Water is the third of Deepa Mehta’s elemental trilogy, following Fire from 1996 and Earth from ’98. Each film takes place further back in Indian history, exploring the places where tradition and culture crack under human desire. Water is set in the 1930s against the turmoil of India circa Gandhi, and the social changes that slowly sift into the culture. At the forefront of the story is a seven-year-old who has been married off by her parents to a full-grown man. He dies, leaving her without options, as widows are sequestered and remain in mourning, wearing only white, for the rest of their lives. In the ashram she meets the one widow who is clearly going to be involved in a romantic subplot with a local lawyer — they’re both so, so pretty. Despite some suspenseful twists, the melodrama is ladled on like syrup. The picture has a fashion-spread quality to it that works against some of the serious social and political issues it explores. That given, the beautiful location cinematography (shot in Sri Lanka), the wash of vivid colour and music do weave a spell that becomes difficult to resist as the story progresses. No one will confuse it with realism, but Water isn’t without sensual pleasures.
Pride and Prejudice
This is a case of a new look at a very familiar story. Many people consider the 1995 BBC six-part miniseries of Jane Austen’s famous novel, starring Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, as a sacred text. They will be disappointed here. This Pride and Prejudice is condensed, leaving out many of the smouldering looks and suggestive silences of the series. The Bennets are an older couple with three teenaged girls and two in their early 20s. Their lives are disrupted by the arrival of a wealthy young man, Mr. Bingley, who takes a shine to the eldest daughter, Jane, but Bingley’s best friend, Mr. Darcy, is oil to the water of the second eldest daughter, Lizzie. The first reel is so crammed with information, it’s a little hard to take all at once, and the too-active camerawork does the story no favours. Thankfully, it settles down in the second half to allow the actors to do their thing. Keira Knightley is good as Lizzie, though less convincing being bubbly than when going toe-to-toe with Dame Judi Dench’s nasty Lady Catherine de Bourg. Sadly, Matthew MacFadyen as Darcy, though serious, hasn’t Colin Firth’s haughtiness, and his character goes from vaguely grumpy to sweet in too little time.
Walk the Line
The biopic as a genre is fraught with problems: dull if too reverent and silly if too creative with the facts of an individual’s life. Walk the Line is both reverent and creative, and yet comes out as solid entertainment. It follows legendary country singer Johnny Cash’s life from his boyhood, where the death of his older brother and the disdain of his father haunt him. We see his early career as a songwriter in Memphis, his sudden success in touring with Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then it becomes about his struggles with substance abuse and his long pursuit, over decades, of singer June Carter. The movie has two big things going for it: realistic performance sequences of great music and the dynamite chemistry of Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as Carter. Both actors sing the songs, and their transformations are astounding. Cash was probably a more complex and unlikable man than he is portrayed here, but his presence as a singer and the effect of his songs on an audience is palpable. It’s Witherspoon who makes the movie: as Carter, who was a performer from childhood — she’s utterly convincing in both voice and word.
For showtimes see movie times, page 49. Cinema Palermo will return December 8.