Indianapolis International Film Festival Profiles:
Perhaps quirky Australian ruminations on life and death? How about serious examination of gender and class politics in India via the lens of history?
These are four of the 116 films from 42 countries that screened at the Indianapolis International Film Festival. These four features are OVER THE HEDGE, KINKY BOOTS, LOOK BOTH WAYS, and WATER. All four have theatrical distribution.
The one that will undoubtedly come to the theater in your town is OVER THE HEDGE, the latest high-profile, animated family film from DreamWorks.
It's yet another in a growing list of such movies where the focus is an ad hoc family of animals, some of them "misfit" individuals, who come together to fight a common enemy - be it mother nature, aliens, or insensitive humans. And like others on this list, the film features the voices of name actors (Bruce Willis and Gary Shandling head the cast here). While OVER THE HEDGE is enjoyable as this type of film, there were two plot premises which neither I nor my six-year-old could figure out.
First, why do the hibernating animals awake from just a few months of winter to find, all of a sudden and to their surprise, a huge hedge and sprawling suburban development? Those couldn't possibly appear in a matter of, say, three months. Second, not one of the human characters in this neighborhood, including several children in one scene, says a peep about the animals' plight or about trying to deal with the situation in a humane way. Read "Over the Hedge" movie production notes.
The other three films are getting limited releases and are opening at different times in selected cities, so you may or may not find any or some of these at your local theater. These movies are not American productions, which makes them even tougher to sell in the U.S. market. But if you can find them - and you certainly should be able to once it's time for them to come out on DVD - they are all worth seeing.
Deepa Mehta's WATER is a very moving film. WATER is writer-director Mehta's incredible effort to dramatize the plight of widows in 1930s India. Her film has been highly controversial there - from the very beginning of production - because the historical time frame of the film does not anchor it exclusively to the past. In fact, a postscript informs the viewer that there are still many widows who must struggle against cultural and economic odds today.
WATER made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall after a five-year struggle to make the film. Mehta originally began production in India, but it was shut down by protesters and the government. She was finally able to shoot quietly in Sri Lanka instead, along with some changes to the cast. Mehta, who lives in Canada, is clearly concerned with exposing the oppressive gender and sexual politics of Indian society - and not just with this film. Her previous features, FIRE and EARTH, are likewise about women struggling to overcome the constraints of patriarchal traditions.
In WATER, we learn that in India, when a husband died, the widow was treated as almost dead herself. The story follows a group of "untouchable" women, across an age range that includes a child bride, who live communally in an ashram (a widow house) in 1938. They suffer various humiliations from the outside and each other - and no one is spared suffering.
It is, however, the time of Gandhi and change. Following the tragic suicide of widow and forced prostitute Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who feels hopeless when Narayan (John Abraham) wants to marry her, the film concludes with small glimmers of hope. Some do finally escape these circumstances - physically, mentally, or both. Eight-year-old widow Chuyia (Sarala) and grieving Narayan leave on the train carrying Gandhi. Shakuntula (Seema Biswas) finally realizes that the plight of widows is not foreordained.
"Look Both Ways," Justine Clarke as Meryl and William McInnes as Nick
LOOK BOTH WAYS is from another woman writer-director, this time Australian Sarah Watt. This is an ensemble cast portraying variously interconnected characters dealing with serious issues in their lives - most notably mortality. Watt uses bits of humor and interesting, creative visual effects and montage to relieve the steady focus on such somber musings. Some characters are preoccupied with death, for differing reasons, such as the two ostensible leads, Justine Clark as Meryl and William McInnes as Nick. Other characters, like Andy (Anthony Hayes), and Anna (Lisa Flanagan), must deal with other sobering problems, like unplanned pregnancy.
The film's ending montage - finally - provides some optimism for the future, for life. All is not hopeless. But the relentless focus on mortality had me wondering how and when the film would end. While I liked the positive outlook of the final montage, it was too brief and could have been extended by Watt to counterbalance the rest of the film. But then again, maybe she did not want that feel for her first feature film.
Finally, we have KINKY BOOTS. This is a British comedy inspired by the true story of how a small shoe factory abandoned traditional business and found a new, successful, and unexpected niche. It's sort of THE CRYING GAME meets THE FULL MONTY. Sort of.
When Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) takes over the business after his father's sudden death, he is not exactly happy to be there. Things go from bad to worse when he discovers just how desperate the company's situation is. But luck is on his side when he gets knocked out by a lady who's trying to defend herself against some ruffians.
Well, the lady is no lady - she's Lola, a transvestite, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Charlie learns that men such as Lola are forever squeezing their feet into women's shoes that just don't hold up under their heavier weight. Of course, they only go for "kinky" footwear. Thus, a partnership is born as a new niche market becomes discernible to them, allowing Charlie, Lola, and the people who work at the small shoe factory to learn and grow from the experience.
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