You will not hear me say this often when it comes to a review of a movie but I do not believe I can do Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire justice in a review. I could star listing of hyperbole after hyperbole and I would not be exaggerating one bit on how I feel about this movie. This is the movie that has made TIFF worthwhile by itself for me and I can’t recommend it strong enough.
The movie starts with Jamal, played by Dev Patel being tortured by a Irfan Khan, the police inspector. He wants to know how someone from the slums could be able to answer so many questions correctly on India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. After Jamal is unwilling to admit to cheating during the torture they put him in front of a TV and one by one they go through the questions with him explaining how he knew the answers. Using this premise Danny Boyle is able to provide the audience with one of the most truthful, heartfelt stories that is so much more than the simple romance which it could have been.
One by one Jamal explains how he grew up with his brother Salim in the slums and how they became orphans and how they were taken in by gangsters who had the worst of intentions when it came to the young boys. We see time and time again Latika played by Freida Pinto come and go from Jamal’s life. All of his life in the slums of India have lead him to this point has lead him to where he is today. And each flashback gives beautifully told glimpses into the life of the poor in India as well as being a wonderful story.
I have yet to see Millions but I had heard before going in that Danny Boyle had a knack for getting the best out of child actors and I now fully believe it. Question by question we see Jamil, Salim and Latika age in front of us. We see them during their times of happiness and during the moments in their lives when everything has been turned upside down on them. Never once did I question the emotions and the acting of any of these children. Each and everyone of them were near perfect in their roles. Never once did question the love Jamil had for Latika nor how Salim could end up on a dark path.
It has been a while since a movie has touched me like Slumdog Millionaire did and from the reaction of the audience I am not alone. The applause for it was thunderous and I have never seen an audience clap along with the music in the closing credits. Danny Boyle has truly succeeded in creating a pitch perfect wonderful optimistic yet truthful movie that I am going to watch over and over again for a great many years.
For lovers of both the whimsical free form and bittersweet intimate films of Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Tortoro and Grave of the Fireflies for instance), there will be a lot to love in So Yong Kim’s semi-autobiographical childhood film Treeless Mountain. It makes a finely articulated plea for the rejuvenating aspects of simple living over urban malaise; but more importantly, it is a showcase for the fragile dignity of children.
The film opens with bright young girl, Bin, who is about 6 years old. She excels in her studies, cleans up against her friends playing Pogs in the schoolyard, and picks up her younger sister, Jin, from the babysitter on the way home. Yet her mom has some serious financial and marital problems (hubby is gone, and probably beat her on the way out there door). It has come to the point where she resents her children for simply being a burden. An eviction from their soulless tenement building seals the deal and the two young girls are sent across town (an even poorer neighborhood) to live with their absentee fathers’ older sister until mom can patch up her affairs. Dubbed Big Auntie, perhaps not for her size, but rather her gargantuan drinking habit, the new ‘caregiver’ is more interested in buying sujo than feeding her charges. Their mom has given the girls a piggy bank with the promise that if they are good, Auntie will give them coins, when the little plastic bank is full, mom will return. Anyone familiar with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows (a film this one will inevitably be compared to, however in tone and intent is quite different) has a good sense of picking up the probability of this coming to fruition by simply watching how mom boards the bus out of town, unawares of her own children’s goodbye calls. The girls discover and explore the sounding shanty town where Big Auntie lives, make a few friends, stack a lot of soju bottles in the back yard, and learn how to grill and eat grasshoppers (on a stick) when it becomes obvious that Big Auntie isn’t going to feed them or give them coins.
Shot in extreme close-up to emphasize the perspective (or lack thereof) of the young girls, the film is very slow moving in its story telling. The director eschews any musical soundtrack whatsoever to emphasize the quiet desperation of the adults and to emphasize the feeling of ‘unwanted’ that the two girls experience. Yet they make due in the manner of having one of those endless summers. Yet the film is quite optimistic (in that magical realist way) that children have the capacity for bottomless love simply from not knowing any better. As child perspective stories go, things are far more in the territory of Jim Sheridan’s wistfully melancholic In America (echoed with the Cinderella dress-up costume that Jin wears, even as it gets more tattered along the films trajectory) than Terry Gilliam’s vile Tideland. When the children are offloaded (again) onto their grandparents farm, there is a sense that they have both grown up a fair bit, but also are allowed (despite given a harvesting workload) to be children again. Treeless Mountain flirts with falling into the trap of presenting the children (both child actors are note perfect) precocious or sappy, but never does. It simply observes without judging or forcing a reaction. If Terrence Malick were to ever make a film about children, it might look a little like this.
There is some subtle subtext on the encroachment of urbanization and the ills that come along (note the films title even), but mainly it is a tale of the growth and rhythms of the human spirit. When parents and their children have watched My Neighbor Tortoro for the hundredth time, this Korean-American co-production may be the obvious next step.