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Thursday, April 24, 2014

LOVE IS STRANGE - 4/23/14


LOVE IS STRANGE, a film, unaffectedly directed by Ira Sachs, is so natural and unassuming in its portrayal of relationships that the divide between audience and the characters on the screen disappears; we are directly slipping into their lives with the ease of familiarity. There is a formal beauty to the movie, thanks to the cinematography of Christos Voudouris - the way he captures each space - delineated not only through d├ęcor, but through the light which mutates with the atmosphere, very much like a Chardin still-life painting, classic in its grandeur and silence.

The plot revolves around two gay men who have lived together for 39 years and finally get married, a decision that will alter their lives in ways that are unexpected and transforming. We first meet Ben, a seventy-one year old artist, (John Lithgow in a breathtaking performance) and his partner George (Alfred Molina in an equally fine portrayal,) a music teacher in a Catholic school  - both excitedly, and nervously preparing for the ceremony and the post-wedding party. From the moment we first view Lithgow and Molina singing a duet together  - their voices and theatrics in synch and at odds - tender intimacy is apparent. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias have created two remarkably gentle and loving individuals, their intimacy and enduring connection, is both understated and powerfully passionate.

The consequences of ultimately legitimizing their union bear witness to the harsh realities that accompany that choice. Soon after the nuptials, George gets fired from his job, and the economic demands of existing in NYC, forced to sell the apartment in order to find more affordable housing, interrupts their former cadence of living. Having no alternative, George and Ben, temporarily separate to move in with friends and relatives till they can find a home of their own. Molina and Lithgow stunningly convey the anguish of living apart and the intense longing of being united again. It is as if one person is sliced in half – going through the motions, but not fully functioning without the other.

LOVE IS STRANGE also references the mysterious corridor of generational diversity - both fractious and enriching. The anxious, rebellious teenager slowly embracing life’s uncertainties embodied by Joey, Ben’s great-nephew in an excellent performance by Charlie Tahan who is likable, secretive and obnoxious – an eternal artifact of an adolescent’s growing awareness of life’s promises and aching discomforts. And approaching mid-life, are his parents - Kate (Marisa Tomei - a natural wonder)  - a writer trying to meet the demands of motherhood and still do her own work and Elliot (Darren E. Burrows) a father too wrapped up in doing business (supporting the family?) to notice the splintering family dynamic. Tomei’s facial expressions convey a woman’s inner tug-of-war between being a caregiver and accomplishing her own ambitions, shifting from haggardly frustrated to a luminous empathy, particularly for the growing pains of her son on the cusp of adulthood.


Director Ira Sachs has given us a tone poem to the beauty, delight and fragility of living in a city - New York - dynamic, diverse and constantly changing, echoing the vicissitudes of life as we stumble through our own personal unfolding. A love story that has depth and endurance - delicate and supple, both romantic and mundane, LOVE IS STRANGE is wrenchingly lovely and generous, but also a reminder that nothing is permanent.

Postcript: This film will be in theaters in the summer of 2014. I saw a preview at  The Tribeca Film Festival.

Monday, April 14, 2014

THE LUNCHBOX 4/14/14


 THE LUNCHBOX is a graceful, delicate film directed by Ritesh Batra about two lonely people who get to know each other the old-fashioned way – through delectable, beautifully prepared meals, and the passing of folded notes tucked away discreetly in a lunchbox. Mumbai with its mesmerizing lunch delivery system, reminded me of an assembly-line of various conveyances racing to different locations - scooter, bicycle, and foot, incredibly well-organized and always efficient – delivered on time and most importantly to the proper destination. Except in this case a mixup occurs. And that is the kernel of this tale of emotional transformation.

Nimrat Kaur portrays Ila, an underestimated, disregarded housewife who believes that she can rekindle the magic of her relationship with hubby through the art of culinary skill. She is being coached and advised on food preparation and love relationships by a neighbor called Auntie who she communicates with by screaming out the window - a bit of a heavy-handed comic distraction, but also a narrative device to fill in historical and familial stories.

We see the coldness of Ila’s domestic situation when her husband comes home from work, barely noticing his wife and their young child. The only prospect of contact she has with him is the daily lunchbox meals that get delivered to his place of work. Ila’s fantasy that the metal canisters of various dishes, carefully and tenderly prepared, can bridge a gulf of indifference is both poignant and heartrending.

The amazingly expressive actor, Irrfan Khan plays Saajan Fernandes, a widowed bureaucrat in a busy office, weeks from retiring; a man who does his job well, keeps to himself, seemingly standoffish, rarely interacting with any colleagues at work. His solitude and desolation are evident when he comes home from work, smoking on the balcony wistfully watching another family across the way responding to his intense gaze by drawing the curtains to shield the view.

Saajan is the recipient of the mis-delivered lunchbox, and as the film progresses, we witness his re-emergence into society and humanity, the initial reawakening through the savory reception of Ila’s lovingly cooked meals. She quickly realizes that her husband did not receive her special “gift”, but the anonymous person who licked up every last bit of her cuisine appreciated her artistry, so she continues to send out the lunchbox, but includes scraps of paper with bits and pieces of her life slowly opening up to a sympathetic and sensitive association  - one that will subtly and softly burnish both their lives.

Once Saajan opens the door to his inner secret self, even if ever so carefully, another character appears – a young man, charmingly portrayed by Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Shaikh, an ambitious apprentice in the office who is being trained by Saajan to be his future replacement. Their complicated relationship is both intensely heartrending, and eloquent in the way it conveys Sajaan’s growing awareness of the inequity of class distinctions in India.

THE LUNCHBOX is more than light comedy. It is a gentle tale of lives inadvertently bumping into each other and careening off in distinctive directions, influencing one another by encounters that are humble and often unassuming, but reverberate, echoing permanently.


Friday, April 4, 2014

CESAR CHAVEZ 4/4/14

Saw director Diego Luna's film CESAR CHAVEZ - a docudrama about the non-violent civil rights advocate and union organizer of the farm workers in California - a film worth seeing for all of you who do not know about this important man and the National Farm Workers Association he co-founded with Dolores Huerta. 

The fine performer, Michael Pena plays Chavez, but physically he is a very different body type from Cesar Chavez who was a lean, intense looking man, so the mis-casting intruded on my memory of Chavez. Yet Pena conveys the quiet indomitable spirit and rage of those who fight a system which is tied to corporate dollars....and how that determination can eventually succeed..(for the time being.)

The steps to realize social justice and the toll on the workers and their families including Chavez' own conflict with his son brings a personal element to the movie. The farm workers' struggles inspired people all over the world to boycott grapes - even I did at the time.