Film Re­views David Strat­ton and Stephen Romei on the lat­est cin­ema re­leases

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

David Strat­ton Viceroy’s House (PG) Na­tional re­lease Af­ter the Storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku) (PG) Lim­ited re­lease The Osiris Child: Sci­ence Fic­tion Vol­ume 1 (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease

The mo­men­tous events of 1946-47 that in­volved the par­ti­tion of In­dia and the de­par­ture of the Bri­tish from the sub­con­ti­nent are the fo­cus of a beau­ti­ful new film by Gurinder Chadha, who is best known for Bend It Like Beck­ham (2002). Th­ese events have been ex­plored be­fore in film ( Bhowani Junc­tion, 1956) and tele­vi­sion ( The Jewel in the Crown, 1984), but Chadha is par­tic­u­larly well-suited to tell this story be­cause, as the epi­logue of Viceroy’s House re­veals, her grand­mother was one of those forced to leave her home and make the long jour­ney to In­dia from the new coun­try called Pak­istan.

Of course, a film run­ning less than two hours faces a chal­lenge when it at­tempts to tell such a mo­men­tous story, but Chadha, who wrote the screen­play in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Paul Mayeda Berges and Moira Buffini, based on two books, Free­dom at Mid­night by Larry Collins and Do­minique Lapierre and The Shadow of the Great Game: The Un­told Story of Par­ti­tion by Naren­dra Singh Sar­ila, makes a pretty good stab at it. She con­cen­trates mainly on the ef­forts of In­dia’s last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mount­bat­ten (Hugh Bon­neville), un­cle of Prince Philip, to find com­mon ground be­tween the op­pos­ing in­ter­ests of Jawa­har­lal Nehru (Tan­veer Ghani), leader of the Congress party, and Mo­hammed Ali Jin­nah (Den­zil Smith), the Mus­lim leader, who de­manded the es­tab­lish­ment of Pak­istan as an in­de­pen­dent state for the sub­con­ti­nent’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. There was also the pres­ence of the for­mi­da­ble Ma­hatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) to take into ac­count.

While his ad­vis­ers, in­clud­ing Lord Is­may (Michael Gam­bon), take a hard line against the Mus­lims, Mount­bat­ten is able to see the po­ten­tially dis­as­trous con­se­quences of the Bri­tish with­drawal be­fore the mat­ter is prop­erly set­tled. To­gether with his wife, Edwina (Gil­lian An­der­son), he does his best to be­friend and un­der­stand th­ese pro­foundly op­posed views and to me­di­ate be­tween them.

All this de­tail makes this Bri­tish-In­dian co­pro­duc­tion fas­ci­nat­ing on many lev­els, and the de­ci­sion to stage al­most all the ac­tion in and around the Viceroy’s House was an apt one.

Chadha is on less firm ground, how­ever, with her sub­plot, a rather con­trived Romeo-and-Juliet af­fair be­tween Jeet (Man­ish Dayal), Mount­bat­ten’s Hindu valet, and Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a Mus­lim who is also em­ployed in the viceroy’s palace. The pair had known each other as chil­dren, but now she is be­trothed to a Mus­lim man and it seems im­pos­si­ble they can have a fu­ture to­gether. Th­ese scenes are trite com­pared with those that fea­ture the far more in­ter­est­ing po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions, which in­volve the draw­ing up of an ac­cept­able bor­der be­tween In­dia and its new neigh­bour and the de­ci­sion to bring for­ward the Bri­tish ex­o­dus by sev­eral months.

For­tu­nately the film as a whole sus­tains in­ter­est be­cause the ma­te­rial is so com­pelling, the set­tings so rich and the ac­tors so as­sured. Bon­neville and An­der­son are par­tic­u­larly good as the Mount­bat­tens, who are so very up­per crust yet ea­ger to over­see a sat­is­fac­tory so­lu­tion to the ques­tion of par­ti­tion. And it’s great to see that fine In­dian ac­tor, the late Om Puri, play­ing Aalia’s fa­ther with such dis­tinc­tion. Ja­panese di­rec­tor Hirokazu Kore-eda makes films about fam­ily life that are specif­i­cally Ja­panese but also have a uni­ver­sal­ity about them. His lat­est, a favourite on the film fes­ti­val cir­cuit last year, is Af­ter the Storm, a por­trait of a fool­ish man who ap­pears to be a fail­ure both pro­fes­sion­ally and in his per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

At one time, some 15 years ear­lier, Ry­ota (Hiroshi Abe) seemed to have it all. He’d writ­ten a suc­cess­ful novel, he had a lovely wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), and son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). But he’d be­come a gam­bling ad­dict and lost ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing Kyoko, who left him. Now he works for a de­tec­tive agency and claims to be re­search­ing a new book — but he and his busi­ness part­ner black­mail their clients, he fails to pay child sup­port, and he con­stantly bor­rows (steals would be a bet­ter word) from his el­derly wid­owed mother, Yoshiko (Kirin Kiki).

The early scenes es­tab­lish this way­ward char­ac­ter through sev­eral of his fail­ures but we re­ally get to know him when he spends his al­lot­ted one day a month with Shingo, whom he adores.

He buys the boy a pair of run­ning shoes — de­lib­er­ately dam­ag­ing them in the shop to get a dis­count — and con­spires with his mother to have Kyoko stay overnight when a me­nac­ing storm ap­proaches, hop­ing for a rap­proche­ment even though he knows there’s a new man in her life.

Ry­ota is a loser, no doubt about that — but he’s also a charm­ing man, and ba­si­cally de­cent, so we feel sorry not only for him, be­cause he’s wast­ing his life, but for his fam­ily, who love him and yet de­spair of him. Kore-eda’s very fine film is al­most painfully hon­est in its even-handed de­pic­tion of this char­ac­ter, and never seeks to con­demn him. I’m not sure why new Aus­tralian sci-fi thriller The Osiris Child has the rather pompous ad­di­tional ti­tle, Sci­ence Fic­tion Vol­ume 1; pre­sum­ably it’s been de­signed as the first of a se­ries. What­ever the rea­son, writer-di­rec­tor Shane Abbess, who pre­vi­ously made Gabriel (2007) and In­fini (2014), is cer­tainly re­source­ful in get­ting the max­i­mum im­pact out of what was pre­sum­ably a lim­ited bud­get by in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

Kane (Daniel MacPher­son), who is based on a space sta­tion hov­er­ing above Earth, learns that a vi­o­lent riot in a prison down be­low has sparked bru­tal re­crim­i­na­tions. He fears for the safety of his daugh­ter, Indi (Tea­gan Croft), and hur­ries back to Earth, where he lands near a lake and encounters Sy (Kel­lan Lutz), an ex-con who es­caped jail dur­ing the riot. Af­ter some hes­i­ta­tions, the two bond and set out to lo­cate Indi.

I hope I’ve de­scribed the above de­tails cor­rectly, be­cause the film it­self isn’t al­ways co­her­ent. Nu­mer­ous flash­backs, not nec­es­sar­ily in chrono­log­i­cal or­der, muddy the wa­ters. But in the end it all boils down to the good guys be­ing con­fronted by some nasty, though not en­tirely con­vinc­ing, crea­tures. On the side­lines are Rachel Grif­fiths, play­ing the gen­eral who or­ders the as­sault on the prison, and New Zealand ac­tor Te­muera Mor­ri­son, who is very ef­fec­tive as the prison gov­er­nor.

The film was shot in a va­ri­ety of lo­ca­tions from Coober Pedy to Pen­rith in subur­ban Syd­ney, and on its cho­sen level it cre­ates much out of lit­tle. Out­stand­ing among the cast is young Croft, who is ex­tremely con­vinc­ing as the epony­mous hero­ine.

Gil­lian An­der­son and Hugh Bon­neville in Viceroy’s House, left; Kel­lan Lutz and Daniel MacPher­son in The Osiris Child, bot­tom

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