Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 5, No. 1, 2006
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Bernard Dubé
Diane Gordon
Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
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Mady Bourdage
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  Film Reviews
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Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators


reviewed by


It would be difficult to deny that some of the most important films in history are those whose ideas, whether overtly politically motivated or not, continue to lay claim to some sort of contemporary relevance because they were originally conceived as ‘movies of the moment.’ Some directors feel the moment is best preserved and represented in the documentary format (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911). Others choose to fictionalize the moment. An outstanding example of the latter is Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers (1965). By capturing the essence of a brutally oppressive colonial regime and what is universal in the human condition, the film is as gripping and engaging now as it was 40 years ago.

Water, Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s latest instalment in her elemental trilogy (Fire 1996, Earth 1998), touches a raw nerve that certainly qualifies it as a ‘movie of the moment.’ The film is set in 1938 colonial India. Its story follows the socially and religiously determined lifestyles of a group of women residing in a widow’s ashram near the Ganges River in Varanasi. A young widowed child, Chuyia, is our entry point into this unfortunate story, while a young resistant widow, Shakuntala, played by Seema Biswas, of Bandit Queen fame, is our exit point. The latter saves Chuyia from the ashram, the brutal and cruel preserve of archaic values that are at the heart of an outdated, oppressive religion whose institutional hold is being challenged by the rise in popularity of Gandhi and nationalism.

This is not a great film by any means, but like many interesting films, it divides spectatorship into highly polarized camps. Mehta’s film doesn’t lay itself bare enough (in terms of objectivity) to merit a rigid feminist critique. After all, this is not history, only her story, a work of cinematic fiction, which falls more appropriately under the rubric of a humanist tradition than a feminist one. I think it’s rather unfortunate that some critics could not see past the supposed limitations which Mehta imposed on her story; the apparently deliberate choice to simplify the context in which widowhood is situated. On the other hand, the politics of the film run much deeper, so deep in fact that Mehta, to some degree, must be considered an ‘activist’ filmmaker. Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan, a clapper loader on the Water film shoot, details at length the trials and tribulations encountered by Mehta and her crew in the making of her film. Not only were there major economic and logistical obstacles, there was resistance from governments, protesters and activists. To this day, the film is verboten in India.

Despite the criticism and on-going controversy, Water deserves to be seen for a number of reasons. It is absolutely stunningly photographed and the location shooting lends an authenticity that Hollywood could not possibly hope to replicate. Furthermore, the film’s ideas and issues provide thought provoking material which can be investigated outside the highly personalized context of Mehta’s courageously produced film.




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