1 Monsoon Wedding
I present another film about women that is actually directed by a woman! Monsoon Wedding is a charming film by Mira Nair, a Punjabi film maker. The story is about a young woman who is getting married in an arranged marriage of sorts. (Nowadays men and women are introduced by their parents but they are free to marry or not marry.) The young woman is having an affair with an older, married man, and she has grown tired of waiting for him to divorce his wife. However, as she goes through the tremendous pre-wedding celebrations, she begins to get cold feet.
The film is about the young bride, but it is also about the entire family, as weddings are always about families and communities. The film also follows the father’s struggle to pay for the wedding and to assert his role as head of the family, the perils of being an Indian in a foreign country, the blossoming of young love, and the threat of child abuse.
Mira Nair filmed this movie in about 30 days and describes this film as a Bollywood film on her own terms. Anyone who has ever seen a Bollywood film knows that they are filled with song and dance sequences. Mira uses music in this film, but they are not big budget numbers (except for perhaps one.) The singing happens very organically, and utilizes traditional songs. One example are the Mendhi songs the women sing while decorating their hands with henna. In the commentary for the film, Mira explains that as the women decorate the bride’s hands with henna, they sing overtly sexualized songs to educate and prepare the young bride for what is to come in her marriage. (Sex education: The Bollywood Musical. I would watch it.) This scene is also followed up by a haunting song about a young woman saying goodbye to her parents as she leaves with her new husband. The song now makes me think of an anecdote in Malala’s autobiography. She recounts how she and her friends would play wedding, and part of the game was to console the weeping bride. (Sigh.)
Words cannot describe how joyful this film truly is. I can only hope that I can be invited to an Indian wedding one day.
I reviewed this film earlier on my blog, and I will post a link to that review.
This film was inspired by the fact that, following the conflict in Bosnia, War Crimes tribunal began to treat rape as a war crime. In the film, a lawyer is prosecuting a Serbian man for war crimes he committed, and discovers a witness who was held captive in a rape camp.
The film tackles the issues of sexism and misogyny, both major and minor, as well as how it plays out within a larger context of ethnic and political tensions. The rapes in war are of course a way of humiliating and dealing a tremendous psychological blow to the opposition. It also establishes dominance and tends to demonize the enemy. (“Their women are whores!”) The young witness was treated horribly by the Serbs, but is treated little better by the International War Crimes tribunal. The court does not wish to add rape to the list of charges, and thus does not want to hear her story. The young woman asks “What is this actually for?” One of the lead prosecutors charges, “This isn’t therapy.” Fair enough. But is it justice?
Storm is, in many ways, a great old fashioned legal thriller and also a look at the wounds of war. The prosecutor travels to Bosnia, a land currently in a state of peace, or at least of no active conflict. And yet, she is told, “All the young people can think of is the war.” (An aside: I couldn’t help but notice that the war crimes took place in Germany, and that the film I had came with a short film called Toyland, about a German woman who tells her young son that the soldiers are taking his Jewish friend to Toyland. When the character says, “All anyone thinks about is the war,” I couldn’t help but think “We’re still talking about Bosnia, right?”) There was a line Air Force One (I believe) who said, “Peace is not simply the absence of conflict; it is presence of justice.” Perhaps that is part of the tension in the country; the lack of justice.
3 China Syndrome
I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen this film in almost 20 years. This film tells the story of a young reporter played by Jane Fonda who is doing a story about the local nuclear power plant. While she is there, she inadvertently videotapes an incident at the power plant. The plant is desperate to present nuclear energy as a safe, clean alternative to fossil fuels, but Jane Fonda uncovers evidence that the plant may be far more dangerous than anyone imagined.
This film was produced by Michael Douglas, who also appears in the film. Fortunately for the film (if not for Pennsylvania,) it was released just as the Three Mile Island crisis took place. Suddenly, the issue of nuclear energy was catapulted to the front page news, and China Syndrome benefited tremendously from this reality.
As I said, I have not seen this film in 20 years, and yet some scenes in this film are indelibly impressed in my mind. I especially remember the moving performance of John Lemmon as the plant worker, and the sense of the conspiracy around the plant. I remember being terrified at how far the plant was willing to go to preserve its image and how disturbed I was at the ending. I have no idea how well I would like the film today; I’m sure I’ve seen many better films in the past 20 years. But the fact that I still remember this film (and how it made me feel) solidifies its spot on my list.