Boys (Jongens) Movie Review

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Review:

Boys (Jongens) stars Gijs Blom as Sieger, a 15 year old track star living with his widowed father and troubled older brother. When Sieger is selected to run in a championship relay race, he is teamed with free-spirited Marc (Ko Zandvliet) and falls in love. He struggles with accepting his newly realized sexuality and with his attempts to keep the peace between his father and brother, but ultimately this is a truly sweet and uplifting coming of age story about first love, and I highly recommend it for teens and adults alike.

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Water Movie Review

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Review:

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse

One of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen. I saw in an arthouse theater soon after it came out in 2005 and haven’t seen it since, but I still feel physically ill when I remember certain scenes.

Water was written and directed by Deepa Mehta, a native of Amritsar, Punjab, India who now lives in Canada. It is set in India in 1938, during the rise of Gandhi, but mostly follows the life of a 7 year old child bride who is widowed and sent by her family to live for the rest of her life in an ashram (house of prayer) with other widows. The women are desperately poor and survive by begging and, it turns out, by prostituting the younger and prettier members of the ashram to wealthy men. Starting in childhood.

It does end on a slightly more hopeful note than most of the rest of the film, but overall, it is very hard to watch. Nevertheless, I do recommend watching Water if you can safely do so without triggering yourself. Not only is it a beautifully made and well-acted film, it’s also a very powerful and important one. Call me a bleeding heart, but I think it’s important for those of us with comfortable Western lives to be aware of the struggles of people in general and women in particular in more superstitious and unforgiving times and places. The plight of poor widows in India remains dire. If you feel inspired to try and help, check out The Loomba Foundation and similar charities.

3 Idiots Movie Review

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Review:

3 Idiots was recommended to my husband by some Indian and Pakistani coworkers. It was a huge hit in India and is one of the highest grossing Bollywood films ever.

I was a little wary at first because some of the promotional material made it look alarmingly like an Indian Dumb and Dumber, but it’s really not. The story follows two college friends about 10 years after their graduation as they are trying to find a third friend (Ranchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad, aka “Rancho), who has disappeared in the intervening years. The search is interspersed with flashbacks from the exploits of the three friends in engineering school. 3 Idiots is both entertaining story and social commentary about the immense pressure placed on Indian youth by their families and education system, which results in a high rate of suicide. Though Rancho loves engineering passionately, one of his friends really wants to become a wildlife photographer, and the third is under so much pressure from his impoverished family to make something of himself that he nearly flunks out from the stress. The three have an ongoing rivalry with another student who has no talent for engineering but memorizes the textbooks and sucks up to teachers.

3 Idiots is more of a mix of different genres and styles than a typical Hollywood film, which takes a little getting used to. There’s a rather good review on Amazon that covers it better than I could, I think:

Indian film […] is kitchen sink filmmaking, throwing together themes and plots from many diverse genres to create tales of epic scope (this one is nearly three hours long). These sagas whipsaw the viewer back and forth from farcical parody to ghastly tragedy to musical fantasy to weepy melodrama to toilet humor to social protest to romantic comedy. The plots are frequently Byzantine in their complexity and the characters hopelessly unrealistic. As in the Hindu epic Ramayana, they are better thought of as caricatures of love, wisdom, heroism, foolishness, envy, ambition, and other traits.

Though the ride can be dizzying (and the balance between the wacky hijinks of the friends and the serious social commentary embedded in the story results in some nasty cases of mood whiplash at several points), the result is a film that is both funny and moving, and yes, occasionally ridiculous. (The birth scene!!! o_O) The actors seemed like they were having a lot of fun, which always helps with a film like this, and although I was initially kind of side-eyeing the attempt to pass 40-something Aamir Khan (who also starred in my previous foray into Bollywood: Lagaan) off as a college student, I have to admit he’s a really enjoyable actor to watch and he did a great job with the role of Rancho.

Something that struck me watching Khan’s performance was how whole-heartedly he threw himself into the role. It’s possible this is common in Indian film-making (my limited experience with Bollywood films makes it hard to judge) but I have a hard time picturing a Hollywood star of Khan’s caliber allowing himself to appear as ridiculous as Khan does at many points in this film, unless he’s specifically a comedian like Robin Williams or Adam Sandler. Aamir Khan is one of the biggest stars in India, with many “serious” roles under his belt, yet here he is, bugging out his eyes and waggling his tongue like a 4 year old making faces! For example, the supremely silly (and ear-wormy) love song (mild spoilers):

To be honest, I kind of liked it. Some Hollywood stars guard their dignity a little TOO closely and end up just playing the same role over and over because they’re too scared to leave their comfort zone. I prefer a little more versatility.

Based on this film, I’m also guessing that Indian culture doesn’t have nearly as big a taboo against grown men crying as American culture (unfortunately) does – I lost count of how many times Khan and his co-stars teared up with sadness, joy, and everything in between. Again, it was kind of refreshing – men should be able to cry without being branded sissies or wimps.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Movie Review

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Review:

I’ve seen a few Westernized Indian movies, like Bride and Prejudice and Monsoon Wedding, but Lagaan was my first experience with a real Bollywood film. I think it was a pretty lucky first choice.

The main plot of Lagaan revolves around a poor farming village in 19th century India, which is stricken by a horrific drought and unable to pay the taxes (lagaan) it owes to the British Raj. The hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), makes a bet with the arrogant and cruel officer in charge of collecting the tax that if the villagers can beat the British in a game of cricket, their debt will be forgiven. But if they lose, their tax will be increased by three times.

What follows is good old-fashioned, feel-good fun. Although I’m not much of a sports fan and know almost nothing about cricket, I found it easy to get swept up in the film’s story, and it rarely lagged despite clocking in at nearly 4 hours of running time.

You always hear about Bollywood’s fantastic music and dance numbers, and several of the dances in Lagaan blew me away with how good they were. My favorite was Radha Kaise Na Jale:

Since there’s no subtitles in this copy of the clip, here’s what’s going on: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is in love with Bhuvan but fears he is falling in love with a British woman who has taken pity on the villagers and is coaching them at cricket. During a religious celebration in their village, Bhuvan and Gauri re-enact a ceremonial dance for the villagers (and the British woman) about a goddess (Radha) jealous of her flirtatious lover (Krishna), while Krishna tries to reassure her that his heart belongs only to her. Of course, there’s a double meaning in every line and gesture.

Great film! I highly recommend it.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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A Royal Affair Movie Review

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Review:

Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” A Royal Affair is the sort of movie that reminds you how right he was.

As frustrating as democracy can sometimes be, imagine what it might be like to try and enact any sort of meaningful reform or change in a country ruled by a king who is weak-willed, unstable, and quite possibly insane. Add in entrenched conservative interests such as a powerful Church and aristocracy, and an uneducated and superstitious populace, and you have the unenviable task taken on by Johann Struensee, an ambitious but idealistic commoner who rose to become the de facto regent of Denmark after becoming the personal physician of King Christian VII. Along the way, Struensee also become the lover of Christian’s queen, Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (sister of the hapless King George III, who had his own share of mental problems later in life), which proved the catalyst for his ultimate downfall.

Speaking of helpful reminders, this film is also a pretty good reminder of how much life sucked for the average princess, historically. Caroline is shipped off to a foreign country at the age of 15, her friends and family taken from her, even her beloved books sent back to England due to Denmark’s harsh censorship laws. Married to the aforementioned unstable and possibly insane king, she is all but raped on her wedding night, gives birth at the age of 16, and is left neglected and bored in the palace while he goes off for tours of Europe and wild nights with prostitutes. One can hardly blame her for seeking solace in Struensee’s arms, but the laws of her own time were not so forgiving.

The story of their doomed romance and efforts at reform is beautifully shot, sumptuously costumed (especially given the film’s relatively small budget), and very well acted. Mads Mikkelsen as Struensee and Alicia Vikander as Caroline Matilda have good chemistry together and really make you feel for both characters. I was also impressed by the performance of Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the unstable but well-meaning Christian. Christian and Struensee’s relationship lacked the UST of Caroline and Struensee’s, but was more complex and ultimately more interesting. It was as sad to watch their friendship fall apart as the more dramatic and involuntary severing of Caroline and Struensee’s relationship.

One minor disappointment – if Wikipedia is to be believed, the real Caroline had a penchant for wearing men’s clothes in public, which scandalized the nation as much as, if not more than, her affair with Streunsee. Although Struensee encourages the film Caroline to ride astride, rather than sidesaddle, there’s no other indication of her cross-dressing habit, which is a pity, really. The real Christian was also notable for affairs with young men, though his most long-lasting and famous extramarital liaison was with a female prostitute.

Despite these and some other emissions and changes, the film overall seems unusually historically accurate for a movie (readers with more extensive knowledge of Danish history are welcome to correct me if this impression is incorrect), yet its accuracy comes without sacrificing good storytelling. Highly recommended.

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My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Les Grandes Chaleurs (Heat Wave) Movie Review

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Review:

This is a French-Canadian film about a middle-aged social worker whose husband confesses on his deathbed that he’s been involved in a long-term love affair. A few days after this crushing revelation, one of her former clients, a troubled young man younger than her own children, confesses his love for her, and she begins a passionate affair with him.

My husband and I are big fans of Francois Arnaud, who plays the May in this May-December romance, thanks to his great work on The Borgias. We weren’t sure what to expect with this film, but it turned out to be funny and charming, with a very good script (or at least, very good subtitles). The ending was a little contrived and I had trouble suspending disbelief, but all in all, it was a very entertaining and enjoyable film.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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