Aarakshan, directed by Prakash Jha
(In Hindi, with English subtitles)
Prabhakar Anand is an educator of the highest integrity. He believes that at least some spaces in the prestigious college, STM, should be reserved for students of the lower castes, normally not available to them. But a corrupt minister won’t have it, and besides, he wants his wayward nephew to get a spot in the school. The conflict is set, but the complications are many as well, with Dr. Anand’s daughter falling for a guy out of her caste, an alternative school being established by Dr. Anand, a Supreme Court case pending, and much more. Oh, and there are the usual, although appropriate and sometimes moving, Bollywood song and dance numbers as well. Jha also directed Raajneeti: Politics – and Beyond, available through HCPL.
Bonsai, directed by Cristian Jimenez
(In Spanish, with English subtitles)
Who’s read Proust? Not Julio. When his class is asked that question, he only half-heartedly raises his liar’s hand. But Proust leads to a relationship Julio has with Emilia, a serious, brooding young woman, who may in fact have actually read Proust. The two of them strike up a relationship that revolves around literature, Schubert’s lieder, and punk rock. Shift forward eight years. The relationship has been long over; Julio is now an aspiring writer, who works in a bookstore and tutors on the side. Although he’s lost touch with Emilia, can he ever forget his first true love? As his memories of Emilia come forward, he begins to write their tale, and the narrative shifts back eight years once more. It is not hard to keep the movie times straight, nor where the story is going, despite the two intertwined tales from past and present. When Julio has a chance to reconnect with Emilia in the present, he hesitates, and that hesitation brings an irrevocable shift to the relationship. Memories of the past may be more enduring than the present possibilities.
Empire of Silver, directed by Christina Yao
(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)
China in1899 was a place of turbulence, violence, revolution, and suffering. Third Master, the son of one of the wealthiest banking families in the land, is not as interested as he should be in stepping in for his father and assuming his role as the next family leader. But events will force him to face a future of struggle and acceptance of his proper place and the responsibility that goes along with that. Based on historical events, epic in scale, this film has it all: battle, conflict, romance, intrigue, in short, something for everyone. I might warn viewers that this disc would not play on my DVD player but would on my computer. See if it works on yours.
Extraterrestrial, directed by Nacho Vigalondo
(In Spanish, with English subtitles)
This begins like many a comedy: a young man awakens in an unfamiliar bed, with a beautiful woman making coffee in the other room. But who is she? That’s only part of the story. Julio isn’t sure what he did the night before, where he is, how he got to this place, and who the beautiful woman is. All that becomes almost meaningless when he and Julia (“Just a coincidence!”) discover that the city – no, the entire country – no, the entire world has been invaded by extraterrestrials. With giant flying saucers hovering over the city, Julio thinks he has enough troubles. Then Julia’s boyfriend shows up. And Julia’s neurotic neighbor is lingering around the apartment as well. Then Julio realizes he is in love with Julia. How in the world will Julio untangle himself from this mess? Vigalondo also directed Timecrimes, owned by HCPL.
Free Men, directed by Ismael Ferroukhi
(In French, with English subtitles)
Another movie that explores the French resistance during World War II, Free Men approaches the heroics from a different angle, that of Algerian immigrants in France. Younes, a young Algerian black marketeer, doesn’t take up anyone’s cause but his own, until the police hire him to look out for anything that might raise an alert in his mosque. And it is true that the Algerian population is perhaps doing a tad more than praying in their mosques. For example, they might be hiding Jews, now being jailed and deported by the French government. Based at least in part on real people and real events, Free Men also tells the story of anticipated rewards not fulfilled, since the Algerians in the Resistance thought that perhaps their dangerous work for freedom during the war might result in Algeria’s own freedom after the war. Alas, that would happen only after a bloody war for liberation.
The Makioka Sisters, directed by Kon Ichikawa
(In Japanese, with English subtitles)
While war rages overseas for the Japanese in 1938, life is sedate in Osaka for the four Makioka sisters. Prosperous and beautiful, from a well-connected and respectable family, they lead lives of quiet leisure. While two are married, custom dictates that the third should marry before the rebellious youngest takes a husband. But Yukiko hesitates at each prospective husband presented to her. What makes her hold back? Is it the scandal much earlier in their lives when the youngest sister tried to elope with her lover? But as the story unfolds and as we become more drawn into their lives, we begin to understand just what Yukiko wants in a husband. This film was made in 1983, but it is a classic that begs to be viewed again and again to soothe the soul and calm the mind. HCPL also owns Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain, which offers a far different view of the Japanese at war.
A Separation, directed by Asghar Farhadi
(In Persian, with English subtitles)
A kind of domestic drama taking place in a strict theocracy, A Separation has conflicts and complications that nearly sweep viewers off their feet. Nader and Simin live in Iran, but Simin wants to go to another country, along with their adolescent daughter, Termeh, in order to find a much better life. Nader feels he must stay behind to care for his father, who has Alzheimer’s. While he cannot stop Simin from leaving, he can prevent her from taking Termeh. Simin goes to stay with her mother while time ticks away before her visa application expires. With Simin gone from the house, Nader hires Razieh, a deeply religious young woman, to care for his father while he goes to work, but like any number of home health aides here, she has issues: a long commute by bus, a young child to tote along, a disapproving husband, religious qualms about caring for another man, and much more. She is also pregnant, which Nader may or may not know. The old father tends to wander the neighborhood and needs constant care and vigilance, so when Nader finds him tied to a bed and no one in the house one day, he is furious with the caregiver. After a bit of a scuffle, Razieh falls and that night miscarries. Then her unemployed husband finds out that she’s had a job and what sort of job it is, and even more complications ensue, with court appearances, revelations, disappointments, awakenings, and ultimately a cliff-hanger of a resolution. All is not well in a society driven by rigid religious strictures, coupled with vast inequalities in gender and class. Farhadi also directed Fireworks Wednesday, owned by HCPL.
Shaolin, directed by Benny Chan
(In Mandarin, with English subtitles)
General Hou is a very bad man. He has felt no compunction in violating a sacred Buddhist temple, and committing other nasty crimes and sins. But when he finds himself in a serious pinch, he sees the error of his ways and ironically seeks refuge in the very temple where earlier he mocked and roughed up monks. Now he needs to discipline himself and the monks to fight forces of greater evil. With lots of action scenes and some humor as well, mostly supplied by the character played by Jackie Chan, this will provide a little bit of Chinese history as well as a lot of martial arts fights and feats.