Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Talented Ms. Ehle

First, thank you to Ann for drawing our attention to this aww-inspiring picture of three Theatre World Award winners!

Next, visit MSN Movies to see a short clip from Before the Rains (labeled "I need your help").

The critics are still chatting about Before the Rains - prepare yourself for another wave of reviews, starting with the "yays."
  • Pop Syndicate calls the film "poignant and stirring," and says it has been "directed with great sensitivity." Furthermore:
    [...] Merchant Ivory has always delivered to their fans films that possess great beauty and intelligence coupled with smart casting. Before the Rains is no exception with the addition of an exotic locale, southern India. [...]
    Their final advice: "For those of you who like [your] history stirred with romance and stunning vistas, Before the Rains should be placed high on your go-to list."
  • World Sikh News explains:
    [...] [Before the Rains] unfolds along expected lines — the classic Merchant Ivory costume movie from which we expect exotic scene-setting and just as exotic love affairs, only to wind up in much deeper waters. Touching and thought- provoking, “Before the Rains” doesn’t set out to change our conception of how conscience came to grief as British imperial glory died, but it achieves even more. It makes us reflect on how we ourselves will feel when the dispossessed of the world rise to ask us for dignity, freedom, and love without past taints of condescension and guilt.
  • Pegasus News describes it as "a beautiful, sad, thoughtful film about the waning days of British colonialism in India." Regarding a certain character:
    [...] When wife Laura (Jennifer Ehle) and son Peter (Leopold Benedict) return to the plantation, Sajani has an increasingly difficult time playing second romantic fiddle. For his part, Henry experiences a sudden difficulty in expressing his physical affections to his lovely wife, going so far as to intentionally overturn a vase from the bedside table when Laura attempts to saddle up. D'oh! [...]
    An interesting observation re the four elements (ie the landscape):
    [...] Whether director Sivan intended to or not, he's woven into the story a quadrant of elemental themes: water cleanses, fire transports, air presages change (in the form of monsoon rains) and earth abides, while the road laboriously scraped from the hillside reverts slowly to its native state.
  • Gapers Block heartily enjoyed the film:
    [...] As you can probably surmise, Before the Rains is loaded with juicy melodrama, which I usually loathe, but here it's handled beautifully. Perhaps this is part of the reason the film has been released under the Merchant-Ivory banner (although the team had nothing to do with the film's production). I love seeing Roache play a leading role for once, even if his character is a bit of a coward as he dismisses his loving words to his mistress the second his wife arrives on the scene. But the real discoveries here are Bose and Das, both of whom are major stars in India, and I'd love to see more of in Western productions. The film has passion, rebellion and a terrific sense of time and place. For those of you looking for a little escapism without giving up your need for human drama, Before the Rains is the one for you. [...]
  • has a short, but sweet review, which asserts that the film is “beautifully made” and is “a deeper, richer, movie going experience.”
  • Here are some nice words from Pioneer Local:
    It centers on illicit love, but "Before the Rains," directed by Santosh Sivan . . . is not a story of scorching passion. It's a tale told coolly, with stylized restraint that transforms it into a beautifully crafted metaphor for the decline and fall of the British Raj. . . "Before the Rains" may veer too often into visual travelogue mode. But after all, it is that enigmatic, dramatic country that's the heart of this tale.

Moving onto the mixed reviews:

  • Beth Wood of the Union-Tribune says that although the movie is predictable, "it is saved by its beauty and well-etched performances." She adds that "the talented Jennifer Ehle does a lot with the little she has to work with as Henry's wife and mother of their son." However, she can't help but noting, "For a movie that decries the subjugation of women, its relegation of the female leads to such secondary roles is baffling."
  • Similarly, the Bitter Critic praises the "arresting visuals" and the performances, but claims they are not enough to make up for the poor screenplay. She specifically applauds Ms Ehle, if not her role:
    [...] Before the Rains boasts a first-rate cast. Jennifer Ehle, who here plays Moores’s wife Laura, is just always a pleasure to watch no matter which thankless role she’s stuck in. [...]
  • Jessica Reaves at The Chicago Tribune finds the movie somewhat disappointing and is not impressed with either Jennifer Ehle's wig or the role of Laura:
    [...] Meanwhile, Jennifer Ehle, her hair the color and texture of straw, is stuck in the unfortunate role of Moores' unfailingly supportive and accommodating wife. [...]
  • The San Francisco Chronicle reiterates that Laura is a lackluster role, though Jennifer Ehle makes the most of it:
    [...] [Roache] is ably supported by Bose, as his loyal assistant, Das as his lover and Ehle as his wife - a lackluster smiling role, until the scene when she finally stops smiling. [...]
  • Roger Ebert enjoyed many aspects of the film, but finds he can't quite recommend it:
    [...] "Before the Rains" is lushly photographed, as we would expect, by Sivan himself. It's told sincerely and with energy. It enjoys its period settings and costumes, and even its conventions. In a movie with plenty of room for it, there isn't a trace of cynicism. I am growing weary (temporarily, I think) of films that are cynical about themselves. Having seen several films recently whose characters have as many realities as shape-shifters, I found it refreshing to see a one-level story told with passion and romanticism.
    But I can't quite recommend it. In a plot depending on concealment and secrecy, Henry and T.K. make all the wrong decisions, including a cover up that almost seem designed to fail. [...]

There are more mixed feelings at The Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

For those of you who are interested, the "nay" reviews can be found at: The Contra Costa Times, A.V.Club, The Bolingbrook Sun, The Washington Post, The Mercury News, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and The Star Tribune. Read at your own risk; some of them are quite harsh (though none have anything negative to say about Jennifer Ehle, of course).

On a more cheerful note, two bloggers saw Before the Rains and loved it. The World is my Oyster gives it two thumbs up, and Movie News and Views writes, "Do check this film out and try to see it on the big screen. It is a real beauty."

Please do check it out if it is playing near you! If you have seen the movie, we would love to hear your thoughts about it. Please feel free to share your opinions with us at the Chat Extension or the Forum.

P.S. Apologies for the one-day post delay.

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