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Directed by Deepa Mehta.
Written by Deepa Mehta.
Starring Sarala, Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas and John Abraham.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  7/6/06


Let me make sure I get this straight--as recently as the late 1930s in India, women that were engaged or married to men that passed on into the afterlife were typically sent to homes not unlike whorehouses to live out their lives with other widows, based on societal rules written 2,000 years earlier?

If I'm to believe the new movie "Water"--and, based on everything I've read and heard about this film, I don't see any reason not to--being an Indian widow just fell below Toll Booth Operator as the worst thing to be employed as anywhere in the world.  No joke, you end up shaking your head a LOT during this film, which follows an 8-year-old girl named Chuyia (Sarala, young for a one-namer, eh?); when we meet her, her new husband is being shipped off to the grave and Dad is telling Chuyia the bad news: yep, that was your husband; nope, we didn't tell you you were married until right now; nope, after tomorrow morning, we're never going to see you again.  Chuyia is dropped at a local widow's home, run by an evil fat bitter widow named Madhumati (Manorma), and for all intents & purposes, Chuyia will live out her life in this existence, scorned by all of the locals--as if it is her fault her freakin' husband passed away!--and judged by law to never be able to marry again.  The little girl is befriended by a middle-aged woman named Shakuntala (Seema Biswas) and gets tight with a beautiful, reserved woman named Kalyani (Lisa Ray), who eventually meets and falls for a Gandhi follower named Narayan (John Abraham).  Throughout all of this, though, is the main theme that widowhood as an oppressed state is a shocking contrast to how most people imagine teenage women could live out their days.

I'll admit, subtitles and some slow parts bring this down a bit for me, but overall, "Water" is a great movie because it's a strange-but-true retelling of how many women--then and apparently, even now--that lose their arranged spouses have to go on living.  And, apparently, some of those women are content to actually whoring themselves out as a way to make a living because society already looks down upon them as a social caste.  A couple of sequences, featuring the widow home's pimp (Raghuvir Yadav, dressed like an Indian dandy with a few other tricks up his sleeve), are fairly harrowing, including one featuring the little girl and a guy smoking a cigarette that made everyone in my theater do the "uncomfortable shifting in seat" move as it was going on.  Mehta keeps the material adult-accessible without making it dirty; she also gets a great performance out of Sarala, who simply does not suck as the little girl thrust into an all-new world against her will.  I have not seen the other two films in what is apparently an elemental trilogy ("Fire" and "Earth" came out in the late 90s), but I do know that Mehta's other work has been very well-received here in the US, rare for a director who comes from a country whose work typically falls into "Bollywood" territory.

The film has a number of quiet, beautiful moments; the scenery is plain, but its tranquility allows you to relax right alongside the characters in each scene.  Our eventual meeting with Gandhi didn't come off right for me, but the ending is still solid thanks to the emotions of the moment for our protagonist.  Overall, good stuff.  This one has been out for a while, so if you don't hurry, add it to the Queue (the Netflix Queue, that is).

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09