East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

SFIAAFF '06~!: Love breaks down [festival note]

The Crimson Kimono (Sam Fuller)

(SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS) This 1959 feature is about a rough diamond detective who falls in love with a young painter who holds the key to the murder case he's working on -- only she's in love with his partner and war buddy. The distiguishing feature: the object of her affection is Japanese-American. Fuller directs with characteristic crispness. Each scene is clear and follows logically from what preceded. His interest in the murder isn't sustained; he's more intent on exploring Little Tokyo and environs, visiting a dojo and a dollmaker and memorably the war memorial for JA soldiers, creating an atmosphere of potential menace without tainting all of his settings with unnecessary seediness.

The scene-stealer is Anna Lee as the habitually sloshed older painter, but James Shigeta gets the most interesting role. He's not really a sex symbol, he's more of a matinee idol: he doesn't burn, he smoulders, almost like he's English. His line readings are a little deliberate, not uncommon in singers. But he moves with controlled fluidity, even when karate-chopping a man-mountain. He's supposed to express an inherited artistic temperament, but instead comes across as genteel, which some people dig, especially when it's packaged handsomely.

Dreaming Lhasa (Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam)

The storyline, involving the search of a Tibetian American and an exiled dissident for a long-lost anti-Chinese fighter in Dharamsala and elsewhere in India, is somewhat pro-forma. It's sharpened by snippets of interviews with (real) former political prisoners. A more straightforward pleasure is watching the characters do things you never see Tibetians do in movies: drink, play pool, listen to the Skatalites. (There is plenty of ritual and pomp if that's what you're after.) We get a sense of how the communities of exiles function: in one town they've set up a whole village of sweater stalls. The mostly non-pro performers are best when they're not called upon to do much. Instead it's enough to hear them talk and look at their faces, some weathered and craggy, others bright and taut, in all cases prepared to survive.

Parineeta (Pradeep Sarkar)

Like many good melodramas, this conservative anti-capitalist (which should mean aristocratic, but the movie avoids all class issues) picture gets literal: the villain erects an actual physical wall between the hero and heroine, which the hero actually physically breaks through. It's one of those movies that goes to ridiculous lengths to keep the lovers apart, and I give it major props for putting substantial effort into making the contrivances fit together. Sarkar doesn't just underline his points, he highlights and sprinkles glitter over them: even an evil thought is accompanied by an ominous chord or drum hit. And the songs are clever without being unnecessarily good.

Your hero is Saif Ali Khan, who is wicked hot, but whose job is mostly to look aggrieved, and he comes across as a bit dopey. His rival is the veteran Sanjay Dutt, who has no trouble outacting everyone else with his vaguely Gabinesque nobility. But the star is your heroine Lolita (the character predates her Western namesake), played by Vidya Balan, lovely in saris and likably klutzy in heels. Switching between the fragile, the fun-loving and the flirtatious, she's anybody's muse.


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