A History of Violence (2005)

David Cronenberg has fascinated me since I discovered Dead Ringers in the early 90s. See, I was convinced at the time that there were two guys playing Mantle brothers. I realize that part of the credit should go to Jeremy Irons, but it also takes a special director to present two different people, with two distinct personalities, and appearances. Cronenberg has been studying multiple personalities and multiple universes in Spider, to an extent in Crash, and definitely in M Butterfly and Existenz. He’s also fascinated with people under tremendous stress, being put under scrutiny (again Spider and The Fly), and as you may know, his films typically include a decent dose of gore. Naturally, when I heard about “A History of Violence”, the title was all I needed to know. It’s Cronenberg’s territory. It might be confusing, but it will not be boring for a minute.

It’s no surprise that very first reviews of the movie keep mentioning that it’s his strongest, most accessible film to date. While I personally disagree (the techno geek in me easily identified with characters of Existenz, and Scanners; and Crash was easy to watch because of James Spader), I understand these reviewers. They get it. They hope others get the movie too. And I’d like to think that I got it too, although the theater experience left a very sour taste in my mouth. I can only hope Cronenberg was going for this effect. But before I get to this, a little about the plot.
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Water (2005)

Deepa Mehta has been working on this movie for almost seven years. There were troubles on the set, Indian religious organizations threatened to close the set and pull funding. So the production stopped and moved to Sri Lanka in order to finish this project. Usually when one hears about “problems on the set”, the assumption is that the movie is horrible, and the producers are trying to salvage it. This is a different story – the movie is controversial, and also important – it needed time and a lot of love to be made. Now that I’ve seen it, I know it was worth the wait. The film is beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time.

Indian films are maturing. Just a few years ago you could not tell them apart from one another – extensive dance numbers, catchy music, colourful characters, the universal battle of good vs. evil (only nobody’s really in any danger at any time). But in 2003 Bollywood/Hollywood came out – mocking and revering all these cliches, telling a modern, smart story, and giving us three-dimensional characters. This film was also directed by Deepa Mehta (whose earlier films Fire and Earth have strived to go deeper into culture, and draw out better stories). Deepa has put together her strongest, most memorable film to date – it’s accessible, powerful and works on many levels.

Before I get to the details, I just have to note that this film not only goes beyond Bollywood cliches, it establishes and then evolves some of Hollywood cliches as well, showing that it’s possible to deal with archetypes, and tell a familiar story, and still be original, and fresh. Typical, I guess, that it takes an outsider to show us (allegedly, the pros of moviemaking) that you can recycle plot or characters without losing your audience, without boring them to death. And that’s precisely why Indian movie business can churn out hundreds of films a year (they have been having tough couple of years), and still bring in people to the theaters in droves. Whereas this summer has shown that movie overkill doesn’t work on American audiences – when people see commercials for 2-3 big new movies every week, they’re not even going to try to catch any of them (let alone the “big ones”), they’ll turn to other sources of entertainment. But enough ranting – I got a great film to describe.
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Bon Voyage (2003)

Movies like this one rarely get the attention they deserve. It’s not just the “European” stigma and low budget. It’s not the “tough to read” subtitles. I think it’s mainly because the movie is unusual, and therefore, difficult to sell, and even more difficult to digest. Not to say it’s a heavy movie. Not at all. It’s just an atypical experience.

I saw this movie about 7 months ago, at the Toronto Film Festival (love the city, love the festival, wish more people came here and discovered it for themselves). Sorry ‘about the plug – the film fest is an annual tradition for me, and seeing any of these movies picked up for major distribution is always a pleasure. Especially if a movie is not a “sure bet”, and not a crowdpleaser.
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