Saturday, April 29, 2006

Free Time? What's That?

I'm back! That is, I left, and then I came back. London was great, of course, after my initial reluctance to leave my comfortable nest (always an effort for me) I had a fantastic trip. Successful on all fronts, business and pleasure both. Our hosts in High Wycombe were kind and generous (especially with the beer,) our trade show was spectacular and went off without a hitch, and my day spent at liberty in London was perfect--got to see friends I've not seen in a decade, as well as the V&A Museum and the natural history museum, both on my list. Moments of excitement on the trip included my brief detention by Homeland Security at the Detroit airport, and a genuine brawl at the ticket barrier at Marlebone rail station. 2 drunk girls jumped the barrier and were first detained, then wrestled to the ground by the station guards when they resisted. Famed British politeness--as these two girls were screaming obscenities and kicking and clawing at the railmen, one of them is pulling out his can of mace and saying quite calmly, "Now, luv, if you don't stop that I'll spray something in your face, OK?"

Now I'm back, and I've got 200 exams to grade, and it's Film Festival Week. I'd promised you a movie review, but I'll have to save "Hot Wax" for later in favor of a few capsule reviews from the last couple days....

U-Carmen eKhayelitsha
The opera Carmen, set in a small South African township and sung in Xhosa click language--how could you go wrong? Well, for me, the basic problem is that it's still opera, which I am genetically predisposed to dislike. I come from a long line of opera haters, and I'd never seen Bizet's Carmen, so I came a little unsure of what to expect. I actually liked it very much--my main problem with opera is A) I want it to have subtitles, which this did, and B) I get impatient when they sing the same thing over and over again--"I loooove you!" "Dooooo you?" "Yessss, I dooooo! I love youuuu!" "Do you truly love meeee?" Yes, damn it, she said so! Let's move on, shall we? But U-Carmen has very little of this, and when it does the music is catchy. The resetting of it in South Africa is excellent, it had a very gritty feel and reminded me of the small town where I stayed in Kenya. The woman who sings the title role, Pauline Malefane, is incredibly talented--seductive, beautiful, expressive and funny. The neat thing about the film is that it was shot entirely in this small township of Khayelitsha, where they've never had a cinema or really any exposure to either movies or opera. The movie was a hit there (they showed it in their sports facility for several weeks, 3 shows a day.) As the director said in the Q/A afterwards, a film like this, starring people from the poorer towns of South Africa, can go a long way to showing the children of these towns what they too can achieve--whether it's singing, or acting, or going to school to be a doctor or lawyer or whatever. Very cool.

Deepa Mehta's latest in her series of "elemental" films, this was the one I most looked forward to before the festival started. I liked Fire very much, not just because of the theme of love between women but also because it was so beautifully filmed--Mehta captures the soul of India (or India as I imagine it) with color, texture, and light in a way I find utterly breathtaking. Water is like that as well; it's so visually rich that the plot, for me, has to work to overcome the impact of the visuals. It's an intense movie, and disturbing and painful in spots. But it also seemed to me upon reflection that Water wasn't as well put-together as Fire--the plot wasn't as tightly woven, and the characters aren't as deeply developed. It sprawls a bit. But it was still very, very good, a 2 hankie film, and utterly beautiful. The "water" theme is worked in well, a bit more subtly than the fire in Fire. Perhaps because water is more subtle and less dramatic by nature--though the drenching thunderstorms and the monumentality of the river make water a more constant presence throughout this one. More films later, I'm off to volunteer at the festival this afternoon!