Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Review (?) of 'Crash' and 'Shakespeare in Love'

Watched two lovely movies this weekend and decided that both deserve a viewing by a larger audience (assuming most people have not watched them yet). Shall call this an opinion more than a review since apart from the names of the movies and perhaps of a few characters, it will not include any factual information.


‘Crash’ got my attention simply because it was lined up for many awards this season. I had a very brief notion on what the movie was about; which was just as well because the pleasure of watching good cinema is enhanced by entering its world unknowing of its merits.

‘Crash’ is about racism in the U.S. It is not just racism viewed through the oppressed person's eyes. It is not about the quintessential topic of the black man being subjected to discrimination by the white man. It is about how racism exists in the fabric of America and shows up in day to day life, influencing people to act in ways which they probably don't realise are discriminatory. When you think about it, it is easier to fight the enemy when you see it larger than life.

‘Crash’ has an amalgam of characters - Black, White, Chinese, Mexican, Irani…everyone. Characters who go through the daily grind in the midst of which their lives begin to cross each other. The tension in the movie begins to build till it reaches a crescendo, then snaps and then continues (towards another unknown peak I suppose).

Why the movie works ? The story requires racism to be the protagonist of the plot. Which means every character gets very little on screen time. To make these characters work, they need to be real enough for someone who does not come from the same ethnic background to sympathise with them. They need to make your heart beat faster without unnecessary melodrama. They need to be placed in normal situations and not contrived ones that ask for disaster. Most importantly, they must not be mere stereotypes of what the audience expects of a person from a certain ethnic background. ‘Crash’ manages to do all of this extremely well.

‘Crash’ also certainly made me wonder if I would ever like to stay out of India. I remember an incident that occurred during my trip to the U.S. We were on a tour bus, occupied mainly by whites, and my family was the only brown one. After the first stop, when the tour guide realised that her bus had more passengers than what it had to begin with, she promptly asked me and my sister if we were in the wrong bus. No checking with the whole bus if anyone was in there by mistake and no going row by row. Just picking us out where we were sitting somewhere towards the end of the bus. I am not sure whether it was because she could not remember our faces from before or whether it was just the stereotype of stupid Indians (Which thank God is changing). But I don't think I would like to be wondering that often as a part of my daily life.

Shakespeare in Love :

I don't know how many people have read at least a few passages from Shakespeare. For most philistines, they appear beautiful but perhaps a bit overdramatic. The movie somehow manages to connect these over-dramatic passages to reality and sweeps you into the times of Will Shakespeare, the poet, actor and lover.

William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) suffers from a bad case of writer's block. He is in search of a muse to write his next play when he meets the rich Lady Viola (Gywneth Paltrow). Lady Viola meanwhile becomes engaged to Lord Sussex (Colin Firth in an oh-so-unromantic role) rather unwillingly, the whole set up being done by her father who decides to buy a good title for his daughter with his tradesman's money. So when Will and Viola fall in love, they have to keep it under wraps. To add to the complication, Viola pretends to be a man in order to play a role in Will's play. The theatre owner for whom Will is writing his play is in dire straits and needs a play to ensure the theatre's survival. The moneylender to the theatre owner demands his pound of flesh (No pun intended). Inspired by his love for Viola and the impossibility of the love ever being public, Shakespeare produces his masterpiece of tragic love, 'Romeo and Juliet'. In the confusion that abounds in the background, you already see the seeds of his future masterpieces.

The movie draws from history, weaving tidbits of information into a narrative that moves at a brisk pace. Christopher Marlow, rumoured to have been the original author of many of Shakespeare's plays is seen giving him a tip or two. Queen Elizabeth I plays a brief but brilliant role living up to her historical image of being a patron of theatre. A literature student will definitely be able to correlate even more.

The movie itself, simply put, is lovely. I never realised the the dialogues of Romeo and Juliet were so passionate and rich till I saw them used to progress Will's and Viola's love. The movie flows in and out of the original dialogues and adds its own share of witticisms, repartees and romantic declarations. The costumes are rich and the whole atmosphere somehow bright and chirpy. The story, though imaginary, never forgets that it lives in the society of the 1500s and must be bound by it. Even towards the end when you see the head win over the heart, you understand.

Well worth a watch if you want to be sucked into a whole new world.

Anita B.

1 comment:

The GodFather said...

I watched Crash when it first came out. And while I think it points out to how stereotypes are something we should all drop.....I think we'll always end up using them....no matter how hard we try. I do agree with you. Now matter how many more opportuities exist and no doubt its a more tolerant country than the EU...there's no feeling like being in your own country!