Born Into Brothels; The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill;
Vera Drake; The Merchant of Venice
Review Date: 2.22.05
What other movie lovers think about this time of the year, I do not know. But the several weeks leading up to and the several weeks following the Academy Awards are usually the nadir of the year for me, movie wise. During these weeks theatre marquees seem to be frozen in time. Interesting films are held back. The bloated spectacle the Academy has become hopes we’re transfixed in breathless anticipation. But the Academy so rarely rewards the films I find most worthy that I long ago lost interest in it.
So I’ve been surprised in the past week to discover not just one or two new releases well worth seeing, but at least four. In these few minutes I can’t really review them, but I’ll say enough about each to pique your interest, I hope.
There are two exceptional documentaries I highly recommend.
Those whose work benefits the least powerful among us are the real heroes of our time, in my book. And in our time, the least powerful are children and animals, just about all animals.
“Born Into Brothels” tells the story of a handful of children who are literally born into the brothels of Calcutta. Their mothers are prostitutes, and in some cases, also their aunts and grandmothers. Zana Briski, a still photographer, serendipitously discovered these children while on another project. She immediately set about empowering the children by buying a camera for each of them and carefully nurturing their narrative skills through the use of images. From the moment the director’s camera begins to tell their stories, these children have a lock on our hearts. This film breathes life into the cliché about one picture being worth a thousand words. As a writer, I’ve been suspicious about that, but this film may convince even me. One of the children is so bountifully gifted that the very real possibility he will melt back into the cesspool of the brothels feels like a crime against all humanity. He has the eyes and hands of a multitalented artist, the tongue of a poet, and the heart of a saint with a sense of humor. You must see this film. You must.
“The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill” is a documentary about a flock of wild parrots and a man who loves them, collectively and individually. So thoroughly and deeply does he care about their welfare that, like a latter day Adam, he gives each of them names, and when they require it, he provides health care, to the best of his self schooled ability. This film is as much about the parrot lover as it is about the parrots. I watched it in the company of hardened film critics. I found myself crying and detected similar sounds coming from all corners of the theatre. And this is a film in which you’ll love even the villains. Take the kids.
If you missed “Vera Drake” the first time through, be sure to catch it now. It’s back for a week, but the subject matter and its lack of pizzazz will doom this excellent film. But it is a superlative piece of cinema - great acting, camera work, direction, and set design, and so beyond the typical there ought to be a heightened, enlightened category for movies this good. But don’t hesitate. It’s in town only for a week, unless Mike Leigh wins Best Director, or Imelda Staunton wins Best Actress.
Also well worth your time is the latest filmed version of “The Merchant Of Venice”. If I tell you I’ve gone out of my way in the past to avoid Shakespeare, I know it’s a shameful admission, but even I loved this film. Pacino is great as Shylock. Jeremy Irons is his usual excellent self as Antonio, and Lynn Collins is a mesmerizing Portia. I wonder if I now know the provenance of the name of one of my favorite poets: Antonio Porchia.