Also check out my reviews of the latest Hindi films at annavetticadgoes2themovies.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 20, 2011

REVIEW 6: RED RIDING HOOD


Release date in India:
March 18, 2011
Director:
Catherine Hardwicke
Cast:
Amanda Seyfreid, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez, Max Irons, Julie Christie


It’s a familiar story on unfamiliar ground. We all know Red Riding Hood, the classic children’s tale about a much-loved little girl and her grandmother who are saved from a wicked wolf in the forest by a woodcutter. In the hands of director Catherine Hardwicke, it becomes a saga of werewolves and ruined relationships, wealth-versus-true-love at the marriage stakes and all sorts of other things that I can see it’s trying to say but doesn’t quite manage to.

Some of this is not surprising at all considering that Hardwicke’s the one who shook up the world box-office with her vampire film Twilight. And after all, there’s no rule saying you can’t adapt/re-write a classic. But there should perhaps be an international law banning silly, pretentious, frantically-aspiring-to-be-intellectual re-interpretations of old stories.

Red Riding Hood the film is about a beautiful young woman called Valerie in the village of Daggerhorn (time and country unspecified). Valerie loves the local woodcutter Peter but her parents have promised her hand in marriage to Henry Lazar, the son of a well-to-do blacksmith. Their love triangle is played out against the backdrop of a larger danger that constantly dogs Daggerhorn: a werewolf that terrorises the population. One night, when the beast attacks the hamlet, he asks Valerie to go away with him. Since she’s the only one who understands his tongue, she is assumed to be a witch and is imprisoned by Father Solomon, an outsider who has been brought in to destroy the werewolf. He explains to the villagers that the demon dwells among them in human form by day, and is clearly someone who wants Valerie very much. So is it Peter? Or Henry perhaps?

The manner in which the guessing game is played out is the stupidest part of the film. Since this is Red Riding Hood, there is a grandmother who lives in the woods, of course. Playing the old lady is veteran Julie Christie who overacts to embarrassing effect in a bid to make us suspect that she’s the fiend-in-human-clothing.

Down the centuries, the story of Red Riding Hood has come to mean many things to many people. Some scholars have seen it quite literally as a lesson to children that they should not stray away from the right path. For others it’s been a comment on the dangers of the unknown lurking in the forest away from the known space of the village. And yet others have understood it to be a morality tale about the sexual awakening of young women and sexual predators who prey on innocent girls. Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood is trying to say many equally profound things but ends up saying too much, which adds up to nothing at all because of the absurdity of the proceedings.

Take for instance the Biblical allusions being made through Father Solomon, the Christian priest who is also a witch-and-werewolf hunter. As a man who killed his own wife because he discovered she’s a werewolf, I suppose he is meant to represent the severity of organised religion, especially in medieval Europe. The only black people in this film are the holy man’s henchmen – one of them ultimately kills Solomon when the padre himself is bitten by the werewolf. A point is possibly being made here about racism, the rebellion of the suppressed classes, and the rule book being thrown right back at the ruling elite by a once-subjugated people. You see, Father Solomon had earlier slaughtered the black man’s brother who’d been bitten by the werewolf, with the justification that any human once bitten would become a werewolf himself. Or perhaps the reference is to the wise and wealthy King Solomon in the Bible – actor Gary Oldman certainly dresses up for the part in regal robes.

There are other issues this film raises through its characters. The incarceration of Valerie harks back to the witch hunts in Europe and America which feminists believe were a perfect excuse to target smart, outspoken women: in this instance, Valerie’s sprightliness and uncommon agility are cited as proof of her links with witch-craft. A mentally challenged child’s disability is misconstrued by Father Solomon as evidence of his connection with the werewolf. Solomon himself is a confusing character since he’s uncompromisingly harsh at one level and yet, contrary to what everyone thinks, he is not really throwing Valerie to the wolves (I know, terrible pun! Sorry!). But none of it works because of the ridiculous attempts to manipulate the audience while we try to guess the identity of the werewolf.  As our old F.R.I.E.N.D. Chandler Bing might have said: Could grandma’s eyes GET any wider? Could she BE more obvious? Could this film BE any sillier?

Amanda Seyfreid – the nasty Plastic from Mean Girls and Meryl Streep’s daughter in Mamma Mia – tries hard to lend believability to the goings-on in Red Riding Hood. So does production designer Tom Sanders who gives Daggerhorn a suitably sinister and old-world look. But that’s not enough to salvage this film with its foolish storyline, childish direction and muddled writing. Take for instance the conservatism that surrounds Valerie. It doesn’t stop her from seeking out some action in a haystack with a lover – which is a perfectly understandable way of illustrating that she’s a girl with a mind of her own. But how come none of the stiff-necked grown-ups around raised a single eyebrow at her unabashed lesbian dance with another girl at what seemed like an open-air rave party? Maybe the ‘message’ of the film is that we will all find the bad girl within us if we get our parents sufficiently drunk!

But the low point of Red Riding Hood is a dream sequence in which Valerie repeats those famous lines from the old story: “Grandma what big eyes you have!” … “Grandma what big ears you have!” … “Grandma what big teeth you have!” All the better to make us laugh.

Rating (out of five): *1/2


Release date in the US:
March 11, 2011
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13 (“for violence & creature terror, and some sensuality”)
CBFC Rating (India):
U / A with no cuts
Running time:
100 Minutes
Language:
English


REVIEW 5: THE KING’S SPEECH


Release date in India:
March 4, 2011
Director:
Tom Hooper
Cast:
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter


You don’t need to be British to know the story of King Edward VIII of England. Imagine a monarch giving up his crown to marry the woman he loves! The story that’s told less often though is that of Edward’s younger brother George VI (father of today’s Queen Elizabeth II), the man who was never meant to be king.
The King’s Speech is about George, or rather Prince Albert as he was known before he ascended the throne. It’s a simple film about a man with a speech impediment who had an enormous public role unexpectedly thrust upon him by his elder sibling’s abdication. Albert’s sentences are punctuated by stutters and long silences. Every speech is an occasion for humiliation. To save him from repeated embarrassment, Albert’s wife Elizabeth arrives at the doorstep of speech therapist Lionel Logue, an Australian and a failed actor. What Lionel does for Albert, and the uncommon friendship that develops between the king and the commoner, are the focal points of The King’s Speech.
Director Tom Hooper tells the story of how Albert overcame his stammer with empathy and a sense of humour. The dialogue writing is sharp and very very British. “Waiting for me to commence a conversation, one can wait rather a long wait,” Albert tells Lionel at one of their earliest encounters. Clearly he knows how to laugh at himself despite his misery.
“Do you know any jokes?” Lionel asks Albert one day. The reply: “Timing isn’t my strong suit.”
While watching Hitler deliver a speech, Albert’s daughter asks: “Papa, what is he saying?” Papa responds: “I don’t know but he seems to be saying it rather well.”
“What are friends for?” says Lionel. Replies Albert: “I wouldn’t know.”
It’s a comment on the things you may not envy in royal life, and the things you should not do while bringing up a child. Albert was naturally left-handed but forced to switch to right-handedness. He stammers less around Lionel and his own wife, but is worse in the presence of his controlling father and confident brother. Though a ‘diagnosis’ is not chucked in our faces, enough hints are dropped to help us guess what brought on his stammer in the first place.
Some people may call this pop psychology. Frankly I don’t care. Because the end result is a sweet film that wrapped me up so gently in its emotions that I didn’t realise at what point I started rooting for the king myself. When Albert delivers his first radio address as King George, like his wife my fists too were clenched with tension on his behalf, and the tears rolled down my cheeks though Elizabeth kept hers in check.
This is not a royal saga filled with grand palaces, gowns and jewels. It is instead a sparse film that often places its characters in narrow corridors and elongated rooms, a cinematographic choice that perhaps represents the claustrophobic confines of Albert’s mind. One particularly lovely shot has Albert facing the Accession Council – the room is overwhelmingly large, the council’s an overwhelmingly large bunch, Albert is a lone overwhelmed figure.
Colin Firth is superb as the king who overcomes his stammer as also his monarchical arrogance through his alliance with that damned Aussie who insists on calling him Bertie. Geoffrey Rush is suitably smart and over-smart by turns as Lionel Logue. And it was such a joy watching Helena Bonham Carter not playing a mass murderer for a change. Watch her as she discusses Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom Edward VIII gave up his kingship. “Apparently she has certain skills acquired in an establishment in Shanghai,” says Elizabeth with well-disguised contempt.
This brings me to the major issue I have with The King’s Speech. Why did an affectionate portrayal of one brother necessitate a negative portrayal of the other? The film projects Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce) as an irresponsible – even slightly silly – king who bullies his kid brother. History tells us Edward VIII was hugely popular. That popularity could not have come without good reason. So why did The King’s Speech need to be one-sided and weighed so heavily against him? If the coldness that is intrinsic to royal life extracted a heavy price on Albert/George’s morale, then he too was guilty of an equal level of iciness towards his brother’s wife. Wallis Simpson wrote in her autobiography The Heart Has Its Reasons, about The Family’s attitude towards her: “…I simply did not exist.”
She was no saint, but then nor were the royals. So why does Tom Hooper gloss over the hypocrisy of the British system that famously permitted King HenryVIII repeated annulments of his marriages in dubious circumstances in the 16th century, yet in the 20th century would not allow the King of England to marry a woman simply because she was a divorcee.
These were easily avoidable flaws in an otherwise lovely film. Oddly enough while The King’s Speech has been passed by Indian Censors with no cuts and a U rating despite the series of expletives used by some of the characters, in the US it got an R (Restricted) rating. Surely that must be R for Ridiculous considering that the scenes with those swear words are among the funniest and most heart-warming in the film! And don’t get me started on the double standards of the Indian Censors who don’t allow the F-word in an Indian film if it wants a U certificate!
While that debate continues, do watch The King’s Speech for its simplicity, its compassion and most of all for the genius of Colin Firth. At one point in the film, King Edward VIII says to his brother, “I've been terribly busy.” “Doing what?” asks the future King George VI. “Kinging,” comes the reply. Well, here’s another new word for you. May it be decreed that from this day forth, brilliant acting will also be known as ColinFirthing.
Rating (out of five): ****


Release date in the US:
November 26, 2010
MPAA Rating (US):
R (“for some language”). The producers have now re-edited the film & got a more lenient PG-13, no doubt to cash in on the post-Oscar hype. To hell with artistic integrity, eh Mr Weinstein?
CBFC Rating (India):
U with no cuts
Running time:
118 Minutes
Language:
English


Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King%27s_Speech

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

REVIEW 4: THE WAY BACK


Release date in India:
March 4, 2011
Director:
Peter Weir
Cast:
Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan

It’s a tale of survival so bereft of clich├ęs that many have dismissed it as improbable. But that’s the beauty of Peter Weir’s The Way Back: it shows you not just the lengths to which our human instinct for survival will take us but also our potential for goodness in the most depraved conditions.

The Way Back is the story of a band of prisoners who escape from a Siberian labour camp in Communist-era Russia during World War II. They manage to escape in the harsh Siberian winter. The men trudge through Russia, China, Tibet and finally reach India. Along the way, a young Polish girl joins them. Only some of that ragtag bunch enters India – don’t ask how many, because The Way Back is not so much about what happens as it is about how!

What strikes you first about this film are its STUNNING locales and cinematography, so lovely that they hark back to the grandeur of classics like Lawrence of Arabia. But the visual gala does nothing to dwarf the magnitude of the human struggles we witness in The Way Back.

The film’s focal point is a Polish prisoner Janusz whose wife was tortured into giving false testimony against him. Consigned to Siberia, Janusz’s only goal is to return to the woman he loves so that she doesn’t spend all her life hating herself for what she did to him. The group that makes it out of the camp with him includes the inscrutable American Mr Smith (Ed Harris), the Russian criminal Valka (Colin Farrell), an artist who trades in erotic drawings with his fellow prisoners, an accountant and others.

But as the tagline tells us, “Their escape was just the beginning.” Through their 4,000 mile trek across frozen lakes, deserts and mountains, the group experience starvation, sub-zero temperatures, blinding sunshine, sandstorms, thirst, poisonous snakes, mosquitoes and every sort of hurdle that nature could possibly throw their way.

The easy thing for director Peter Weir to do would have been to intersperse the unforgiving landscapes in his film with flashbacks to each character’s schmaltzy back story. Instead, his storytelling style is as bare, naked and unapologetic as the burning desert they cross. The drama and emotion in this film are derived not from the characters’ past but from their dreadful present, their doggedness, their team spirit, their weathered faces and swollen feet, and the absolute lack of formulae that you might expect in such a story. No, in their world without rules, they don’t end up turning on each other. Yes, when they chance upon a pack of wolves attacking an animal carcass, they chase the beasts away and tear into the dead creature themselves in such a brutish fashion that it’s hard to watch, yet … when a lone girl joins them they are kind and gentle towards her. And no, her arrival does not cause any sexual under-currents, rivalries for her affections or vile behaviour. Improbable, did you say? Really? Is human goodness completely out of the realm of probability?

In fact, after those splendid vistas, the thing I liked most about this film is the subtle manner in which Irena’s presence impacts the group. I remember watching Indian director Manish Jha’s film Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women, a chilling account of a village in north India that has killed off all its baby girls, leaving it with a population of only men. It shook me to the core but it still bothered me back then that the only impact the absence of women had on those men seemed to be related to their sexual deprivation. Is sex a woman’s primary contribution to society?

Clearly not in Peter Weir’s book. The men in The Way Back don’t tell each other much about their past lives before Irena joins them. But there is a thaw in the group with her arrival, each one opens up to her, they all start smiling more. And even the seemingly feelingless Smith begins to look upon the girl with a fatherliness that he seemed incapable of at the start.

With her delicate and fragile looks, Academy Award nominated teenager Saoirse Ronan is the perfect choice for Irena. The rest of the cast too are brilliant and well-chosen. Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) makes Janusz impossibly charming. And Colin Farrell bestows a weird likeability on Valka’s questionable morals. When the group is scrounging around for food towards the beginning, he brings up the subject of cannibalism, much to the chagrin of his listener. “What?!” asks an incredulous Valka, you mean that’s not why you brought so many people along?! That wry sense of humour is evident in the writing throughout the film. Asked what his first name is, Smith replies: “Mister.” For Indian viewers there are also a pleasant few minutes right at the end when the group crosses the border into India.

For the record, though the trailers say this film is “inspired by a true story”, it is in fact based on The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, a book whose authenticity has been questioned. Be that as it may, this is a fascinating, compelling film.

It’s a film that’s typical of the Peter Weir who created waves with his memorably eerie Picnic At Hanging Rock back in the 1970s. If you felt unsatisfied with that film’s unresolved ending, or you are prone to believe that films like Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours lack drama, then perhaps The Way Back is not your scene. But if you believe that tales of survival need to be told, especially when the men and women in them turn to monsters to save their lives and yet retain their humanity, then do watch this lovely film.

Rating (out of five): ****

Release date in the US:
January 21, 2011
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13
CBFC Rating (India):
U/A with no cuts
Running time:
133 minutes
Language:
English, with some subtitled conversations in other European languages at the start



Friday, March 11, 2011

REVIEW 3: HEREAFTER

 
Release date in India:
March 11, 2011
Release date in the US:
October 15, 2010
MPAA Rating (US):
PG-13
CBFC Rating (India):
U/A with no cuts
Running time:
129 minutes
Language:
English, with several long conversations in French
Director:
Clint Eastwood
Cast:
Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Frankie & George McClaren

“You know, knowing everything about someone seems nice … but really … it’s actually better to hold stuff back.”

It’s a line that’s delivered with the sort of lack-of-drama that we have come to associate with Matt Damon. And yet it’s a line that underlines his tragedy more than anything else in this film where he plays George, a retired psychic in San Francisco who can speak to the dead. It might seem like a gift, but as George points out to his brother, actually “it’s a curse”. Try dating, when just the touch of a woman’s hand gives you a connection with someone she has lost. We see it for ourselves when the pretty girl in George’s cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard) breaks up with him almost as soon as they hook up, because her dead father spoke to him.

At another end of the globe, celebrity French TV anchor Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) is vacationing with her boyfriend when a tsunami strikes. She suffers a near-death experience that changes her life forever. Back in Paris, she can’t forget the light she saw, or that lightness of being, or those hazy figures that still sometimes steal into her mind.

And in London, two delightful twin brothers – Jason and Marcus played by kid prodigies Frankie & George McClaren – are constantly looking out for each other. They also cover up for their drug-addict mother when Social Services comes calling. When Jason dies in an accident, Marcus – the quieter, shier, more dependent one – is left desperately seeking evidence that his beloved sibling is still around. 

George … Marie … Jason … Three people whose lives we know will intersect at some point. But like everything else about this film, that point is reached in an utterly unhurried fashion.

It’s a film that has the potential to be silly and cheesy (look no further than Manoj Night Shyamalan’s works post-Sixth Sense). But under the helmsmanship of 80-year-old Clint Eastwood, Hereafter becomes a moving portrait of loss and longing. Dirty Harry sure has it in him to be mellow! The film doesn’t insist that you believe in an after-life. It simply suggests it to you as a possibility. It doesn’t demand that you should believe in psychics. It merely points out that while there are fakes, there may be some who are sincere too. And as is always the case in such films with multiple strands, though the manner in which the three principal characters finally meet is an improbability, it’s certainly not an impossibility.

The unobtrusiveness of Eastwood’s direction is Hereafter’s biggest strength. It’s likely that some people may find the film tardy, but the pace worked for me. And so I watched, not as if I was seeing a film, but as though real people were going about their lives on a screen before my eyes. Even the tsunami right at the start of Hereafter does not seem designed in Spielberg fashion to make us gasp. It just happens to happen. Just the way the people in Paris mostly speak French, though English may have been more palatable to an English-film-viewing market. It’s a pity though that at PVR (Ambience Mall) in Gurgaon where I watched Hereafter, those scenes were shown without sub-titles due to what I’ve now been told was an administrative error. At first, as I watched the film, it irritated me since those French conversations are quite long – but well, life doesn’t have subtitles and I still managed to gather that Marie had become a sort of oddity and an embarrassment to her TV station.

Everything about this film is nicely under-stated, from George’s misery and loneliness, to Marie’s beauty and the children’s humour. There is a point gently thrown in about discrimination: who says it’s always against people of other races, religions and nationalities? There is also a flash of a child’s intuitiveness, so different from a psychic’s insights. And it doesn’t matter whether you believe in life after death. When George makes those connections with souls long gone, it’s a reminder that if you have ever lost someone you truly loved, however logical and cynical you may be, somewhere in the deepest recesses of your mind is probably a sliver of a reluctant belief that it could not possibly be ending in the here-and-now; that there just may be a hereafter.

I forgot my handkerchief at home when I went to watch this film. Be warned: take yours with you.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

REVIEW 2: HALL PASS

Release date in India: March 4, 2011
Director: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate
This one’s not so much a review as a reviewlet. Because honestly, Hall Pass doesn’t merit thought or analysis! The film revolves around Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as middle-aged married men who get a “hall pass” from their wives. That’s a week off from marriage to do whatever they want minus any consequences – fool around, sleep around, whatever!
It’s the sort of harmless story that lends itself to some good laughs. And things were moving along smoothly enough until the directors decided to give in to their baser instincts and ruin a potentially unmemorable-yet-entertaining film. Ah well, why was I expecting anything else from the Farrelly brothers? 
The film’s appealing lead cast really owe themselves better than this level of crap … oops, did I just use that word on my blog?! But seriously, Wilson especially has such a likeable personality that it’s hard to despise him even in the middle of this faeces-and-fart fest.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not too snooty to enjoy an occasional mindless, even cheap comedy. But I draw the line at watching an obese man shit on a golf course, then cover up his excrement with sand and run across the fairway while his shorts are still not over his expansive bum. And I certainly draw the line at a sexily dressed woman who spews diarrhoea on to a bathroom wall. If you can manage to wipe that crap (oops I did it again!) out of your mind’s eye, then you may find Hall Pass an amusing film.
Rating (out of five): **

Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall_Pass_(film)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

REVIEW 1: BLACK SWAN

Release date in India: March 4, 2011
Director: Darron Aronofsky
Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder

“The only person standing in your way is you,” Nina Sayers is told at one point in Black Swan. So what’s the solution? Should she eliminate herself?

These are among the many questions and demons that Nina the ballerina in Black Swan battles as she takes on the role of a lifetime.

Black Swan is set in a New York ballet company which is preparing for a performance of Swan Lake. I know I know, it’s been done to death, admits artistic director Leroy Thomas even as he announces his plans to his team. But this Swan Lake will be different, he assures them. Thomas knows that Nina – fragile and waif-like that she is – would be impeccable as the White Swan. Problem is that he wants the same dancer playing the more vibrant and sensual Black Swan too. Can technically perfect Nina let go of her inhibitions to embrace that role?

A new dancer enters the troupe. Lily (Mila Kunis) compensates for the lacunae in her technique with her unshackled, unbridled style. In her, Thomas sees the potential for his Black Swan. But then one day, alone in his room, Nina reacts unexpectedly and violently to his overtures. Clearly there’s a side to her usually subdued personality that she’s not unleashing. Nina is cast in both roles, with Lily as her alternate. What follows is a story of artistic obsession and insecurities, discipline and a pathetic desire for approval, passionate perfectionism and fatal ambition.

Director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) is not the first person in the world to take up the story of a play mirroring the lives of some of its performers. But there’s nothing predictable about Black Swan and its gut-wrenching, bone-rattling, blood-stirring take on an artist who will go to any lengths to achieve her life’s only goal: “I just want to be perfect.”

Nina’s world is divided between the theatre where she hones her craft and her home where she shares her joys and tears with her mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), a former ballerina herself. As is the case with many of our closest relationships, Nina and Erica share both a deep love and a certain resentment towards each other.

The beauty of Black Swan is that there’s very little in it that is obvious or over-stated, and at each step you are left gasping at the possibility that what you just saw was not Nina’s reality but a figment of the imagination of her frail mind. Is this a tale of professional pre-occupations, resentments and rivalries? Or is it just a journey into Nina’s distraught psyche? Is Nina consumed by her passion for her art or by her own troubled soul? Is she schizophrenic, paranoid and delusional or simply a self-destructive method actor? Should an artist be willing to destroy herself in a quest for perfection? And if she ultimately achieves that perfection, would you still call it self-destruction?

The tragedy of Black Swan is heightened by our awareness of some of what Natalie Portman subjected herself to for this role. She reportedly trained for 10 months in ballet for Black Swan and also lost many kilos to achieve Nina’s skinny look. But there’s more to her incredible performance than just its physical attributes. As Nina struggles with the role of the Black Swan in her ballet, you may find yourself (like me) sub-consciously waiting for a facial transformation. What you will get instead is a dance performance where her face is barely seen, where she is the very embodiment of the Black Swan, another human being altogether, acting with every pore of her body and yet not acting at all. She is no longer playing the part of the Black Swan in a stage production of Swan Lake in the film Black Swan. No, my God, she becomes the Black Swan!

If Natalie Portman is brilliant in this film, so is the casting director. Every actor here is well chosen. In a year filled with many outstanding performances, I’d still say Mila Kunis playing Lily was unfairly robbed of an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category. Vincent Cassel as Leroy Thomas too deserves a special mention as the man who drives Nina to be what he knows she can be. When he tells her there should be no boundaries between them, is he being a sleazebag on a casting couch or an obsessive artist himself? Is he genuinely attracted to Nina or is he only driven by a belief that shaking her up and stirring up her mind is the only way to force her to shrug off her shyness on stage?

Aided by this amazing cast, Matthew Libatique’s cinematography and Andrew Weisblum’s editing, Aronofsky has put together a supremely disturbing film.

What Black Swan could have done without though, were the cliches in production design and costume. Innocent Nina is dressed in white; those around her are mostly in black. It’s been a couple of centuries since Tchaikovsky conceptualised Swan Lake in which the White Swan and the Black Swan represent good & innocence contrasted with evil & sensuality. To duplicate that colour scheme in a contemporary stage show of Swan Lake is completely acceptable; but to then transpose that black-is-bad-white-is-good palette on to a modern-day film about the lives of Swan Lake’s cast seems literal and even regressive.

Equally stereotypical and cliched is the director and writing team’s decision to equate virginity with innocence, also suggesting that lack of sexual promiscuity is the same as sexual repression, while the free-spirited woman (Lily) must perforce be an overtly sexual and sexually experimental being. Nina at one point seems to consider some rocking lesbian action between the sheets as a means of “letting go” of her inhibitions on stage. Thomas is concerned about whether she has a boyfriend or not. He even gives her a home assignment one evening: “touch yourself,” he says, then adds, “live a little.” Really Mr Aronofsky, why this silly stereotyping in an otherwise fabulous film?!

And I say FABULOUS although we Indians are being served up a truncated version of Black Swan. Having passed brief shots of good old boy-with-girl action and even allowed a considerable dose of masturbation, our stiff-necked Censor Board has dropped a butcher’s knife on a lesbian sex scene in the film. Now that our courts have decriminalised homosexuality, perhaps it’s time to criminalise such interference with art.

That’s an issue we need to debate at a national level. Until then, do go watch this beautiful film.

Rating (out of five): ****