A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Salaam Bombay! (Mira Nair, 1988)

This is an extraordinarily beautiful movie considering the unremitting sordidness of its setting and the sad hopelessness of the people in it. The beauty comes from the exceptional color cinematography of Sandi Sissel, who like director Nair got her start in documentaries. Nair's ex-husband, Mitch Epstein, who is credited as production designer, also probably deserves equal credit, as the film's end credit -- "52 locations, 52 days, what problem? no problem" -- seems to suggest. The film was edited by Barry Alexander Brown, whose documentary The War at Home (1979) was nominated for the best feature documentary Oscar. The background in documentaries of so many of the creative people associated with the film also helps to explain how Nair was able to get such exceptional performances from her cast of non-professionals, chosen from the Bombay (or Mumbai, if you will) streets. Shafiq Syed as Krishna, the film's central figure, carries a great burden of characterization deftly. There are a few professional actors in the cast, including Anita Kanwar as Rekha and Nana Patekar as Baba, a prostitute and her abusive husband/pimp, and Raghuvir Yadav as Chillum, the junkie who sells drugs for Baba and befriends but ultimately steals from Krishna. To the film and its performers' great credit, these are fully drawn characters, with motives behind their meanness.