Sunday, May 4, 2008

Yellow Brick Lane

When you watch the Academy Awards, and the Foreign Film category comes up, do you feel guilty that you haven't seen more of the selections? Do you find yourself guessing as you fill out the ballet, then feeling like a total philistine? I do. That's why I was determined to see at least a few films at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Thank god for my cinephile friend Jane who looked at the catalog and picked out a few good films for us to see, only one of which I actually made it to, Brick Lane, which I saw last week with Jane and her glamorous friend Kristina. More on the film in a minute.

Film festivals are a trip. You often have to buy tickets in advance, and if you didn't have the foresight to do that days in advance for a hot film, you have to stand in line for "rush" tickets. It somewhat demeaning, but reminds me of yet another verymarkmccormick film and theater-going rule (I must compile these soon): I have never NOT seen something for lack of a ticket beforehand. If you want to see something, even if it were the hottest, hottest possible show you can imagine, like if, for example, Rufus Wainwright decided to do a three evening set called Just Joni, Just Sondheim, Just Barbra, at, say, The Plush Room (if it existed anymore, which it doesn't, which is sad), and IF for some reason you didn't buy tickets to all three, because, for example, maybe you were away in a third world country, in a village without Internet access for a year, well, you could JUST SHOW UP and SOMETHING would happen to get you in. You have to get there early and sometimes pay top dollar, but what is money for, if not culture (and hair treatments apparently, but more on that later, Miss Lee). Anyway, the only time my "just show up" rule has failed me was once in London to see Alan Bennett's Lady in the Van with Dame Maggie Smith. I was something like eighth in line, for cancellations, and the first seven got it. I was stricken. It took me years to get over that.

Anyway, to make a short story longer, I'm just saying, we stood in the "rush" line and got in.

Rush lines can be good. You can catch up on your reading or get to know things about your friends as you stand there in bone chilling San Francisco wind, making conversation to stay warm. I learned these two things. Jane's hair treatment--she gets it straightened to fabulous effect, both visual and tactile--costs $550, and she has to have it done twice a year. I swear I don't think I even spend that much money on shoes. Maybe. No, definitely not. And Kristina once smuggled a bunch of money into some foreign country. Okay it was barely over the maximum amount, and it was for work, but still: glamorous. If we hadn't stood in line, I would not know these things.

Enough about that: on to weightier subjects. This is really a mini-review with a lot of fluff above, because this movie may not get wide distribution. But I'll make my comments general: the best kind of art experience, I've discovered, is one that mixes at least two art forms--musical theater for example, or a dramatic reading of a poem, or a prose poem for that matter (more accessible than a poem), or even a photograph with a strong narrative, a painting with some text, a dance that tells a story--you get my drift.

Brick Lane works as about three different art forms. As a film it is engaging, with a good plot, likable characters, good actors. It's the story of a Bangladeshi woman who moves to a drab street in London, Brick Lane, for an arranged marriage. It is a loveless marriage, but she endures; she misses her sister terribly, and they have an active correspondence over many, many years. Her sister's life, though wildly unpredictable, is at least full of romance and adventure. Still, her sister pines for an idyllic youth that she remembers as being full of laughter and natural beauty. Her memory edits out the poverty, death, and uncertainty that represented life in her Bangladeshi village. Her husband is feckless at best, and when he loses his job, she starts sewing to make ends meet. She meets a dashing young man who wakes her up sexually and politically, but who ultimately objectifies her ("you are the real thing: a simple girl from the village"--though she is no girl and clearly not simple). But to my point about genre-mixing, the film succeeds, because it has all the elements of a well-crafted film, but it is cinemagraphically magical--stunningly shot, especially the scenes in Bangladesh. And at times it morphs into poetry--the flashback scenes, the letters between sisters, an unlikely scene of a woman in a sari making a snow angel.

I loved this movie for the acting and the look of it, and how it worked as poetry and pure cinematography. Yes, it was sad but satisfyingly redemptive. I would say that every single character grows in some small way, as does each strand of Jane's hair, inspiring this haiku:

Jane's black locks
Shining in the rush line wind
Five Fifty??
See, even a blog entry can be two genres at once!


Anonymous said...

it's five-seven-five sir, so maybe:

Jane's gleaming black locks
Shining in the rush line wind
Five Fifty? Really??


Jane's inky black locks
Shining in the rush line wind
Five Fifty. For reals!

Anonymous said...

Mark won't buy nice shoes
Says it's a waste since folks look
at his handsome face

Anonymous said...

It's easy to spend
three hundred dollars or so
on a pair of jeans