By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, November 2, 2012 - 0 Comments
Midnight’s Children is a lavish spectacle that unfolds against half a century of South Asian history with the complexity of a Russian novel and a blush of Bollywood melodrama. Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Salman Rushdie, it’s the most sumptuous, and ambitious, Canadian movie you’re likely to see this year. It may also be the least Canadian Canadian movie you’ll see this year. Aside from director Deepa Mehta, her producer/husband, David Hamilton, and the colour of the money from Telefilm Canada, and some crew, there’s nothing
visibly tangibly Canadian about this movie—at least not the lead actors, the characters, the locations, the setting, or the story.
[Since posting this blog, the above preamble provoked a small Twitter tempest. In my first draft, I neglected to specify lead actors. Rushdie pointed out that two of the film's large cast of supporting players, Zaib Shaikh and Anita Majumdar, are most definitely Canadian. Those actors were justifiably outraged. Even after I corrected the oversight, there's been a flurry of tweets accusing me of seeing Canadians as white-only. Offense was taken at the trigger-word "visibly." But it never occurred to me that people would think I was talking about skin colour. What I meant was, if you walked into Midnight's Children cold, without knowing anything about it, from what you SAW you'd never guess it's a Canadian movie. It's about the history of India and Pakistan. My point was never to question the Canadian-ness or the talent of those Canadians involved in making Midnight's Children—just to observe that the film is an eminent example of a Canadian cinema that, in a world of co-pros, now tends to favour non-Canadian stories. ('Cosmopolis,' 'Rebelle, etc.') That may not necessarily be a bad thing. But there's a complex discussion to be had (not here) about the extinction of a traditionally "national" cinema and whether or not Telefilm should fund Canadian filmmakers regardless of where their stories are rooted. I don't have an easy answer. And none of this any bearing on my opinion of Midnight's Children, which—if you're still with me—I've tried to hammer out below.]
Writing about Cloud Atlas, another vastly ambitious literary adaptation, New York Times critic A.O. Scott said it’s “by no means the best movie of the year, but it may be the most movie you can get for the price of a single ticket.” Midnight’s Children feels like the most movie you could get out of Rushdie’s novel. With Zhivago sweep, its sprawling narrative spans three generations, six marriages, two surgical abductions, several wars, and political fires that forged three nations: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Painterly tableaux range takes us from the flooded killing fields of Pakistan’s civil war to the rubble of a New Delhi ghetto being bulldozed by the military.
The story begins in India, during the final decades of British colonial rule. A liberal doctor from Kashmir marries a patient after courting her through a hole in a bed sheet held up as a titillating concession to modesty. Settling in Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, they raise three daughters, of whom Mumtaz (Shahana Goswami) marries twice before giving birth to our protagonist, Saleem. Then the narrative finally catches up to the back story—ignited by the fireworks of India’s independence at the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947, when Saleem is born and switched with another baby. A nurse in the maternity ward, entranced by her revolutionary lover, has the newborns trade place to “make the poor rich and the rich poor.” Saleem, a child of privilege, is given to a poor accordian-playing minstrel named Wee Winkie, whose wife has died in childbirth. Her baby boy, Shiva, is handed over to Saleem’s parents. And with Dickensian symmetry, these two class-crossed males grow up “handcuffed to history,” in the words of Rushdie, who wrote the screenplay and voices the narration for its protagonist.
With diverging destinies of Saleem and Shiva fused to India’s own, the movie propels itself through three-ring circus (binder?) of history, romance and magic. Deepa Mehta does a fabulous job of shooting this Cirque du Salman. She balances a terrific ensemble of actors who are seductive and strong. She weaves Rushdie’s busy tapestry with virtuosity and passion. And her film is beautifully crafted. There are, in fact, many good reasons to see Midnight’s Children. And for lovers of the book, it may bring the story’s elements magically to life. But the movie lacks the elegance, and coherence, of Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water, which benefited from a simpler story and strong heroine. In Midnight’s Children, a tale of male rivalry, the female characters lack depth. And the narrative becomes is so farflung it’s hard to know where to invest our emotions. Continue…
By John Geddes - Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 9:33 AM - 0 Comments
When Justin Trudeau holds a rally in Mississauga, Ont. this evening—his Liberal leadership campaign’s first stop in the Toronto suburbs so coveted by strategists of all parties—he’ll be introduced by Zaib Shaikh, the actor best known as a star of CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. Shaikh also has a role in the new movie Midnight’s Children, Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s celebrated novel.
But he will bring more than a touch showbiz to Trudeau’s event. In keeping with Little Mosque’s themes, and his own background as the son of immigrants, Shaikh is active in groups that encourage diversity. As well, after his marriage last year to CBC English services executive vice-president Kirstine Stewart, he is half of a notable Toronto power couple.
Shaikh spoke to Maclean’s about Trudeau, the new Canadian vote, and political charisma.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 7:32 PM - 0 Comments
As the TIFF circus folds up its tent, here are my 10 personal favorites from the festival. It’s a subjective list. I watched more than 50 features programmed at the festival, some in Cannes last May. But with so much to see and so little time, there are still bound to be some great movies that I missed. Note that four films on the list are documentaries:
1. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s shattering documentary about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide is without precedent—a portrait of mass murder by the perpetrators, proud gangsters who re-enact their crimes for the camera.
2. Stories We Tell
Boldly putting her entire family on camera, Sarah Polley unwraps the riddle of her parentage with exquisite craft. Deconstructing as she goes, she turns the home movie, real and faux, into new genre of investigative memoir.
3. The Master
Acting doesn’t get any better as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, cast as a L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader and his unstable acolyte, play truth or dare. Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous 70-mm period epic decants extra-virgin snake oil of the highest order.
In a far more subtle fashion, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give an octogenarian master class in acting. Michael Haneke, best known for visions of human cruelty, gears down with a dire, delicate chamber piece about an aged couple facing their mortality in a Paris apartment. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and will likely lead the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.
5. The Hunt and Beyond the Hills
I’m calling a two-way tie between these European dramas about intolerance, which (like Amour) I haven’t seen since Cannes. Directed by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), Mads Mikkelsen gives an intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. And in Beyond the Hills, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu tells a horrific but true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Football, mental illness, dance and romance mix with Altman-esque chaos in an off-kilter crowd pleaser from David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is pitch-perfect as an ex-mental patient who goes off his meds and moves back home to an OCD dad played by De Niro. Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie so deftly we don’t even realize we’re watching a romantic comedy until we’re hooked by the plot’s Hail Mary pass.
7. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tom Ungerer Story
A documentary portrait of the artist as an old man tracks him from his origins as a Nazi-scarred child in Alsace through his various American lives as magazine illustrator, best-selling children’s author, anti-war propagandist and S&M freak. Computer graphics bring his subversive art magically to life.
The documentary camera goes where it’s never gone before in this action painting that takes us into a churning, real-time whorl of fish, men, birds and water from the deck-level POV of a fishing boat at sea. This documentary views industrial slaughter with ferocious intimacy. It also batters the optic nerve with dizzying syncopations of light and dark. So it’s hard to watch, but equally hard to forget.
9. Anna Karenina
Reunited with director Joe Wright (Atonement), and his adoring gaze, a radiant Keira Knightley brings more depth to Tolstoy’s heroine than you would ever expect. An ingenious adaptation, scripted by Tom Stoppard, frames lush visuals with a trompe l’oeil theatrical setting that, has trains thundering across a proscenium stage.
Quebec writer-director Kim Nguyen spent a decade bringing this harrowing drama of African child soldiers to the screen. Shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s the tale of a pregnant 14-year-old girl (Rachel Mwanza) who is forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier. Nguyen’s camera shies away from depicting atrocities, finding moments of tenderness and humour in a story of authentic horror. Continue…
By Jeff Harris - Friday, September 23, 2005 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
Jeff Harris goes behind the scenes
Nova Scotia’s Trailer Park Boys can’t stop talking about “drinking, smoking” and Viggo Mortenson gets a little lesson on NHL regalia (hint: the “C” stands for Canadiens). Canadian actor / director Don McKeller had two mini-films in the festival which were both shot on a cell phone. The Toronto Film Festival celebrates it’s 30th year, and here are 30 “short films” that celebrate the festival!