Where to Aim, When to Shoot

Film as a weapon in a time of war: Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival coverage.

Through the interactions among the characters, Margalit shows that the sacrifice of love is always informed by difficult decisions--decisions that are often tied to the question of whether one is willing to give up the past for the future. The movie also discloses that even the sacrifice of love is frequently tied to death.

There is something youthful and refreshing about All I've Got. However, it isn't fully developed. It touches on the complexity of an existential problem, but it ultimately deals with that problem in a superficial way: Margalit attempts to address a universal issue without dirtying it through the particular events that make up everyday life in Israel. And universal discussions that lack context cannot uncover the deeper issues confronting human existence. In other words, Margalit's film is Israeli only insofar as the actors speak Hebrew and, on occasion, act out distinctively Israeli traits. It erases both the beautiful and horrific factors that comprise the Israeli scene, thus eliding the uniqueness of the Israeli experience.

This is ironic since Margalit appears aware, at least to some extent, of William Faulkner's important insight that "the past is never dead; it is not even past." The movie shows how the past haunts us, yet it does so without delving into the past. But then perhaps All I've Got reveals something much deeper about Israeli society, since, like the movie's director, Israeli society is both aware that the past is haunting it and unwilling to confront the details and repercussions of that past.

Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, and is a contributor toThe Other Israel: Voices of Refusal and Dissent.

 

Planet Bollywood

Indian popular cinema goes global

By Anupama Chopra

Deauville is an improbable place to find fans of the Indian popular cinema affectionately known as "Bollywood." A popular resort town on the coast of Normandy, Deauville boasts miles of virgin coastline and tourists with names such as Al Pacino and Brad Pitt. Nevertheless, on March 14 at the Deauville Asian Film Festival, Mayor Philippe Augier made the unexpected move of conferring honorary citizenship on Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

Bachchan, who has been an A-list lead for more than three decades, admitted that he had never heard of the town before he received the festival's invitation. The mayor mispronounced his name, calling him "Batchan." But as a sizeable audience turned up to watch a four-film retrospective of the actor's work, the 60-year-old Bachchan seemed pleased. "I see this as a victory," he said. "Commercial mainstream fare [from India] has a definite place in the world."

Indeed it does. In the past two years, Cannes, Berlin, and the Academy Awards have all paid tribute to at least one three-hour Hindi film spectacle in which, regardless of the particular genre and style, the characters fall in love and break into song. What was once dismissed as the escapist opiate of the unwashed Indian masses is now being celebrated as a unique form of storytelling--one that has successfully withstood the onslaught of Hollywood. Bollywood's overstated, melodramatic, gaudy style, which has its roots in Indian theater, is no longer infra dig. The Hindi film industry, which releases 200 or so films per year, is finally exploding on the world stage. Cultural imperialism is no longer an American prerogative.

As proof of this, London's West End Theatre recently rocked with the sounds of ace Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-produced musical Bombay Dreams. Nicole Kidman shimmied to the Hindi song "chamma chamma" in Moulin Rouge, and the film's director Baz Luhrmann has waxed eloquent on his love of Bollywood. Last year the London department store Selfridges ran a month-long Bollywood festival even as Lagaan (Land Tax), a rural period epic from Bollywood, won an Oscar nomination. Meanwhile, Devdas, a gorgeous period tragedy about a lovelorn alcoholic, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and subsequently collected £470,000 in the U.K. during its opening weekend--despite stiff competition from the likes of Spielberg's Minority Report. (The film also made it onto Time's list of the ten best films of the year.) Earlier in 2003, even the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival succumbed to the seductions of Bollywood and screened Company, a gritty saga about the Mumbai Mafia. The film's leading man Vivek Oberoi was astonished at the reception the film received. "It was awesome," he said. "They love Bollywood and they want to see more."

Or do they? Despite the hype and the glory, Bollywood has yet to produce a genuine crossover film. Mumbai film directors dream of making their own Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but they also realize that Bollywood's unique form is its own limitation. "It's specialty cinema," says actor-director Rahul Bose. "The Bollywood construct as it stands hasn't changed, and it's much too alien for Western tastes." London-based author Nasreen Munni Kabir agrees. "The films are much too long for white audiences," she says. "The stories are too moral and perhaps too overstated. The numbers--a big film can be watched by a billion people--are awesome and fascinating, but the West's interest isn't really directed at the movies or stars." Perhaps a mainstream Hindi movie cannot yet enjoy wide appeal in the West. But the hybrids--movies that marry Eastern and Western sensibilities--are already making inroads.

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