Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Millionaire and The Reader

This has been a pretty good season for movies. In the last few weeks, we've seen Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and last night, we saw Slumdog Millionaire.

Here's the official blurb on Slumdog:

"Jamal Malik, a penniless eighteen year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, is one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, suddenly, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating. After all, how could an uneducated street kid possibly know so much?

Determined to get to the bottom of Jamal’s story, the jaded Police Inspector spends the night probing Jamal’s incredible past, from his riveting tales of the slums where he and his brother Salim survived by their wits to his hair-raising encounters with local gangs to his heartbreak over Latika, the unforgettable girl he loved and lost.

Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show?

When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out… "

As I walked out, I mentioned that at last, Bollywood finally has a huge hit. And it is a great movie. But since the director is Danny Boyle (Sunshine, Trainspotting) and the writer is Simon Beaufoy, ('The Full Monty') it could be argued that this is a British movie using Bollywood talent and infrastructure. However, Boyle did have a co director from the Indian Movie Industry, who was the casting director for another fine film, The Namesake.

Still, the ending credits are definitely Bollywood.

Slumdog Millionaire is a great movie to awaken those of us in the West to the other awakened sleeping giant in the East. With 2.4% of the globe's land mass and 15% of the world's population, anyone who has tried to get something done on the phone knows that India and its 1.2 trillion folks are a big deal.

Add in almost 300 years of English influence where tens of millions starved as a result of government policies, and you get a unique combination of language and cultural memory, one that is capable of a huge movie industry, phone banks, high tech, space programs, and atomic weaponry.

But the more important movie to me was The Reader. Here's the setup from Fandango.

"When he falls ill on his way home from school, 15 year-old Michael Berg is rescued by Hanna, a woman twice his age. The two begin an unexpected and passionate affair only for Hanna to suddenly and inexplicably disappear.

Eight years later, Michael , now a young law student observing Nazi war trials, meets his former lover again, under very different circumstances. Hanna is on trial for a hideous crime, and as she refuses to defend herself, Michael gradually realizes his boyhood love may be guarding a secret she considers to be more shameful than murder. "

This movie is a complex tale with excellent perfomances by Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross, amply aided by a strong screenplay.

The significance of this story goes deep. Hanna was working for Seimens as a guard in the detention camps. They were the Wackenhuts and the Blackwaters of the day. Hanna was punished, while Seimens survived to become a global megacorporation that makes windturbines and solar cells today.

I liked this movie because of its complexity,

and its honest exploration into the human condition.

If you go see Frost Nixon,

you'll get a graduate course on the subject.

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