Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Namesake

[This is our 500th dvd reviewed, and it's a great one ..]
Mira Nair, 2006, India-US (10*)
In English, so don't fear the subtitles

I was moved and inspired by this film, pretty much left speechless, and haven't wanted to watch another movie since! This amazing film is perhaps the best yet from famed Indian director Mira Nair, now working in the U.S. It's really just the simple story of a married Bengali couple from India living in the U.S., maintaining their cultural heritage while their children largely reject Indian culture to remain more "American", but it's such a rich and complex story that it's hard to describe, also so full that it's hard to believe it's only two hours and not four. The ensemble cast here is simply perfect and a revelation in subtlety. I was especially moved by Irfan Khan as the father who relocates to New York, and Tabu, who plays his arranged wife, who misses her native homeland but remains loyal to her family.
Kal Penn (Kumar in the Harold and Kumar comedies) has his best serious acting role as Khan's son Gogol, named for the famous Russian author, the subject of the film's title. [On the dvd, Penn said he actually uses the name "Gogol Ganguli" at hotels when on the road - before making this!] We only really find out the importance of his name near the film's end, in a superbly edited flashback that Nair moved from the beginning of the film in a decidedly brilliant artistic stroke.

This is a film of delicate subtlety, not at all what western audiences will be accustomed to seeing, but the overall effect is a story that grows on you until you suddenly realize that you are watching a literary masterpiece, from a novel by young Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri. This story is about transitions in life, as the only real constant is change. The narrative deftly covers about three decades in the lives of the main characters, yet somehow Nair's skill never makes us feel that we're getting a synoposis or skipping past events.

The music here is simply beautiful (as well as the cinematography by Frederick Elmes), and also diverse. No matter what the musical selection or even style of the music, it seems to perfectly fit the visuals without distraction. Be sure to watch the special features on the dvd, especially the class discussions held by Nair with graduate film students at Columbia University about the making of this small indie film, made for less than 10m dollars. She proves that a great director can make great cinematic art with almost no budget at all. In her words, one just needs a great cast, thanks to casting director Cindy Tolan (seen in one class on the dvd) for this one, who found all the Bengali extras that played other emmigrants to the U.S. at parties of Indian-Americans in the U.S., and all were perfect.

It also helps to have a great story, and an artist's touch like Nair's. She makes it seem so easy, why aren't there more films like this?


José Sinclair February 19, 2010 at 4:26 AM  

From seeing the film, the novel should be a great one! No I haven't read it, but I have a friend who is married to an Indian guy who said "the book is better - our book club read it"..

my reply is usually "what film of a great novel is ever as good as the book?" -- many try, most fail to live up to the delicacy, depth, and beauty of the prose..

the good thing about doing films from great literature however is they expose the public to the novels, most of whom would not have known about the book..

I sort of hit a standstill on reading when I reached 1025 books read.. my eyes are getting tired of print, I was a computer programmer for 25 yrs.. I'm sort of "texted out" and am catching up on visuals now, presented by great cinematographers, directors, photographers..

A couple of books done just as well as films, that I saw after reading:
Ruth Jhabvala's "Heat and Dust"
E.M. Forsters "A Room With a View"

both excellent in both media!

thanks!! - Jose

Kogi Kaishakunin February 19, 2010 at 7:50 AM  

Wow, you do track everything you read and watch. I have no clue about the total number of books and movies that have whistled past my eyes.

I too am a computer programmer but I am trying to hit both media at the same time.

I agree with what you say about books made in to movies. Namesake was a tad too hurried for me. But I too can think of couple of books that made beautiful films... "Spy who came in from the cold" and "English Patient". I will check out your recommendations too.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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