A Passage to India

A Passage to India is a grand and lavish epic, produced handsomely, and is based on the E.M. Forster novel, published in 1924 during the days of colonial England.

The values of East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash. British daughter-in-law and mother-in-law travel to India to with be with her fiancé and explore this exotic country. But she is caught up in a scandal and claims an Indian doctor, who was her escort on a day trip, violated her. Controversy erupts and the locals stand by the doctor, saying he is innocent and the British are unjust.

The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is prejudice and fear of the unknown.

Beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted, it is also a personal story of life-like characters engaged vividly and vitally.

A Passage to India, Director: David Lean, Genre: Drama, Year: 1984, Rating: 10/10

12 Years a Slave

I expected 12 Years a Slave  to be handsomely mounted and richly literate, reminiscent of films in the 1980’s. But now that I’ve seen it I realize it’s already  a classic.

As well as being strikingly produced, it shows the painful plight of African American slaves in white-owned plantations in the South before the American Civil War and the success of the abolition movement.

The film starts by telling us this is a true story.

The buying and selling slaves is then shown as business-as-usual.

Paul Giamatti has a small but prominent role as a seller, costumed finely like many other Southern men in the 1840s.

The dubious economics of the endeavor are revealed as the story unfolds, while the class system is starkly depicted along with the slave owners’ depravity.

All the cruelty occurs in the context of Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) descent from a comfortable life in New York state where he lived as a free black man.

Sold into slavery and passing from master to master, he at first wants revenge. This turns to helplessness, then  the urge to survive even when facing indignities and institutional savagery.

Powerful scenes will sober and stir any viewer.

Of course, we are not meant to enjoy such brutality, but it has a way of highlighting the unfairness of slavery.

The rape of a slave is not about sex. It’s more about control, power and hate.

And if it weren’t for Brad Pitt’s small but important role, the story would be bleak and incomplete.

Central to a string of powerful performances is Michael Fassbender – a Bible mis-quoting, proud, senseless, shameless, and ruthless master of Northup.

And when his cotton crops fail, he blames his slaves for bringing God’s punishment.

We expect something better to happen, but we don’t know how when the odds are heavily stacked against it.

Perhaps the central question of 12 Years a Slave  is how do we maintain our dignity in the face of cruelty and injustice?

Northup plays games, fights back, and faces getting killed.

Slavery has almost broken his will to live, and yet he remains human.

This is a powerful film, a must-see, but it is grim and not for every taste

12 Years a Slave, Director: Steve McQueen, Genre: Drama, Year: 2013, Rating: 10/10

Ladies in Lavender

This UK film doesn’t sweep you up at first, but it picks up nicely.

In the 1930’s, a mysterious stranger washes ashore in Cornwall, England. Elderly sisters Ursula (Judi Dench) and Janet (Maggie Smith) take care of Andrea (Daniel Bruhl), a foreigner to the shores, and even bend over backwards for him, catering to his needs like good Samaritans and they discover his talent for playing violin. His talent becomes something of great interest to the locals.

Andrea’s appearance is unexplained. He is swept aside by the seas, but I don’t know how he got there. As Andrea is cared for, progression is low-key and uneventful but the movie picks up and becomes interesting.

Village life is potentially fertile material. Everyone knows everyone, has an opinion on everyone, but may prefer their own company best. It’s that kind of place where everyone is in everyone’s pocket.  The villagers are colorful and interesting with hints of depth and shades. Well-sketched characters shine through.

Such as Ursula’s loneliness unravels as a result of her attraction to Andrea. Janet is supportive and her character is strong. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith again show their class and pedigree as actors who make their roles natural and real.

Distinguished English actor Charles Dance wrote and directed this low-budget, independent British film, which is based on a short story. While the movie stalls in the beginning, nevertheless the developing story and sense of humanity draw you in and the two enigmatic sisters and the stranger garner empathy. The ending is uplifting.

Ladies in Lavender, Director: Charles Dance, Genre: Drama, Year: 2004, Rating: 8/10