Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tribeca VIII: The empire formerly known as British

The British Empire isn't exactly dead, but has been transformed into something else, there are lots of films that take place in the days of empire or afterwards, since Blighty, except for parts of Glascow and London, and it's former colonies are exotic as exotic can be. Here are two of them...

Return to Rajapur (U.S.A.) – World Premiere.

Written and Directed
by Nanda Anand

Adultery is a staple of romance novels. Writers and filmmakers love when marriages fall apart, especially when there’s death and destruction about. Destroy the marriage and then kill off the cuckolded husband, just so “true” love can triumph between the heroine and hero. It’s been done a zillion times.

Exotic locations are also de rigeur in this sort of film, so with auteur Nanda Anand being of Hindu decent, India would do just fine. You can’t get more exotic than that.

We start in the present day, where Samantha Hartley(Kelli Garner) is traveling to the 1100-year-old town of Jaisalmer, on the edge of the Thai desert somewhere near the Pakistani border. She’s on a mission, and that is to solve a mystery, what happened to her father before she was born. Or is it her father?

She wants to stay in the former Maharaja’s palace, but that shouldn’t have been possible, as Amar (Bhanu Goswami), the driver [and defrocked prince] notes, it hadn’t been used as a hotel in years. But, they’re trying to get a grant to defray the costs of renovation, and are expecting an American student to help write the grant proposal. So Sam decides to pretend to be the student. Implausibility number one, but it gets her inside the building.

Flash back to 1982 and the B story. Jeremy(Justin Theroux) and Sara Reardon(Lynn Collins), who are obviously Sam’s parents are on their honeymoon, and are going to spend some time at the palace while Jeremy does commuting to the big city of Jaipour for business.

The son of the former Maharaja is they young and sexy Jai Singh (Manoj Bajpai), who starts taking a liking to Sarah, while Jeremy is revealed to be a bit of an ass. Paint-by-numbers romance if there ever was one. All the clich├ęs are there in their glory, including the dying-in-childbirth offstage. Medicine was advanced enough back in 1982 so rich people would have that problem…jeez!

The writing, happily, isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, and the acting is quite good. If you’re into “harlequin romances” you’ll definitely like this. But it’s generally a fan-only type thing.

Wah-Wah (U.K.)

Written and Directed
by Richard E. Grant

What does the title of this film mean? It’s a jokey reference to the upper-crust British colonialist slang that was used back in the late early 1970s when this thing takes place. They may as well called this film “Yackity-yack.”

The terrible title aside, this isn’t all that bad a film. This is an exercise in autobiography, and filmmaker Richard E. Grant grew up in a culture long gone, that of the British Empire.

Grant’s pseudonym for himself is Ralph Compton, and we first meet him at age 12 where he’s played by Zachary Fox, just as his parents(Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson) marriage is falling apart. Mom’s been boinking a local diplomat and has decided to shack up with him. Ralph and his dad Harry are both devastated, and soon our hero has himself shipped off to a boarding school somewhere, where he’s transformed into Nicholas Hoult during the middle of a cricket match. It’s always interesting how they try to do that sort of thing and this is one of the better transitions.

On his return, Ralph discovers that his dad is not only a roaring drunk, but is now divorced and married to an American named
Ruby(Emily Watson), who turns out to be an extremely lovable extrovert. Mom comes back, and Swaziland, which is the colony where this all takes place, is going to get its independence and as the empire crumbles, the colonials play a waiting game, getting ready an amateur theatrical performance for Princess Margaret and sleeping around. Decadence as metaphor for decadence, how original.

The acting is really good, as Grant has lots of friends in the business and was able to get a delightful supporting cast. While there is tragedy here, everyone ends up living happily ever after. It’s cute, not great, but cute.

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