Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monsoon Wedding [2001]

Monsoon Wedding [Mirabai Films 2001] is Mira Nair's wonderful film following the wedding of a middle class Punjabi family in New Delhi, India. While delightful, it offers a rarely seen look into postmodern Indian life. Rather than the stereotyped scenes of holy men and villages racked with the poor, it takes us into the lives of a richer, hidden India. We see the contest between postmodern values and tradition. What else but a wedding could put these two next to each other. Just like in America!
The list of what one can see is extensive. It starts with wealthy housing, but goes on. They use cell phones and are plagued with bad signals. One expects the Verizon fellow to ask "Can you here me?" A television program debates old versus new values and pornography. The kids act like US teenagers. One is accused by his parent of sitting in front of the television too much. A mother, living in a poorer section of town bemoans to her son how her stock picks have prospered. The men are in western clothes until the wedding. They drink scotch. They swear like crazy. The wedding kicks off with a traditional picture taken by paid photographers. We find out that the bride is "not a morning person." Like young adults in North Dakota, she wants to get out of this place, to America, of course. The bride shares a popsicle with a friend. The older men use a golf cart on the spacious course. They drive nice cars and one can spot Coca-Cola signs in the background.
Tradition is represented by the older characters. The structure of the wedding is traditional. There are lots of nose piercings. The women generally wear traditional or near-traditional clothes. A grandmother is looking for grandchildren before she dies. The father of the bride and the wedding planner argue over the color of the wedding tent. The planner wants to save money using white, but this is a funeral color in Asia. It must change. Color is also important for the bride as part of a Punjabi ceremony is for her hands to be painted with henna [it lasts about a month or so]. There is a lot of eating of marigolds.
Allyson Johnson [music editor] did a beautiful job of mixing traditional sounds with their postmodernized versions. The beat and sound are of a postmodern India. Of course, everybody dances. It is a wedding.
Physically the character hate the hot weather [hence monsoon], but the rain only seems to have a limited impact on them. The western fear of being wet-only disregarded in Singing in the Rain and once in the works of Tom Robbins-is not present. The rain is OK. This is a natural element of life. With all of this, what can be seen?
Culture inertia and cultural change are contrasted. The normal stereotype of Indian life is that of the village deeply buried in poverty. Monsoon Wedding illustrates that way of life only in the background. Rather it shows the life of India's growing middle class. This will update the viewer's mental images to the reality of a country that is known for poverty, yet has nuclear power, the bomb, and a large computer sector.
People are people. That people are in love and with the wrong person, a common theme on the soaps, transfers to India. People around the world swear; they seek improvement; they have internal fights within the family.
Monsoon Wedding is a great film for taking a look at postmodern India. India is a place different from what most people think. See it here.
It also is an excellent film to introduce young Americans to the films of Bollywood. While structured more like an American film in that it lacks the plot/music alteration of typical Bollywood films and is shorter in length, it brings postmodern life in India clearly to the screen. Once introduced to these films, the wide variety of Bollywood materials is an open door to seeing life in India.
Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 2002. Geography in Media: Monsoon Wedding. Dakota Alliance XII (4): September-October 2002: 7.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Matchmaker [1997]


The Matchmaker. Janeane Garofalo's [The Truth About Cats and Dogs, "Seinfeld"] is a geographic treat to watch. After a few minimalist scenes of Boston, you are off to the Galway Bay area of Ireland, including a trip to famous Aran Island. On this trip you combine the hypocrisy of American politics with the intimate lives and surroundings of a small Irish village and its people.

The basic storyline finds Marcy Tizard (Garofalo) as an aide to a Senator running for re-election, and not doing very well. Senator McGlory sends Garofalo on a mission to find his Irish relatives in a desperate attempt to make him seem more Kennedy-like, thus gathering in more votes in Massachusetts.

The geography now begins. Garofalo arrives to a rainy greeting, finding herself taken deeper and deeper into a more non-urban environment. The vehicles of small, the roads become narrow, and the traffic rare. Ballinagra, her destination, hugs the road and the hills.. It shows the age of Irish villages and the lack of modernity. It has wooden buildings that open on to a sidewalk. The hotel is family run and steeped in another age. It is not a Ramada or Holiday Inn. There is a clear sense of age and some disorder.

But something is strange about the village. It is filling with buses of men and buses of women. Garofalo has landed in the middle of a matchmaking festival. The search for McGlory's begins, complicated by the fact that Dermot (Milo O'Shea), a matchmaker, wants to couple her with someone.

In the coming scenes we get to see the interior of Irish pubs and lounges, stores, and houses (cottages). The cottages are of traditional Irish construction. Their interiors are simple, like the clothes of their owners. They are restful. The pubs are places of crowds, dancing, drinking, hope, and searching. Outside, the clouds never go away [reflecting the slight lift of North Atlantic Drift air]. The landscape is striking. The hills are prominent. The soil is rocky.

Of special note is a visit by ferry to the Aran Island (Inis Mor). The Aran Islands have a gloomy emptiness. The struggle of its settlers to turn barren limestone rock into a habitable place must have been monumental. It is like North Dakota late in the afternoon on a near winter fall afternoon, before the snow paints it white. The light casts shadows that make it seem empty. It seems haunting. Aran is a treeless, rocky place with fields built up by the work of its settlers. Indeed, the soil that is found in some places is totally imported. The fields have stone fences and look unproductive. It is a place of escape from British imperialism over the centuries, here an escape from even the village and its light press of people. The characters get the time to talk out in a place of oppressive emptiness. The edges of both round and connections begin.

An ultimate geographic question is being asked by the film in another context: is one escaping or finding "life" when one leaves the urban core to live in the rural area? Garofalo is beaten up by urbanity from the first time her face is on camera. She has that urban edge of skepticism and doubt. She is pushy. Yet she is drawn to the country. Sean Kelly (David O'Hara) , her love interest, is a reporter who has given up on city life to pursue writing in the village. Her edge shows when she meets him. She calls him "Paddy." Then she has to apologize saying she thought everyone was called "Paddy" in Ireland. Sean has left the urban world and the film proceeds to work on her interest in following along.

Is she escaping? Is he? Well, the answer is obviously no. The pathway is eased by the discovery of technology in the remote corner. It bothers her that she is remote from her world. She says, "It's so beautiful here. If it just had the New York Times, it would be perfect" and "I long to fax someone." Sean has a notebook computer and fax machine. [The notebook could even be a Mayville/Valley City State IBM Think Pad, it is not clear]. Another computer pops into view at a surprise spot. The vast beauty of the region and the attractiveness of rural living contrast with a lack of sophistication in most residents, who make the screen and the primitiveness of it all. Yet technology's presence signals that it is a part of the postmodern world. Early modern comfort with postmodern communications, the combination greases the path to rural happiness.

One problem with the film as a learning tool is its "R" rating. Profanity is constant. You do get the same word in two versions of English, yet it is massively used. On the other hand--and not going as far as to rate it acceptable--, the profanity comes from both the early modern and postmodern characters. It crosses the urban-rural continuum. The film has good entertainment values, but probably makes the "date movie" list. That Garofalo is the star sort of puts it in that category.

[Joffe, Mark (director). 1997. The Matchmaker. film. N.p.: Gramercy Pictures.]

Updated from: Meartz, Paul D. 1997. Media Beat: The Matchmaker. Dakota Alliance November-December 1997: 5-6.