The Hurt Locker
When Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for best director and her film The Hurt Locker bagged best film, some naysayers, mostly radically Left-wing sharpshooters, booed the Academy—it is blatantly pro-America; it is insensitive to the suffering of ordinary Iraqis; it takes no political stand on the war, they said. That it won over James Cameron’s Avatar was another cause for displeasure.
The film, which released in Indian theatres on Friday, doesn’t make any big political comment. In an age of stylized fantasy violence, here’s a film that chooses the narrow, garbage-filled streets and arid deserts of Iraq to show small but brutal man-to-man combat. Bigelow’s three leading men are part of a US bomb squad in Iraq. Like an astronaut, Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) walks on dusty streets and fiddles with wires connecting crude but deadly explosives, hidden under garbage dumps and sand dunes, in order to prevent explosions. While his two comrades, Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) and the seasoned, cynical Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), cover for him.
Up close and personal: Kathryn Bigelow explores the lives of three bomb squad members in The Hurt Locker.
It is a boiler room of a movie, an edge-of-the-seat thriller that you should not miss.
Most films about the Iraq war, and even those about modern-day terrorism, are laden with messages about retribution, the nature of patriotism and how morally repugnant these ideas can be in practice—all of it wrapped in stylized, large-scale violence.
In The Hurt Locker, the message is implicit. Bigelow’s focused concern is with the three guys who face danger on a daily basis—which tests their endurance and emotions scathingly. Bigelow doesn’t dilute her script—thoroughly researched and intensely filmed—with overt messages. Right from the first scene, Bigelow yanks us into the sandy ground of Iraq along with a landing military aeroplane—and you know it’s not going to be pretty.
Some of the best war films in the world are one-sided. The Hurt Locker, which has been shot in Jordan, doesn’t take sides; it simply proves that a gripping, human movie is possible even when set around a US army bomb squad. The specialized and focused nature of the film makes it so powerful.
Sergeant James is the kind of guy who is recklessly brave—he throws around bomb devices as if they were empty cigarette packets. He is addicted to danger, but Bigelow shows us that he is emotionally pent-up and stilted (the only way the three men know how to hang out after working long hours in blistering heat is by furiously punching each other). After defusing a particularly complicated maze of wires without any protection inside a car, James says, “That was good.” His chief lauds him as “a wild man”. Eldridge and Sanborn admire as well as detest him.
The Hurt Locker is a blunt and powerful thriller about courage and war, which proves that realism can be as thrilling as fantasy.
The Japanese Wife
The lasting concern in all of Aparna Sen’s movies has been the swell and flux of human relationships. The milieu, landscape or canvas is secondary for her, except to some extent in Mr and Mrs Iyer. The soul of her new film The Japanese Wife, based on Kunal Basu’s novel of the same name, is a relationship between Snehamoy (Rahul Bose) and Miyage (Chigusa Takaku) which unfolds across two countries—rural West Bengal, by the Sunderbans, and a Japanese town.
The two begin as pen friends and eventually become husband and wife. Snehamoy, an arithmetic teacher in the local primary school, lives with his aunt (Moushumi Chatterjee). The aunt’s god-daughter, a widow (Raima Sen), and her son come to live with them. The epistolary relationship develops over 15 years until misfortune alters it forever.
Visually poetic: Chigusa Takaku in Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife.
The Japanese Wife is a slow, haunting film. In the first half, the narrative almost crawls, through dialogues delivered in laboured English pronounced in improvised Bengali and Japanese twangs. But Sen is in no hurry. She dwells on the beauty of her moments, be it between the shrill, but progressive and extremely lovable, old lady of the house and the nephew she dotes on, or the unspoken tug between the shy, young widow and Snehamoy, full of possibilities but clipped by an unreal truth—that of the Japanese wife who exists only in sweet love letters.
It is a visually enticing film—the most visually rich among all of Sen’s films. The cinematography by Anoy Goswami captures the mysterious beauty of the wet green landscape of the Sunderbans assiduously, in minute detail—trees rooted to deep underwater, crumbling boats rocking dangerously in the tide, damp breeze fluttering the sleeves of Snehamoy’s cotton shirt, and the savage rain of the Sunderbans.
Bose has played his best roles with Sen. But even so, his performance in this film can’t be compared to that of great actors. Although he seems earnest as the naive, intense lover of a woman he has never seen or touched, in most parts his effort shows. Takaku’s performance is not convincing enough either. Sen and Chatterjee are much more at ease with their roles.
There are parts where the film’s pace lags; some scenes, such as one of a kite-flying contest, are unduly stretched. But towards the end, The Japanese Wife picks up an emotional pitch that is quiet and beautiful. You’re not likely to forget this seemingly implausible love story.
The Hurt Locker and The Japanese Wife released in theatres on Friday.