Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Slumdog Millionaire” (+)

A wonderful, not-to-be missed Bollywood-style film by British director Danny Boyle.

The flashbacks in the movie cover the lives of three young orphaned children living on the streets of Mumbai, India. Sleeping under a tarp to escape the pouring rain, Jamal and his older brother, Salim, invite a young girl, Latika, into their makeshift shelter. The three youngsters are survivors of a Hindu pogrom which resulted in the deaths of their Muslim parents. They now fend for themselves roaming the streets and picking up scraps in garbage dumps.

The children are taken in by two men, one of whom reminded me of the Fagin character in “Oliver,” although he is young and handsome. He injures the children to make them look more sorrowful and wretched and uses them for begging purposes. In the case of female orphans, he raises them to be prostitutes.

As a young adult, Jamal becomes a contestant on an Indian television game show similar to the American program, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” The host of the show, Prem (Anil Kapor), conducts the program with great flair and style. As Jamal’s success on the show increases, his life is played out in flashbacks. Salim succumbs to the evil system and becomes a member of the mob.

Jamal is played as a youngster by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, as a teenager by Tanay Hemant Chheda, and as an adult by Dev Patel. As a child Salim is played by Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala as a teenager and Madhur Mittal as an adult. Rubina Ali portrays Latika as a young girl, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar as a teenager and Freida Pinto as an adult.

The energy of the children and their ability to overcome incredible daily challenges is fairy tale in style but totally believable. It makes no difference that not everything is spelled out or that the plot is not exactly linear. You will laugh and you will cry, and when good overcomes evil at the end of the picture, you will feel good. The movie closes with a song and dance chorus having nothing to do with the raw emotions just witnessed, the signature of Bollywood.

When I entered the theater a departing member of the earlier show said to me, “Please, please give the film a good review.” Having seen the movie, I couldn’t do otherwise. It is a marvel not to be missed.

HS said: “This is a worthwhile motion picture because you learn so much about the contrasts in life in India. The poverty, misery, violence and human exploitation that exists in close proximity to wealth and power is incredibly disturbing. The movie is two hours long, and the plot is confusing at first. Some of the actors sound as if they work in computer help centers, but what’s wrong with that? The film is very well done, a work of art in itself, and it tells a fascinating story; like a parody in some aspects. ‘Slumdog’ is both powerful and captivating. It should make us feel fortunate that we live in America. See it soon; don’t wait for the DVD.”

“A Christmas Tale” (+)

A wonderful movie, even if at times a little too long. Full enjoyment of the film requires that you get to know the characters so I’ll identify some of them for you.

At the head of the family are Junon Vuillard (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband, Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon). The couple has three children: Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) a playwright, Henri (Mathieu Amalric) an alcoholic, and Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) the youngest. The parent’s first child, Joseph, died of cancer at an early age.

The family meets at the parents’ home in Roubaiz, France, for the Christmas holiday. They are also joined by cousin Simon (Laurent Capelluto) who was raised with the family after his father’s death and Elizabeth’s adolescent son, Paul (Emile Berling), who is on leave from an institution where he is being treated for mental problems. Ivan’s wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni), is also present in addition to Henri’s girlfriend, Faunia (Emmanuelle Devos). Faunia wears the Star of David and points out that she does not celebrate Christmas or exchange holiday gifts.

The central burdening experience for all is that Junon is dying of a leukemia. Her only possible chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant, and she is hopeful that a suitable donor can be found among her family members. Every family has its issues and secrets and this one has plenty of them. Among the many is that Elizabeth despises Henri and forbids him to speak to her. Another is the fact that the spirit of Joseph seems to hover over the family 40 or more years after his death.

With typical French flippancy for sexual matters, an open affair begins at the Christmas party between Ivan’s wife Sylvia and his cousin Simon. So open is the affair that Sylvia’s two adorable children under the age of ten, Basile and Baptiste (Thomas and Clement Obled), crawl into bed with the philandering couple.

The acting of all is superb, particularly that of Jean-Paul Roussillon and Catherine Deneuve. I shall always think of Deneuve as she looked in her early 20’s when she appeared in the film “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” in which the dialogue is sung. She was the most beautiful girl in the world. Now at age 65 and playing the role of a grandmother she is still very beautiful; nevertheless, time has taken its toll.

You will enjoy this film. In French with English subtitles.