Films

Possible worlds

Movies from India and France take us places where Hollywood never goes

Brian D. Johnson March 18 2002
Films

Possible worlds

Movies from India and France take us places where Hollywood never goes

Brian D. Johnson March 18 2002

Possible worlds

Films

Movies from India and France take us places where Hollywood never goes

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

We look to movies for escape, and Hollywood complies by manufacturing worlds

that bear little or no resemblance to reality. But maybe it’s not reality we’re trying to get away from, just the version of it that surrounds us —the job, the TV, the daily news of a distant war, the grey pallour of an unconvincing winter. And so much Hollywood product seems part of the same suffocating routine. Which is why it’s refreshing to see a movie that takes us to another world. I’m not talking about The Time Machine (more on that later), but two foreign films, India’s Monsoon Wedding and France’s Under the Sand. The first celebrates life, the latter grapples with death, and while both are exotically removed from North American soil, they connect with emotional realities that are universal. Monsoon Wedding is the contemporary tale of a Punjabi family staging a lavish wedding at their home in Delhi. It unfolds as a kaleidoscopic swirl of comedy and drama—and of food, fabric, music

and dance. Indian director Mira Nair has a great eye for sensual detail. Previously, she’s used it to explore cultural extremes in films such as Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala and Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. With Monsoon Wedding, she portrays the kind of middle-class family she grew up in. And it’s her most accomplished work, a picture that combines the elegance of a Shakespearean comedy with the exuberance of a Bollywood pageant. Screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan deftly weaves half a dozen subplots. Aditi (Vasundhara Das) gets cold feet as she heads into an arranged marriage with a Houston engineer (Parvin Dabas)—she’s still entan-

gled with her older, and married, ex-boss. The bride’s father (Naseeruddin Shah) frets over the wedding plans while his own marriage strains at the seams. A volatile catering contractor (Vijay Raaz) is smitten by the family’s shy maid (Tilotama Shome). The bride’s teenage cousin (Neha Dubey) openly flirts with a college student who’s come home from Sydney. And, lending the story some dramatic ballast, another cousin (Shefali Shetty) reveals secrets of childhood abuse.

From the opening image of a marigold bower falling apart, Monsoon teems with colour and chaos. In English with occasional bursts of subtitled Hindi and Pun-

jabi, Nair’s film stands like a bonfire at a cultural crossroads, and burns with a question fathers ask about daughters the world over: “How did they grow up so quickly, and when did we grow old?” Under the Sand is a smaller, sadder film, a gem possessed of a quiet inner beauty, with a story as spare as Monsoons is crowded. Marie (Charlotte Rampling) is an English literature professor in Paris whose husband (Bruno Cremer) vanishes while she’s napping on a beach during their summer holiday. He’s presumed drowned, but Marie goes into denial over his death, imagining that he’s still with her even as she takes a lover.

Directed by François Ozon, Rampling is a revelation. At 57, she’s still sexy, with luminous eyes that shift through sea changes of uncertainty, from inviting to cold to fragile. The French have a thing for eroticizing older women— check out Isabelle Huppert in La Pianiste—and that’s a nice change from Hollywood, where they are simply put out to pasture.

The Time Machine is another tale of someone clinging to the memory of a dead lover. Based on the H.G. Wells story, and directed by great-grandson Simon Wells, it’s about a scientist (Guy Pearce) who invents a time machine to undo his fiancées death. He travels 800,000 years into the future—to a post-apocalyptic Manhattan where the world is split between cliffdwelling, Polynesian-like pacifists and an underworld of monstrous, cave-dwelling evildoers. The cliff-dwellers have cool bamboo windmills and stylish lanterns. But life is too short for a movie this dumb, and I only wish I had a machine to win back the time lost watching it. CD