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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

These Movies Matter;
DVD Reviews

by Angela Pressburger

Mountain Patrol, the efforts of a volunteer patrol to stop the poaching of the rare Tibetan antelope; Water, "rounding out the human drama ... and unforgettably touching the heart"; Mahaleo, a wonderful example of how to combine art and livelihood into social action; Sketches of Frank Gehry, the creative sketch metamorphoses into architectural existence; Scared Sacred, stories of survival, resilience and recovery; Unknown White Male, an opportunity to explore the composition of personal identity and the relationship between memory and experience; Mrs. Parker and The Vicious Circle, unsparingly honest portrait of alcoholism and ego; Pretty Poison, one of the prettiest little perversions in the world of movies

Foreign Drama: Mountain Patrol (Kekexili), Water

Documentaries Worth Watching: Mahaleo, Scared Sacred, Sketches of Frank Gehry, Unknown White Male

Classics on DVD: Pretty Poison, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Mountain Patrol (Kekexili)
2005, China, 95 min., subtitles
Director: Lu Chuan

Golden Hose for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, Taiwan, 2004; Don Quixote Award, Berlin, 2005; Hong Kong Film Award for Best Asian Film, 2006; Special Jury Prize, Tokyo, 2004; Nominated for Grand Jury Prize, Sundance, 2005; Political Film Society nominee for Best Film Expose, 2006

The efforts of a volunteer patrol to stop the poaching of the rare Tibetan antelope, or chiru, on the Kekexili plateau in north-western Tibet. Based on a true story, the Mountain Patrol is short of men, short of money and short of guns, and their existence at all is legally questionable. The poachers are much better equipped and have no qualms about killing anyone who gets in their way.

In 1993, the murder of a patroller draws Ga Yu, a young and idealistic photo-journalist from Beijing, to investigate. He accompanies the Patrol out onto the plateau and an adventure that is strongly reminiscent of what for us is a more familiar counterpart: the desperados of the American West.

Why It Matters
The story’s hook is the endangered wildlife, but as the drama unfolds we see that it has as much to do with man’s inhumanity to man as to his fellow creatures. And we are happy to report that the story filed by Ga Yu’s real-life counterpart prompted the Chinese government to establish the Kekexili as a nature reserve. As a result, the chiru population is increasing.

2005, Canada/India, 114 min., some subtitles (in Canada since March, 2006 and now finally available in the US)

Director: Deepa Mehta

Vancouver Critics Circle Awards for Best Director and Best Actress (Lisa Ray), 2005; Youth Jury Award and Nominated for Golden Spike, Valladolid, 2005; Genies (Canadian Academy Awards) for Best Actress, Cinematography and Score)

In 1938 Colonial India, against the backdrop of Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, eight-year-old Chuyia is married for only a few weeks before her husband dies and her family delivers her to a run-down ashram for Hindu widows where she will live in seclusion for the rest of her life. But Chuyia is young, full of energy and not ready to submit.

She soon becomes fast friends with Kalyani (Lisa Ray), a beautiful young widow who has been allowed to keep her long hair so that she can be "of service" to the ashram’s corpulent and corrupt matriarch by allowing the local pimp to ferry her favours across the Ganges to wealthy Brahmins. One day, Kalyani meets Narayan (John Abraham) a handsome, young Brahmin lawyer, who champions the progressive ideas of Gandhi. They fall in love, but his idealism sets loose an uncontrollable chain of consequences in reality....

Why It Matters
In the words of author Salman Rushdie: "The film has serious, challenging things to say about the crushing of women by atrophied religious and social dogmas, but, to its great credit, it tells its story from inside its characters, rounding out the human drama of their lives, and unforgettably touching the heart."

2005, Belgium/France/Madagascar, 102 min., subtitles, documentary
Director: Marie-Clémence Paes

The fabled island of Madagascar as seen through the lives of the members of its most popular musical group, Mahaleo.  The seven musicians are exceptional people who have been combining music and careers to serve their people since 1972. Their career roles as a neurosurgeon, a sociologist, a general practitioner, a farmer, a couple of community regional developers and a parliamentary deputy compliment their music to inspire and support local community aspirations.

The film celebrates this intimate relationship as the group prepares for its 30th anniversary concert in 2002. The word mahaleo means "free, independent," and the story of these musicians, both individually and as a group, provides a window on a wide cross-section of local culture and history.

Why It Matters
Madagascar is one of the world's poorest nations and, since independence in 1960, it has been in a near constant state of political upheaval as one regime after another has betrayed its promises and enriched itself at the expense of the people. This film is a wonderful example of how to combine art and livelihood into social action, with music as a centre to heart-felt living.

Sketches of Frank Gehry
2005, USA/Germany, 83 min., documentary
Director: Sydney Pollack

A wonderful documentary about world-famous Canadian architect, Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao), by his friend, filmmaker Sydney Pollack (Cold Mountain, The Quiet American, Out of Africa).  Enjoy the wide range of interviews with patrons and peers, and take note of Gehry's habit of doodling. Those quick initial sketches give the film its title. Watch how some progress to three-dimensional "doodles" of cardboard and tape — all before the lucky few find their final incarnation in glass and titanium on the world stage.

Why It Matters
The point where the architect expresses his envy for painters, and laments his inability to achieve the same luminosity of visual effect. "Yeah, right," says the filmmaker as he cuts to a montage of some of his friend's buildings, reflecting sunlight, absorbing rain and changing the atmosphere to uplift their neighbourhood. This is your opportunity to experience the magic taking place as the creative sketch metamorphoses into architectural existence.

Page Two of Angela's Reviews>>

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