Saturday 31 October 2015

The Mad Masters (Les Maitres Fous) (1955)

Les maîtres fous
I really do not know what to say about this movie. It is one of those occasions where the Book comes up with a film that just baffles me. Both in relation to the subject matter and to why this is at all on the list. All I can do is describe what this is about.

Les maîtres fous is a short film, only half an hour, and supposed to be an anthropological documentary about a cult in Africa. We start in the city of Accra in Ghana, which represents colonial African modernity. From here we follow some people leaving the city into the hinterland and some cultic stage where they take part in an annual ritual. These are the Hauka. Through the majority of the film these people will become possessed and imitate their colonial lords in movements and talk with froth hanging from their mouths and white showing in their eyes. They will kill and eat a dog raw and generally be a disgusting sight. Finally they will leave the site and return to their normal life and the last few minutes is devoted to a presentation of the characters in the normal mundane surroundings.

The entire affair is vigorously narrated by a French dude, which I assume is Jean Rouch, the director, himself. He narrates matter-of-factly, but he has an awful lot on his mind as if this was an hour long piece cooked down and now he is in a hurry to cover it all. During the trance he seems to be inferring a lot from the acts, but I have no way of knowing if it is true or if he is making it up as he goes.

The only two feelings this piece leaves me with is confusion and revulsion. I do not know why I should watch this and what it means. So, some Africans have a strange and, frankly, gross cult where they imitate their colonial masters. Okay. And? I suppose this has some anthropological or ethnographical value, but outside those circles this looks more like a sideshow, meant to shock and revolt.

Is this the first time someone went into the bush to film a cultic ritual? Or is it some kind of convoluted anticolonial piece as Wikipedia hint at? I have no idea and frankly I do not care. I like to travel the world, I like to see other cultures and experience how big a world we live in, but I did not need to see this movie. This is just a tick on the List. Tick. Done.

Thursday 29 October 2015

The Ladykillers (1955)

Plyds og Papegøjer
In 2004 the Coen brothers made a remake of the British comedy ”The Ladykillers”. While not their greatest movie ever it is a very watchable movie, not just for being a Coen brother’s film, but because the original story is terrific.

That was my entry into the movie, knowing and liking the remake, and that of course makes for high expectations. Add to that that I have been generally fond of the Ealing comedies of which this one is the last in a box set I bought of those. Luckily I was not disappointed.

The central elements to the story is similar to the Coen version, but there are notable differences, the biggest in my opinion being that this is a British production taking place in London. That sets a unique tone that you just could not emulate anywhere else.

Mrs. Wilberforce (wonderfully played by Katie Johnson) is the epitome of a sweet old lady starting to go slightly cuckoo. She is both adorable and a menace, politeness itself and obnoxious. When a criminal gang rents a room in her house they think they have found the perfect dupe to complete their scheme for a brilliant heist. Half way through the movie they seem to be right, but then things start to go terribly wrong, not least because of Mrs. Wilberforce.

The gang is led by Professor Marcus, another one of Alec Guinness wonderful characters. He truly is a man of a hundred faces and here he is hardly recognizable, but his voice, oh his voice, it is so distinct. Only Alec Guinness had that voice. Close your eyes and it is Obi-Wan Kenobi saying “Now, now, Mrs. Wilberforce”. Professor Marcus is the mastermind and has that air of weird genius about him. His team consists of the homely Major Courtney (Cecil Parker), big guy “One-Round” Lawson (Danny Green), hired gun Louis Harvey (Herbert Lom) and Peter Sellers in one of his early roles as the hustler Harry Robinson.

The gang pretends to be a practicing string quintet while planning and carrying of an elegant heist. The brilliant part of the theft is that it is Mrs. Wilberforce who in all innocence will drive the money home thinking she is picking up a package for Professor Marcus. This all works beautifully until they have to leave with their money and a silly accident reveal to the old lady that something is very much amiss. The gang realize they have to shut her up, but these tough criminals turn out to be absolutely terrible at killing old ladies. Instead they end up killing each other off one by one (ooops, spoiler, unless you saw the remake).

Both halves are terrific. The scheme is both elegant and crazy as such things always are in movies, but it is in the interaction with Mrs. Wilberforce that we get all the laughs. She is a hoot. In fact the second half is a riot and my favorite scene of the entire movie is the tea party of cackling old ladies in Mrs. Wilberforce living room with the gang as unwilling entertainment. Somehow this scene could only have been made in England.

It is not difficult to see why the Coen Brothers wanted to make a remake of this movie. There are many classic elements to it and so many hilarious avenues that can be explored and transplanting the story to the American South they could build a different tone on the same ideas. I think I prefer the original though and that is not just because it is the original, but because it works so well in the triangle of Katie Johnson, Alec Guinness and the British tone.

Compared to the earlier Ealing comedies this one is in color and that makes it feel immensely more modern and ultimately accessible to a modern audience. It is not the glorious, in your face Technicolor that Powell and Pressburger used in the forties, but a more subdued coloring that fits the grimy and half derelict set around Kings Cross station and Mrs. Wilberforce’s house. Definitely a good choice.

I was quite surprised to find that Peter Sellers played a part in this movie. I did not recognize him, but that is primarily because his character is secondary to the story, hardly more than a henchman. Still it is great to see another great actor make his appearance in movies.

The List is short on good comedies and often they feel dated and flat to a modern audience. So much more enjoyment when we get one that still holds up. Yes, this one is terrific and if you only saw the remake this is one to catch.

Professor, would you like you tea now?

Monday 26 October 2015

300 movies!!!

300 movie anniversary

As I already mentioned in my last post I have reached another milestone. I now have 300 movies under the belt.

Of course this is very much a matter of definition. In reality it is a bit more since I have also reviewed a number of Danish movies from the Danish version of the list plus a few movies ahead of the 300 mark plus a few additional movies, but that is all in the details. On the count that I keep I have done 300.

This places me solid in the mid-fifties, about nine years after the 200 movie mark. Yes, time-wise it is slow going now and the List fills up every year with a broad spectrum of movies from every genre and many nationalities. I think I counted twenty movies for 1955 alone.

It has taken me almost six years to get this far so with some quick extrapolation it will be… eighteen years until I am done assuming the List does not grow much above 1200 movies. I prefer not to think about that. So far I am still enjoying myself and every period seem to have something special to offer. The past hundred movie period was particularly strong on film noir, but that is almost over now. Instead the fifties seems to be the heyday of westerns, whether they be American or Japanese.

When I reached the 200 movie mark I introduced a special award with the intention of following up every time I reached another hundred movies, but today we have a major power loss and I am writing in darkness using the last battery juice left in the computer, so it is going to be a short one. The obvious category is:

Best film noir

Nominees are:

1.       Out of the Past

2.       The Killers

3.       The Big Heat

4.       Bad Day at Black Rock

5.       Mildred Pierce

6.       Double Indemnity

And the winner is:

Out of the Past.

This is a very strong field and I love all these movie. However at gunpoint I would pick Out of the Past as the movie that tells you exactly what a film noir is. Up to this points movies were trying to home in on the theme, afterwards they were trying to build onto or vary the themes, but in Out of the Past everything was exactly right.

Well, it is totally noir here with me in a town entirely blackened out with only candles and the light of the screen to keep the darkness at bay.  That must be enough for now.

Friday 23 October 2015

Hill 24 Doesn't Answer (1955)

Højde 24 Svarer Ikke
Hurrah, this is movie number 300 for me! And somehow it is quite fitting that this should be the first Israeli film on the List. Why? Well, that happens to be the place I live these days and so I have been very curious to find out what this old film would be like. A special treat, if you like.

I am not Israeli and not even Jewish (though my wife is) so I do not have the same personal connection to this film as I have to Danish movies and that is probably a good thing. In this corner of the world everything is political, and politics has a nasty slant here in directions considered unsavory in most other parts of the world. In my personal opinion religion and nationalism has an uncanny ability to screw with people’s minds and the combination of the two is a real disconnect from reality.

It is not because I have some sudden urge to declare my position, but because those are the themes of “Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer”. It is very much about the Israeli narrative on its origin, how it was born out of a struggle for survival as a refuge for a hunted people. That gives it both a nationalistic and, incidentally, a religious slant. As an outside observer it is difficult not to see this as a propaganda piece, but is seems intended inward as a national narrative and so it tell us something about how the Israeli see themselves and their country. That makes it interesting even if you do not buy into the story itself.

The only copy I was able to find was a very poor version on YouTube. It had blurry pictures and poor sound and a lot of the experience was definitely lost, which is really too bad. As much of the movie is filmed on location the pictures themselves are interesting, but that was mostly lost. Also this version came with three sets of subtitles, one on top of the other, making them hard to follow. Thankfully most is in English and to my own surprise I was actually able to follow most of the Hebrew dialogue so I did not suffer too badly.

There is a main line is the story following four soldiers going out to defend a hill (Hill 24) outside of Jerusalem. On their way three of the soldiers tell the story of how they came to be there.

James Finnegan (Edward Mulhare) was an Irish soldier in the British army who after the war became a policeman under the British mandate in Haifa. Officially assigned to spy on the Jewish underground he falls in love with his mark, a Jewish girl called Miriam (Haya Harareet) and so after his discharge he returns to be with her and through her enroll in the proto-Israeli army. His reason for fighting is for her.

Allan Goodman (Michael Wager) was an American tourist (or journalist, I am not sure) who happened to be in the country at the time of independence and so enrolled almost by accident. He is Jewish, but his motivations are vague and when he gets injured he starts wondering, not unreasonably, what on Earth he is doing in this war. A rabbi tries to explain it through religious arguments and Allan, again quite reasonably, calls bullshit. Unfortunately (in my opinion) the rabbi manages to convert Allan to a believer and when he is evacuated from the old town of Jerusalem he is filled with religious zeal.

Finally David Airam (Arik Lavie) tells his story. This one confused me, but I guess the gist of is that earlier in the fighting he was battling some Egyptians in the Negev and ends up in a one-on-one with an Egyptian soldier who turns out to be German and not just that, but a heart and mind Nazi, not yet finished killing Jews. I suppose that means that he is fighting against that undefined external enemy that is always out to kill the Jew.

And there we have it. The three soldiers come from all over the world to fight this war for their loved ones, for national religious reasons and to protect themselves from the ever present external enemy. That is exactly the national narrative. There is also a woman in the group, but we do not get her story, expect that she is a local. Her role is partly to show that women were also fighting this war (something you are constantly reminded of when you see teenage girls with big guns over their shoulder) and to be the rooting in the land when she is found on the hill holding a flag in her hand.

The four soldiers die on the hill holding it against attack, but their presence secures the hill as Israeli territory and so the land was bought with their blood, which again fits the narrative.

This is not a movie that tries to explain the conflict and it is certainly not taking a helicopter view of the different parties, but that is not its objective either. Where the movie is best it is trying to explain what makes these people, and thus most people who took part in it on the Israeli side, fight this war.

Although the opposition is largely ignored there are a number of scenes that offer food for thought. There are the boats landing on the beach with worn out refugee flooding into the country. That picture carries an uncanny resemblance to present day Syrian refugees landing on the Greek Islands or swarming over the Hungarian borders. The British are mounting a futile attempt at stopping them as the EU tries today but they are overwhelmed. Meanwhile the locals are increasingly upset with the newcomers and many wows to kick them out as the Arab explains to Allan Goodman at the hotel pool. There is an insight there into some fundamental problems that may have been largely ignored by a viewer at the time, especially one belonging to the target group, but 60 years down the line we are, well most people are, more aware the fundamental problems of migration.

Well, I can talk for hours on the issue, but that has little to do with the movie. Suffice to say that I belong to the “work it out” camp rather than the “I am right and you are an idiot” camp dominating this particular conflict.

There is sad moment near the end of the movie where the narrator proclaims that peace have been brought to Jerusalem. How I wish that was the case. On Monday I am going to Jerusalem for a three day conference and my wife is urging me not to go because it is not really safe. So much for peace in Jerusalem.

Monday 19 October 2015

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

En Mand Steg af Toget
I was starting to get a bit nervous about 1955. So far the quality have markedly dropped from 1954, but then came along “Bad Day at Black Rock” and we are back in business.

This is a western transplanted to 1945 and a film noir in beautiful color. Already sounds interesting, no?

It is a lot more than just that.

A man (Spencer Tracy as John Macreedy) gets off the train in a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere. We know absolutely nothing about him. Apparently this is the first time the train stops here in four years and you might expect the locals to be curious. They are, for sure, but more than that they are terrified. Macreedy goes about his business, but meets only hostility. This only deepens when he explains that he is looking for a Japanese-American called Komoko. Obviously the villagers is afraid of this stranger, but why? What are they hiding?

There is a most delicious buildup of tension in Bad Day and it is only strengthened by the very limited information we get. That means that we are left to guessing as to who this guy Macreedy is (is he a police investigator?) as well as the other way round, what dark secret are the villagers trying to keep. It very much reminds me of later Sergio Leone Westerns in that sense, but actually points straight back to the noir tradition. Disaster is looming and no amount of coolness can avert that.

The opposition to Macreedy is led by Reno Smith (Robert Ryan), a dominating character who seems to rule the village by sheer intimidation. As the story progress his façade starts to crack and there is a madness inside. His henchmen Coley and Hector are played by Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin and those names should generate some respect. They are perfect as badass henchmen. Borgnine the sadistic brute and Marvin the clever intimidator. There is violence in the air, nasty nasty violence.

Few people are opposed to Smith. Walter Brennan is as usual great as doc Velie, as comfortable village doctor who once decided to mind his own business, but finds inspiration in Macreedy to choose sides. The Sheriff (Dean Jagger) is a push over who at best is an unreliable ally. And that is about it.

Once Macreedy has visited the burned down homestead of Komoko it is clear that he is not allowed to leave. By nightfall they will come for him…

I loved “Bad Day at Black Rock”. It may be a short film, but it is intense. Instead of outright violence, of which there is remarkably little, it lives on tension and intimidation. It is hot in Black Rock. Dusty and dry, but that is not the only reason Macreedy is breaking a sweat. In this sense the colors are actually helping because the filters used amplify the dusty heat of the place. Black Rock is not the place you want to be.

If I should make a complaint then the resolution is a bit of an anticlimax after the tension. Halfway through we guessed what really happened four years ago in Black Rock and we are not surprised that this is indeed what happened. After all this is still 1955, it is not yet time for the big plot twists.

But I can live with that, it is a small detail.

Besides the cinematic qualities of this film there are at least two other elements of interest. Right off the bat this movie is an obvious criticism of allowing guns in the hands of unstable characters. The villagers seem ready to defend their “way of life” at gunpoint, a way of life which basically means shooting those they do not like. I know there are plenty movies like that, but here an armed group has effectively sidelined the law.

Secondly this is an argument against the racism, specifically against Japanese-Americans who were vilified after Pearl Harbour. It is I think the first American movie after the war to place a Japanese as victim.

Left is only to say, if you have only seen Spencer Tracy in silly comedies this is the movie to watch. Tracy is awesome here, just awesome.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Guys and Dolls (1955)

Guys and Dolls
Imagine Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando together in a movie. That sounds awesome, does it not? How can that possibly go wrong? Impossible as it sounds it can.

I frankly admit I am not your target group for musicals, but occasionally they do work for me, some are even great. This is usually when the musical elements become a natural part of the movie, supporting it rather than the other way round. In “Guys and Dolls” the musical elements feels like sabotage, something completely at odds with the movie, with the result that something that could have been good collapses.

Already I can hear alarm bells going off. This is a famous Broadway musical and one this still plays on many venues worldwide to this day, it has proven its worth and you, Mr. Sorensen, is just an idiot. No, I have not seen the Broadway version, in fact I never saw the musical before, it was never a part of my upbringing, so, yeah, I am an ignorant idiot. My point here is that this is likely a musical that ticks all the buttons for a musical fan, but if you are part of the ignorant outside world some of those same issues are the very problems of the movie.

“Guys and Dolls” the movie really consists of three elements. There is the surrounding story, which is actually pretty good. Without the musical elements there is a nice and interesting comedy here. Sinatra, Simmons, Brando, Vivian Blaine and the supporting cast are all very good, funny and well rounded.  On its own I would have seen this movie.

The music is also okay. Though I knew none of the songs up front some of them are hanging on in my head and that is always a good sign. Having Frank Sinatra sing them can never be a bad thing either. Yeah, I could listen to the soundtrack no problem.

The dancing is a problem, definitely, but I never really like dancing in movies anyway. Here the dancing is particularly annoying, but that is not the real problem.

The problem is that these three elements completely work against each other. Except for a few songs the singing and particularly the dancing breaks the spell of the story and even in some of the cases where it could have worked like he Havana scene the stylistic element takes the scene out of its context. To me it feels like a comedy, a concert and a modern dancing show has been thrown together with little consideration if this would actually work.  The result is that I lose all three of them.

If we zoom in on the comedy, as I chose to call the surrounding story, there are two tracks which are both funny and interesting. Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) is the operator of a floating crap game who is in trouble because the police is breathing down his neck while his customers are pushing for a venue and his girlfriend through 14 years, Adelaide (Vivian Blaine), is desperately waiting for a wedding. The second track follows big-roller Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando) wooing a salvation army girl (Jean Simmons), first as part of a bet with Nathan Detroit, later out of genuine love. Both are on a bumpy road with potential for both drama and comedy and we do get some of both, though mostly the later.

I always enjoy watching and listening to Frank Sinatra. In 1955 he is at his peak both on acting and singing and he nails that role on both accounts. Marlon Brando carried that very sexual aura around him and here he can give it full throttle. Again that is a joy to watch. Jean Simmons I remember mostly for her roles in English movies in the forties and I have this image of her from “Black Narcissus”. As the prudish Sarah Brown she is hardly recognizable, but loosing up in Havana we get the real woman behind her and she is a match for Brando.

Yeah, I would have liked that movie.

Do gangster-like crap players dance? Do salsa dancers in Havana dance with their head on their woman’s bosom? Do pedestrians on Broadway dance ballet down the street? In “Love my Tonight” the life of Parisians was beautifully incorporated into a song. In “Guys and Dolls” people suddenly do things that would make fish in pants look normal. In a dance show it is probably okay, in a concert it is okay, but it ruins the movie.

After the movie proper I went through an hour’s worth of self-congratulation in the extra material and the only thing it really did for me was convince me that there are a lot of people out there who likes this musical very much. I am very sorry guys if I am stepping on some toes. Apparently I belong to a small minority who fails to see the genius in bringing these three elements together.

Friday 9 October 2015

Sabrina (1954)

My blog briefly returns to 1954 to catch up on an extra movie. When I went through the year I noticed that the movie “Sabrina” was not on the List, but was generally highly regarded. Being an Audrey Hepburn fan this seemed like a miss so I belatedly found that one and watched it between my 1955 movies.

And yes, this is a pleasant movie. So pleasant in fact I will, again, break my rule of only reviewing List movies and add it to my Honorable Mentions list. Frankly this is a movie that belongs in the 1001 book and I consider it a terrible oversight that it was not included in the 10th edition revision that was supposed to fix those problems. 1954 was a very strong year and there are better movies this year than “Sabrina”, but to be middle of the field of 1954 List movies is also quite an achievement.

“Sabrina” was remade in the mid-nineties with Julia Ormond and Harrison Ford (before he turned grumpy) in the leading roles and I know the story from that movie. To see the original movie however is like an epiphany on how this story should be told. There are four reasons for that:

Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Billy Wilder.

With such a team I do not really care what the movie is about, this can only be a winner.

Did I mention I am an Audrey Hepburn fan?

When she smiles it is like watching the sun rise. I am also proud to say that my wife carry some resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, I wonder if that is a coincidence… If I continue on this track this will turn very embarrassing.

William Holden is the younger Larrabee brother David who is a lazy playboy with a rubber spine and no resistance to pretty women. His brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) is the opposite character, on the surface a hardworking business man with cunning but also integrity. Beneath that surface however lurks a romantic heart.

Sabrina (Hepburn) is the daughter of the Larrabee’s chauffeur and hopelessly in love with David since childhood. She watches him from afar and dreams of being one of his women. Two years in Paris transforms this Cinderella into a sophisticated princess and when she returns it is to get David.

David however beats her to it and in his usual style he falls head over heels in love with her. This is not so good because David is about to be married for the fourth time and a big 20m$ merger depends on it. Linus is not going to watch this deal go out the window so he works out a scheme to make Sabrina fall for him instead and then send her off to France again. He did not count on that he would fall in love with her in the process.

This is not a very complex story, in fact it is quite light, but that is not really important. Billy Wilder elegantly turned this story that could easily have been a corny rom-com or a painful triangle drama, into a charming comedy. The comedic elements are never laugh out loud funny, but small nudges at the right places to disarm a crisis or to charm the socks off the viewers. It is the right remark at the right time and that little wink that makes us smile. This is a delicate balance and few people mastered that balance like Billy Wilder. That man could direct anything, but the way he could insert something funny at just the right time is legendary.

I am also not a big fan of some of the sensibilities in the movie. Sabrina is on the wrong track to begin with. That infatuation she has is doomed from the beginning, not because David belongs to society’s elite and Sabrina does not, but because the David Sabrina loves is a product of her fantasy and bears no resemblance to the real David. When she finally would discover what a spineless jerk he really is she would get sadly disappointed. That is sort of the point with the story. Even when Linus comes into the picture and she eventually learn that she has been manipulated she soon returns to dreamland when he shows up on the boat to France. This is a celebration of the romantic dream, but it is on dangerous ground.

Then again what do I care. This movie is so sweet, so well played and so well directed that they could have played bowling for ninety minutes if they wanted. The cast is just perfect. I had some reservations with Humphrey Bogart as a romantic lead, but he did beautifully. He may be a bit old for the role and the age gap between Bogart and Hepburn is disconcerting, but when you ignore this he becomes quite believable.

This may not be up there with “Roman Holiday”, but it is a pleasant movie nonetheless. A good time with great actors and a movie I would not mind to watch again. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Pather Panchali (1955)

Sangen om Vejen
I am back from yet another trip, this time back good ol’ Denmark, and the movie I brought for this voyage was “Pather Panchali”.

When I think of Indian movies I think of Bollywood. Something with a lot of formation dancing, a romantic story that is far-fetched at best, some divine intervention and a number of illogical and certainly foreign plot moves that just leaves me baffled. In short I am not a fan of Bollywood. The prospect of an old Indian movie as the next item on the List was therefore not exactly something that excited me, in fact dread may be a much better descriptor for my mental state going into “Pather Panchali”.

Imagine my surprise when I realized this has nothing to do with Bollywood and could hardly be less Indian in terms of style. At least not the India I know and (dis)like.

Wikipedia tells that the director, Satyajit Ray, was very inspired by European filmmaking, particularly the Italian school of neorealism and I can believe that. Had somebody told me this had been made by De Sica or Rossellini I would bought that without blinking. “Panther Panchali” has the feel of a documentary where the camera simply follow an Indian family and somebody lost the track with the narrator. A subtitle of the film could very well be “Life and Death in Rural India”.

As in Italian Neorealism we are as close to reality as possible and it pulls no punches in describing the conditions out there in the villages and the hardships people go through. Although we follow a particular family and their tragedy (again Italian Neorealism…) the generalization is never far away. Nothing here is uncommon and it has happened countless times before and since. As such the political agenda is quite obvious with the difference that in India you do not need to use propaganda, you just describe reality, which in itself is a departure from Bollywood.

The story itself is almost ridiculously simply because there is hardly anything you would call a progressing plot. We simply follow a family. The mother Sarbajaya Roy (Karuna Banerjee) is the glue that keeps the family together. She is constantly concerned with the financial state of the family (for good reason) and hovering over their daughter Durga (Runki Banerjee / Uma Dasgupta) who is a free spirit poorly fitted for the strictness of female life in rural India. The father, Harihar (Kanu Banerjee) is their only source of income, but he is even more of a dreamer than their daughter. He is sort of intellectual and perform religious rites and do accounting while he dreams of writing plays, but it is difficult for him to keep a job and get paid for those he does get. Income is therefore an uncertainty and throughout the movie it dwindles into nothing when Harihar travels for an extended period to find work.

In the beginning of the movie they get a little boy, Apu (Subir Banerjee) whom both parents dote on, usually at the expense of their daughter. This is a fixture throughout the movie. Another one is an old woman who wanders around and usually stays with the family. She is the only one to dote on Durga, but the mother repeatedly send her on her way. That continues till she eventually dies.

“Panther Panchali” has a lot to offer as a documentary and its topic makes it political, but as entertainment it is thin. I do get strangely fascinated by watching this very different Indian life unfold and it is difficult not to feel sorry for the family, but with a running time of over two hours it is very passive and frankly a bit dull. It helps to chop it up in parts, but you could be fairly certain that the next segment would be much like the past segment, except that the family would be a bit poorer and the troubles would be piling up some more.

A question I kept asking myself was who are the good guys and who are the bad ones? The absent father who is miserable at bringing home funds, but keeps at his airy plans? The mother who is so frustrated with Durga that she likely pushed her to her death as she did the old woman? Or Durga who actually did steal and wanders off instead of working? Well, I believe none of them. Everybody are behaving more or less like normal people would with the strengths and weaknesses we all have. Their downfall were due to structural problems in India, cultural and economic, and that again brings it back to politics.

Conclusively I would say that I was very happy this was not Bollywood and that as a document this is an excellent movie. As entertainment this is dull and tragic with very little relief. I doubt I would be watching it again but for anybody with in interest in India this may deserve a viewing.