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last update 3.May.07
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Life in a... Metro   3/5
Life in a... Metro This lively Indian romance has five plots looking at love and sex in the city. It's sometimes a bit silly, with rather simplistic messages, but it's still great fun.

Shikha (Shetty) is in a strained marriage, so when she meets Akash (Ahuja), she thinks maybe she's finally found happiness. Meanwhile, her husband Ranjeet (Menon) is sleeping with his coworker Neha (Ranaut), while their colleague Rahul (Joshi) has a secret crush on her. To get ahead at work, Rahul lends his flat to his bosses for their trysts; he doesn't know who Ranjeet's sleeping with in his bed. Then there's Shruti (Sharma), Neha's flatmate and Shikha's sister, who meets the goofy Debu (Khan) online. And the sisters' aunt Shivani (Ali) finally catches up with her youthful love Amol (Dharmendra).

These intertwined plots have both zany and serious elements, maintaining a comical tone while touching on deep-seated feelings. Performances reflect this delicate balance of emotions, ranging from wacky farce to wrenching drama as each of these people tries to find a sense of romantic belonging. The cast is very good across the board, although they underplay the complexities of the situations, opting for still faces and moist eyes instead of something more realistically visceral.

But then, that's the Bollywood style. Writer-director Basu intriguingly grafts the formula onto his urban setting with some especially nice camerawork and a good eye for city settings. Although Western audiences will be more amused than touched by Chakraborty and his band, earnestly performing the song score on-screen while the plot takes place around them.

This film bridges the east-west divide with its modern take on love and relationships, while a heavy dose of old world traditions underpins each plot thread. The universal themes within the stories are indeed strikingly relevant, told with a thoughtfulness and integrity that's often missing from Western filmmaking. Basu's script has its share of clunky dialog, but he hits a real nerve with his melange of languages and attitudes, the tangle of messy relationships and decisions that are both good and bad. All of it heading toward the required collective happy ending and "listen to your heart" ending, of course.

dir-scr Anurag Basu
with Shilpa Shetty, Shiney Ahuja, Kangana Ranaut, Kay Kay Menon, Sharman Joshi, Konkona Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Nafisa Ali, Dharmendra, Gautam Kapoor, Manoj Pahwa, Pritam Chakraborty
shetty and ahuja
release India/UK 11.May.07
07/India UTV 2h11
12 themes, some sexuality
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My Best Friend   4/5   Mon Meilleur Ami
the family friend Leconte takes a light-handed approach to a surprisingly serious topic in this charming comedy about the isolated nature of urban life. Strong acting and a breezy tone make it thoroughly engaging.

François (Auteuil) is a key player in the Paris antiques world, thoroughly connected with buyers and sellers. But at his birthday party, his business partner Catherine (Gayet) notes that he doesn't actually have any friends: they're all clients or colleagues. Even his daughter (Durand) treats him like a mere acquaintance. So François bets Catherine that by the end of the month he can produce for her his true best friend. And the hunt is on, with the help of a friendly cab driver, Bruno (Boon), who might actually be his only friend.

The film's gentle comedy belies some extremely telling truths, as the witty script examines the nature of friendship, especially in the context of a rushed lifestyle. These people work hard and also enjoy their free time. But they rarely get the chance to meaningfully connect with all of the people around them--even those who are closest. And when forced to stop and look around, they haven't a clue where to start.

Auteuil plays this perfectly, as a rather unlikeable charmer who just can't help himself. He knows he should be more interested in his daughter's life, but genuinely can't tell what he's doing wrong. And his interaction with Bruno is the stuff of classic buddy movies. Boon plays his character with impeccable comic timing as a kind of stray puppy dog. Even though they come from opposite sides of the tracks, these two loners are far more alike than either will admit.

This third collaboration between Leconte and Auteuil (see The Widow of Saint-Pierre and The Girl on the Bridge) is another winner. Sharply filmed with a sly eye for detail and terrific side characters, this film feels like the kind of disposable, gimmicky French comedy someone like Francis Veber might make. But it's quite a lot more than that. And it'll stick in your mind long after you leave the cinema.

dir Patrice Leconte
scr Jérôme Tonnerre, Patrice Leconte
with Daniel Auteuil, Dany Boon, Julie Gayet, Julie Durand, Jacques Mathou, Marie Pillet, Élisabeth Bourgine, Jean-Pierre Foucault, Henri Garcin, Jacques Spiesser, Audrey Marnay, Philippe Du Janerand
boon and auteuil release Fr 20.Dec.06,
UK 11.May.07,
US 13.Jul.07
06/France Canal+ 1h34

12 themes, language
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Shutter   2/5
shutter Despite the slick and seductive production values, this Thai film is so similar to J-horrors like The Ring and The Grudge that it's like watching a straight-faced parody. And unless you're new to the genre, it's not remotely scary.

Tun (Everingham) is a photographer out driving one night with his girlfriend Jane (Thongmee) when a woman (Sikamana) steps right in front of their car. They run off after the collision, and soon the woman's ghost begins to haunt their every move, appearing as a shadow in Tun's photographs and then popping up in dreams and night visions. But Tun knows more than he's letting on, especially when his friends start committing suicide. Clearly this dead girl is refusing to rest in peace.

About 10 minutes into this film, we can see why it's taken three years for it to reach our cinemas (in America, it's going straight to video to pave the way for the inevitable Hollywood remake). Everything about this film is lifted from Japanese horror, from the vindictive freak-out ghost (complete with long black hair obscuring her freakishly white face) to buckets of dripping water. If you've seen any of these movies--and there have been rather a lot of them--there's not a single surprise in this one. The only jolts come from extremely loud noises on the soundtrack.

That said, this film is extremely well-filmed, with stylish sets, lush cinematography and solid acting. And the directors clearly had a great time stirring in lots of red herrings and extremely orchestrated horror-movie moments. Plus some grisly violence, a brutally vicious flashback and even a tranny sitting on a toilet. Not to mention the increasingly nutty, gravity-defying ghost herself.

But without something original, the whole thing feels both pointless and utterly interminable, as it shuffles through one overly familiar set piece after another. We keep waiting for something new, a surprise, anything that makes us sit up and take notice. But even with a big climax, an epilogue and a final coda, the filmmakers never snap out of copycat mode.

dir Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom
scr Parkpoom Wongpoom, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Sopon Sukdapisit
with Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana, Unnop Chanpaibool, Chachchaya Chalemphol, Panitan Mavichak, Sivagorn Muttamara, Kachormsak Naruepatr, Titikarn Tongprasearth, Achita Wuthinounsurasit, Abhijati 'Meuk' Jusakul, Binn Kitchacho
Everingham release Thai 9.Sep.04,
US 27.Mar.07 dvd,
UK 29.Jun.07
04/Thailand 1h33
15 themes, violence, gore, some language
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water This film addresses such an unspeakable subject that fundamentalists shut down production in India. It took Mehta four years to remount the project (shooting in Sri Lanka), and the result is a real stunner.

In 1938 India, 7-year-old Chuyia (Sarala) is already a widow, abandoned in an ashram by her parents. She's too young to grasp the fact that this will be her life from now on, as widows are forbidden from engaging with society (people are literally afraid of their shadows), and they certainly can never remarry. The housemother (Manorama) makes ends meet by selling attractive widows to a eunuch pimp (Yadav). Eventually, Chuyia befriends two housemates: fiercely religious Shakuntala (Biswas) and 18-year-old Kalyani (Ray), who has fallen in love with a progressive young man (Abraham).

Mehta's filmmaking style is vivid and energetic, catching the textures, colours and even smells while focussing in on her complex characters. Even though it's set in the 1930s, the film has an unflinching contemporary resonance as Mehta takes on one of Indian society's sacred cows. But it never feels like a statement film; it's an intensely personal drama.

Each character is on a remarkable internal journey toward understanding the world around them--finding both hope and deep despair. The biggest change is reserved for India itself, as Gandhi's actions and philosophies prowl around the edge of the story, finally emerging on-screen in the final sequence. When he talks about the untouchables being children of God, we acutely understand his revolution.

Sarala is superb in the central role as a young girl who's far too clever and sharply opinionated for her own good. When she asks where the male widow house is, she's told, "God forbid that men should suffer so." And she gets it: her society is unjust, and there's nothing she can do about it. But she continues to speak the truth, as only a child would. Her interaction with Ray is lovely, as is Ray's chemistry with Abraham.

Mehta's film captures Indian culture , significantly portraying honest people who aren't remotely repressed about sex or violence (although they keep them out of sight, as does Mehta). She also has a sharp eye for business disguised as religion. And exploiters disguised as saviours.

dir-scr Deepa Mehta
with Sarala, Lisa Ray, John Abraham, Seema Biswas, Manorama, Raghuvir Yadav, Vinay Pathak, Vidula Javalgekar, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Gerson Da Cunha, Mohan Jhangiani
ray and abraham
release US 28.Apr.06, India 9.Mar.07,
UK 1.Jun.07
06/India 1h54

12 strong themes, some language
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall