The Oranges

The Cast of THE ORANGES%202 The Oranges

I attended a screening of The Oranges as the last hot, steamy days of summer trailed off, and beside wanting to see a film with so many favorite actors (Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener), I relished the thought of spending 90 minutes watching a holiday comedy set in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.  (Every August, the only thing that keeps me slogging through day after day of 90-degree+ temps and stifling dew points is the thought that crisp, sunny days, cool nights and the big wind-up to the holiday season are right around the corner.)

The trouble that ensues when the husband (Laurie) of one of two very close couples starts an affair with the twenty-four-year-old daughter (Leighton Meester) of the other pair sounded like an interesting prospect, to see how the writers would handle it and how this talented quartet would make it happen.

But the execution of the affair and the days leading up to it (Meester’s character returns home to suburban West Orange, New Jersey for Thanksgiving after having suffered a bad break-up out in California) gave no indication of any attraction or connection between Nina and David.  Both long-married couples’ relationships are just treading water and surviving through some general malaise.  Janney and Keener’s characters regard their husbands as generally bumbling goofballs whom they should both just work around to save themselves any trouble.

On Thanksgiving night, after the rest of the families have headed to bed, Nina joins David, who spends most nights in the guest house, and out of nowhere, they suddenly kiss while watching TV and start an affair, which is soon discovered, wrecking the Christmas season for everyone.

Oliver Platt is adorable as a shambling, muddled, gadget-crazy father, but we don’t really get to know much more about him than that, not even why he seems more concerned by his wife’s outrage at their daughter’s behavior, than over the affair itself.

Hugh Laurie is a milder version of the American guy we know as House, affable and unruffled, but again, we don’t get to know why things disintegrated between his character and Keener’s to the point where they began living apart on the same property.

Both wives are written as brittle, dismissive women and we never crack the surface of either.  As far as the wronged spouse goes, when watching the character of Paige (Keener) after the affair came to light, I couldn’t help but think of the distraught reaction of Emma Thompson in Love Actually (also set over the Christmas holidays, funny enough) when she learns that her husband (Alan Rickman) is involved with his young, nubile secretary, and I realized that it was that sort of heart that was absent from The Oranges.

oranges%20Alia%20Shawkat%202 The Oranges

For me, the brightest part of the film was discovering the Kurdish-Irish-Norwegian-American Alia Shawkat in the role of Vanessa, the daughter of Cathy and Terry (Janney and Platt).  It was a discovery because I never got into Arrested Development, her big calling card.  She’s fresh and different and interesting.  By comparison, when Hugh Laurie’s David goes cow-eyed over Nina, we never have a chance to appreciate what is so special about her (other than her looks), and so the affair seems all the more puzzling, since there’s no display of any steamy clinches between the May-December couple, and we’re given to assume that he’s just turned his life upside down for something more than awesome sex, dude, but we have no clue.

Final thoughts

Even if you find the cast incredibly appealing, unless you’re a die-hard fan of one of them and can’t help yourself but rush out to the theater, I’d wait for the DVD, if even that.
For a movie that could have been darker, or funnier, or sexier, or more poignant, instead it suffers from the two things that people either love or hate about the suburbs: blandness and boredom.

Trishna

TRISHNA%20poster%202 Trishna

Trishna opens with a quartet of well-to-do British Asian guys, all in their 20s and currently stoned to varying degrees, rating the places they’ve just visited on their India trip.  As their holidays end, they twice cross paths with the 19-year-old Trishna (Freida Pinto) and one of them, Jay (British-Pakistani-Indian actor and rapper Riz Ahmed) finds himself absorbed by her beauty.  He remains behind in Rajasthan to manage one of his father’s hotels, as his three mates depart.

When Trishna’s father falls asleep at the wheel of his truck and they’re both injured, Jay comes to the rescue, offering Trishna work at the hotel, many miles from her family.  Like it or not, they have no other option and so Trishna sets off alone, her face a mix of resolve and determination, as she carries the weight of being their only provider on her young shoulders.

In the briefest series of establishing shots, Michael Winterbottom telegraphs what both Trishna and Jay’s lives are like, at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum.  I always hold my breath a little when I see a fellow firang going about telling a story set in India, ever aware of the kind of criticism that will rain down on him or her from the Subcontinent, should he hit a false note.  And when I saw one of the trailers for Trishna a long time ago, the glimpse of a peacock and another shot of Rajasthani dancers gave me pause, and I feared the film might do the most dreaded: exotify.

But upon seeing Trishna for the first time several weeks ago, I realized I could relax.  That peacock and a few camels are only glimpsed briefly, and they’re gone.  Whether the scenes are taking place in rural Osian or the cosmopolis that is Mumbai, we’re seeing 21st century India, and the sometimes surprising contrasts that coexist (Trishna milks goats and pats out dung cakes with her mother, but also has a mobile phone and dances along to filmi song clips on TV).  Moreover, then I remembered that it was Michael Winterbottom who made A Mighty Heart, which was set in Pakistan and filmed in India, and was just fine.

Never having read Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, nor seen Polanski’s Tess, I went in to this film blank and with no set expectations.  From the press notes, I did learn that Winterbottom chose to combine the two male protagonists into one (Jay).

The first act is quite seductive, from the first glimpses of Trishna, joining some dancers as they perform, her face open and ethereal, seemingly unaware of the impact her looks are having on the young hotelier.  Jay receives her at the bus station after she has left home, and as she sits behind him on his motorbike and they weave in and out of traffic and then up less crowded roads to the hotel, this gorgeous, languid music by Shigeru Umebayashi accompanies them, setting the stage for the growing attraction between the two, as they sit so close but not touching.

Trishna%20Riz%20Freida%202 Trishna

Trishna grows more confident living and working on her own, and Jay encourages her to develop further, sending her to classes, while also initiating the practice of having her serve him lunch daily in his room.  For someone in charge of a hotel, Jay seems to do quite a bit of lounging around and reading.

Trishna%20Riz%20Ahmed%202 Trishna

The action shifts when, after rescuing Trishna in town late one night from some men who were following her, something occurs between them on the way home – either consensual or forced – and she flees, in tears, the next day, and returns to Osian, from where she’s soon dispatched by her still convalescing father to work for an uncle in another town.  Jay eventually finds her and convinces rather easily to join him in Mumbai, where he is now dabbling at being a film producer.

The size and anonymity of the city allow the pair to live together without any of the judgement or opposition that would happen back in Rajasthan and for a while things seem quite good for them, with the couple exuding that lost-in-our-own bubble vibe that new lovers do, though there is a recurring issue of Trishna learning dance (as in, the kind you see in Hindi movies), but which Jay seems to oppose, telling friends – unconvincingly – that even she herself does not wish to dance professionally.  Anurag Kashyap, Kalki Koechlin, Amit Trivedi and even Ganesh Acharya all do a turn as a version of themselves, inhabiting the film world to which Jay’s family money has given him entrée.

Jay’s father (played by Roshan Seth, and who does a brief, delightful turn earlier in the film) has a stroke back home in England and Jay must depart, to spend a considerable time there.  In his final hours with Trishna before he leaves, when certain secrets are revealed, an irreparable tear occurs in the fabric between them.

In Jay’s absence, Trishna faces more challenges, trying to make her way alone in Mumbai, but as always, she finds a way to cope and endure.  When Jay does eventually return, the third act of the film devolves into a strange and horrible reversed repeat of the first act.  Jay is forced to return to the hotel business in Rajasthan, except this time to a more desolate and desperate property, with none of the warmth or atmosphere of the first hotel.  Trishna accompanies Jay, but only after agreeing to the emotional equivalent of a demotion and a pay cut, and what plays out in their final days and weeks together becomes an exercise in how low he can debase Trishna in each subsequent sexual encounter.  To that end, Michael Winterbottom does the unimaginable, and manages to actually film Freida Pinto in such a way as to render her temporarily ugly, which is quite a feat, given who he’s working with.  I thought it interesting too that, while Trishna goes through the entire film with her head bare, upon her return to Rajasthan, in the final scenes we see her for the first time ever covering her head, as if she not only has taken so many steps backward to become again who she was before, Trishna actually bypasses that point, and regresses even further into some identity in a rural, patriarchy that was never hers before.

See it or skip it?

See it, absolutely! It’s a beautifully rendered telling of two people approaching each other from so many opposites – male-female, rich-poor, urban-rural – that you’d have to be an extreme optimist to think they could buck the odds and make a go of it in India.  Aside from the two compelling lead actors, the supporting cast in Rajasthan are all solid and so very natural (many are non-actors).

In the beginning, Winterbottom makes you feel the sensations of a love and desire growing, just as Trishna and Jay experience it, complete with some lyrical, deeply felt music by Amit Trivedi, Shigeru Umebayashi, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, which serves as a beautiful skeleton, if you will, that holds the body of the film together.  It boggles the mind to think that this soundtrack has still – to date – not been released yet.  Supposedly it’s coming next month.  I’ll believe it when it happens.

Mita Vashisht – whom you may remember as Manisha Koirala’s partner-in-terrorism in Dil Se – here is Trisna’s mother and she expresses so much more with her eyes and her body than with her words, just as Freida does.  The filmi scenes in Bombay were alright, though some of Kalki Koechlin’s dialogue felt a little stage-y.

Ultimately, it’s a dark film, all the more sad after the gorgeous promise of the start of Trishna and Jay’s affair, but I appreciated the ending and Trishna’s ultimate act, as a victory of sorts, where she got to exercise her choice, within the circumstances in which she found herself.

Trishna is now in theaters around the US and also available in some areas on demand.

Tyler Perry – desi boy

Friends have often heard me say that I think Tyler Perry’s movies have a lot in common with Hindi flic from the ’80s and ’90s (family-oriented, heavy doses of music, humor and drama) and today, during a live online chat to promote his next release (Madea’s Witness Protection), one had to look no further than what the media mogul was wearing to see why I think he’d be a huge hit with the aunties:

TylerPerrychat%202 Tyler Perry   desi boy

Couldn’t believe my eyes, but there he was, all crisp and cool in a nice plaid shirt.  It would warm a curd rice-loving mother’s heart.

Oliver Hirschbiegel interview, pt. 2

five%20minutes%20header%202 Oliver Hirschbiegel interview, pt. 2

This is the second half of my interview with director Oliver Hirschbiegel.   His film Five Minutes of Heaven, which stars Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt, opens today.

Maria:   You got so many the details of the time and place so right (the Ford Cortina, the Georgie Best poster, etc.).   One image I wanted to ask you about, the man who’s wounded and looks like he’s doing a breaststroke on the cement, where did that come from?

Oliver:   It’s documentary footage and I asked about that.   Nobody could tell me what that incident really was.   It was a shooting documented by this camera crew but nobody knew who that man was.   Nobody could tell me if he was injured and hurt, trying to crawl away from that, or whether he was just in fear that he would get shot if he got up and walked, but I thought it was such an intense image that I had to use it.   And it’s never been used before.   I tried to basically go documentary images that hadn’t been overused over time, and some of them you know of course, but there are quite a bit that hadn’t been used before.

Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of footage on “the Troubles” and Five Minutes really was fresh in that way, it wasn’t the same old, you know, the priest waving the white hankie in Derry.   When did you actually start this project and begin filming?

We started shooting”¦.oh, it was in such an incredible short time.   I went for the first time in my life ever to Belfast in middle of March I think, which is when Liam was not on board yet and I started shooting middle of May.   So we’re really talking about a couple of weeks.

And that was last year?

Yes that’s right, 2008.   It all came together in no time really, which is how it should be all the time.   (laughs)

To read about your own situation, how another project had gotten delayed and you suddenly had this window, and the same with Liam Neeson, it seems the project just dropped into both your laps and you made something so striking and powerful in so short a time.   With such a tight shooting schedule, was there anything particularly challenging because of the time pressures?   [Read more...]

Oliver Hirschbiegel interview, pt. 1

Nesbitt%20Hirschbiegel%20Neeson%202 Oliver Hirschbiegel interview, pt. 1

James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson flanking their Five Minutes of Heaven director Oliver Hirschbiegel

This Friday an amazing film – Five Minutes of Heaven – opens in NYC and the UK, and I can’t urge you enough to check it out (I’ve already seen it twice in as many weeks last month).   You can watch the trailer here.   Each subsequent Friday after August 21st it will open in additional cities around the US.   The movie has also been made available through IFC On Demand as of yesterday, August 19, depending on where you’re located and who your provider is (you can find out more details on the movie website).   I’ll be posting a review tonight, but in the meanwhile, here is the first half of an interview I did with director Oliver Hirschbiegel when he was in New York about 10 days ago.

Maria:   Have Alistair Little and Joe Griffen seen the film and if so, what was their reaction to it?

Oliver:   Yes, of course, I spoke to them.   You see, I never met them until I’d finished the film, but we were in touch of course because I had questions regarding both characters and I would send couriers over or guy the writer, so in a way there was a connection already but of course I had to show the film to them, I needed their approval.   We showed it to them separately to them obviously and they both approved.   And they were both very impressed, emotionally shaken, really, they recognized themselves and even though Alistair said “˜I don’t consider myself a broken man’ he could absolutely relate to seeing that in the film.

If I understand correctly, James Nesbitt got the script first and then showed it to Liam Neeson.   I’m just wondering whose idea it was to cast Mr. Nesbitt and was he always destined for the Joe Griffen role?

Well it wasn’t really me casting Liam because I had met with “¦.what I meant about the script is, Jimmy was already attached, he wanted to do it, so they set up a meeting for Jimmy and me.   We sat together and talked, it was obvious we wanted to work together.

Two weeks later Liam responded to a letter that Guy [Hibbert, author of the screenplay] had sent him together with the script, and then Liam got back to us and said he wanted to talk about it and Liam and I met and it was the same situation, we just got along well, we had the same understanding about the thing, we saw the necessity to do this and before I knew it, it was complete.   But it was not like me sitting there “˜Who could do this?   Ahhh, I’d love Liam Neeson for this!’   It just kind of all happened at once.

And on such a tight schedule.   How would you describe both Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt’s working styles?   How are they similar or different?

Well, Liam is such an experienced actor.   I think that was his 67th film or something like that, and you can tell that he has a tremendous experience.   It was so much fun to see even a guy like Liam Neeson relies on a director, he needs a director (laughs).   That was so good.   It doesn’t mean that I did a lot, but I had to be there. We collaborated, and it was just as you say it, we “clicked.”

It was like with Bruno.   Bruno came to do that part [of Hitler in Der Untergang/Downfall, Hirschbiegel's famously controversial 2004 film about the last 12 days in Hitler's bunker], and Liam was prepared to do his part.   I was watching a true professional.

On the other side you had Jimmy Nesbitt, who’s a very well known actor in England, and he is funny because he’s such a good actor but he was constantly doubting himself, like ‘This is Liam Neeson, Jesus Christ!   Who am I?’

So I kind of had to be more of a coach there and say: “˜What are you worried about?   This is fucking great what you’re doing here!   Why would you worry’

“˜Really?   You’re just telling me that because you want me to feel happy!’

So it was really interesting to see two great actors and one of them is constantly doubting himself.

It’s interesting to see Liam in this role as a member of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), given his own experience growing up in a Catholic family in Ballymena, and Jimmy Nesbitt too, who grew up in a Protestant family in the same town, did you discuss that much, if at all?

The thing is, and to the day, these people live next to each other, they are neighbors.   You have certain rows of houses and streets set up Catholic, and then right next door you’ll have streets that are Protestant.   Of course they met at school, they grew up together.

Even though Liam grew up as a Catholic, he knew their world.   And it’s not as though they did not talk with each other then.   He didn’t really need a lot of preparation for that, he pretty much knew what he had to do, and the same with Jimmy.   They basically were born, I think, three miles away from each other.   They knew each other’s grandmothers.

Was there anything remarkable or different about filming in Northern Ireland?

Well, I can tell you one thing:   I loved it!   I can’t tell you why really, because I’ve been in any corner of Europe and I usually like it in places anyway because I’m a curious guy and I talk to people, but there is something special about Northern Ireland.

I don’t quite know what it is, there was an immediate connection.   I felt at home there.   They took me in like a brother and I think that was part of the whole thing having such an easy time really.   There were no major obstacles.   Everybody supported us, everybody knew what we were doing.

For me there was no question that it had to be shot in Northern Ireland of course.   There was no trouble at all.

Did you have much of an awareness of the history there or did you want to do much reading about it before the film?   Or did you not want to go too in depth yourself?

No, I believe in massive research.   I mean, time was limited, but then again, we in Europe grew up with this for decades.   It was on the news every day when I was young so I kind of knew quite a bit.

Then I dived into it and tried to get as many photographs, documentary footage, and then of course I asked people general questions, and specific questions about the guns, about the food they had then, the music they were listening to, how it looked then and I showed them photographs ‘How realistic is this?’ stuff like that and I think that’s one of my secrets, I do a lot of research.   And going by that I even reconstruct certain images sometimes.   Like a certain street with certain elements ‘I want that kind of car there, I want that lamppost, I want that mural there or that graffiti’ things like that, and I think that contributes to the feel of authenticity and realness.

End of part 1

Five Minutes of Heaven opens in theaters this Friday, August 21st.