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