sick and dies soon after. Mom moves Apu to a small town (doesn’t seem as rural as their home in Pather Panchali) and works for a rich family, sends Apu to school. Years later, new actor College-Age Apu wants to leave home and further his education. He tries to balance career and family, but favors the former and his mother dies of heartbroken loneliness. Apu’s own story is pretty hopeful (he’s still a good kid who loves his momma) but his family is as depressing and sudden-death-prone as ever. I’m guessing Apu himself will become desperately poor then die of a sudden illness in part three, but we’ll see.

Tarsem’s previous movie The Cell had a crappy story and bad acting wrapped around a handful of intensely cool but disconnected imagery. This one has a simple but decent story and good acting, with about half the movie being intensely cool imagery, finely intertwined with the rest of the plot. A quantum leap forward!

The gimmick of not having a gimmick (no digital effects, etc) was distracting as hell. We were always “what country do you think that is” or “THAT isn’t a real place is it” or “aha, that’s GOT to be a digital effect” or “is the little girl acting or not, she seems so natural.” From online trivia we learn it’s a remake of a 1981 Bulgarian film and the little girl was often improvising.

Movie itself is a wonder. In Princess Bride’s framing story, grandpa Peter Falk is reading a great, classic storybook, so the bulk movie has to be great and classic, and it lives up – but in The Fall we have an unreliable narrator, suicidal, heartbroken, wasted on morphine, making it up as he goes along. In a sense this makes the story more unpredictable, but it’s also a huge cop-out because if the writing is poor you can say “oh it’s supposed to be poor, didn’t you get that?” And it is kinda poor. Our hero the masked bandit with his lost love and archnemesis kinda fizzles, and his side characters Luigi (“explosives expert” who only uses explosives once, suicidally at the very end), The Ex-Slave and The Indian just make poses and look beautiful against the exotic scenery, getting shown up by the problem-solving Charles Darwin and his pet monkey. So it doesn’t sound too good and it’s probably not, but if you’re gonna throw out images this nice, I’ll let your thin plot slide. Carried over from The Cell we’ve still got some nightmarish imagery too. When their guide The Mystic is captured, being chopped to death with an axe (barely offscreen), crying and repeating the safe word “googly googly”, small birds flying out of his mouth, that’s a thing that gets stuck terribly in my head while I’m trying to sleep.

Movie ends with a montage of Keaton and Chaplin stunt scenes, half of which I recognized, in a belated homage to stunt men (our hero is one, ended up in the hospital with the little girl by falling badly off a bridge). Weird. Nobody I’ve heard of in the cast, which makes sense. If you’re shooting a self-financed movie over four years in 20+ countries, you’re not gonna get many recognizable actors to sign up. However, Lee Pace (our storytelling hero) is now starring in Pushing Daisies.

Kid is on a game show being asked a series of questions to win 20 million rupees. How does he know all the answers? Is it luck? Fate? Or does each question somehow relate to an incredibly depressing detail of his life? Yes it’s that last one, because this is the most toilet-diving, poo-covered, mother-killing, tourist-swindling, prisoner-torturing, implicitly-sexually-violent movie to ever be marketed as the award-winning feel-good love story of the year.

image

Jamal, brother Salim, and hot girl Latika live in the Mumbai slums, parents are killed over religion so they hang out together. Join the local beggar group, but the beggarmaster is gonna blind them to rake in more sympathy cash, so the boys skip town and become Taj Mahal tour guides. Back into the city because Jamal is fixated on finding Latika, just in time to rescue her from being sold for sex by the beggar dude. Salim kills the king beggar and joins a gangster group, turns on Jamal and rapes Latika, eventually gives her up as live-in lover to the king gangster. Jamal, meanwhile, gets a straight job as intern at a call center, gets himself on the Millionaire show, wins 10m one day, gets arrested and tortured by police chief Irfan Khan (dad in The Namesake), tells Irfan (and us) his life story the whole next day, then back to the show and wins the other 10m on the final question. Salim shoots his boss, gets killed (having raped the heroine, he has to get killed), but releases Latika who has a happy ending (with train-station dance sequence) with our rich boy.

Boyle got the writer of The Full Monty and Mira Nair’s co-director, and used his 28 Days Later / Millions cinematographer (who also shoots Dogme stuff). The camerawork, along with a high-energy MIA and A.R. Rahman soundtrack and great editing (ooh it’s Edgar Wright’s regular guy) make for a rockin’ good time of a movie, despite the story. Maybe I’m missing something, because Katy loved it, story and all.

Gardner: “Forest of Bliss is intended as an unsparing but ultimately redeeming account of the inevitable griefs and frequent happinesses that punctuate daily life in Benares, one of the world’s most holy cities. The film unfolds from one sunrise to the next without commentary, subtitles or dialogue. It is an attempt to give anyone who sees it a wholly authentic though greatly magnified view of the matters of life and death that are portrayed.”

Gorgeous doc from American anthropologist/filmmaker Gardner assembles this “day in the life” through many days of shooting (either that or he’s the most efficient filmmaker in history), with beautiful artistic shots and editing. There’s a clear plot/progression, as he shows fragments, actions, people, with no indication of who they are or what they mean, then it all gets woven together. The “ladders” being built are stretchers for the dead. The shipful of timber is for funeral pyres. The stone courtyard being washed down is where bodies are prepared. The man bathing in the river is a priest who performs funeral ceremonies. Some shocking images (bodies get dumped right into the river!) but for the most part it’s an awe-inspiring ecstatic film.

Andy opened with Den of Tigers (2002, Jonathan Schwartz), a decent Gardner-influenced short doc from West Bengal featuring people speaking to us in English (so it wasn’t too Gardner-influenced).

Katy showed me this Bollywood movie to wash away the pain of Partner. This one wasn’t hateful, loud, empty, an extended music-video ripoff of an already-bad Hollywood film, but I didn’t love it either. Katy said the camera work was very good and often beautiful, but I found it uninspired, generic. Music was unmemorable but not bad. One nice music segment when a couple is at the movies seeing themselves onscreen reminded me of Pennies From Heaven. Story is alright, a light romance about three buddies and their love lives.

Akash (Aamir Khan – ice candy man in Earth, main dude in Lagaan) has a little beard patch under his lip, kinda arrogant but becomes a Good Guy as movie progresses. Gets sent to Australia and falls for a girl his parents previously tried to set him up with.

Sid (Akshaye Khanna – played Gandhi’s son last year) has an uneven hairline, is an artist and a Good Guy to begin with, falls for an alcoholic older woman with a kid and an ex-husband but she dies in the end.

Sameer (Saif Ali Khan – once played a character named Jimmy, but not THE Jimmy) has no distinguishing features or characteristics except that he falls in love with every girl he sees.

Also some women with names like Preity and Dimple, but don’t confuse me here.

Was nominated for 13 Indian academy awards, but got trampled by Lagaan.