Blending elements of Bollywood musicals, melodrama, and moments of jarring realism, Leena Yadav’s deeply feminist Parched explores the struggles and solidarity of four women in a rural Indian village. It’s a world of brightly colored joy and patriarchal despair in equal measure, and Yadav draws excellent performances from her three primary characters.
That tonal mixture makes for a strange set of contrasts at times — bouncing from light comic scenes to dance numbers to brief but horrifying moments of violence and sexual assault — but Parched is often gripping. It’s also beautifully shot by Russell Carpenter (of Titanic, Ant-Man, and the decidedly less feminist Monster-In-Law).
Parched focuses on three women with very different sets of problems, all rooted in patriarchy and smothering cultural norms. Lajjo (Radhika Apte) is a seamstress and wife to a drunken brute who holds their childlessness against her. Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) is a widow marrying off her entitled and increasingly nasty 17-year-old son Gulab to the even younger Janaki (Lehar Khan). And Bijli (Surveen Chawla) is a dancer/sex worker both disdained for lasciviousness (including by the men who cheer her on stage and hire her services) and admired for her relative freedom by her friends and the wider community.
Yadav and co-screenwriter Supratik Sen create astute and individual psychologies for the three women, and place them in a narrative that allows wider complexities to take hold. Parched can get a bit didactic or heavy-handed — the men are, by and large, cartoonish in their villainy — but this is offset by how well the character scenes work.
The frequent grimness of its depiction is also made much more palatable by a counter-intuitively light touch, which finds humor, brightness, and beauty amid desperate circumstances.
The English-language title Parched implies that desperation, but, by the time our unlikely heroines are Thelma-and-Louising their way to the excitement and trepidation of new lives, it’s clear that the connections fostered between them will be their sources of relief.
Robinson Crusoe On Mars: As the saying goes, “Before there was Matt Damon, there was Paul Mantee.” Ok, that’s not a saying at all, but 1964’s Robinson Crusoe On Mars followed some similar narrative broadstrokes to the recent The Martian, but with more ’60s-style sci-fi trappings, a monkey, and Adam West. If that sentence didn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.
Cartel Land: A gripping drug war documentary, director Matthew Heineman gets into some dangerous territory while covering paramilitary vigilante groups on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border caught in intractable bloodshed and battle with the cartels. The digital, hand-held footage is harrowing, the Autodefensas are inspiring (until they aren’t), and the issues are complex and timely. This is excellent filmmaking.
Melancholia: Lars von Trier’s meditation on depression and the end of the world isn’t a ton of laughs, but it’s gorgeously filmed and feature impressive performances all around. Kirsten Dunst and Kiefer Sutherland in particular make the most of their parts, and there are truly resonant moments here. It’s not a standard von Trier provocation, for better and worse, but it is probably his most approachable work. Yes, the “depression and end of the world” film is the approachable one. That’s Lars von Trier for you.
The Big Short: “The director of Anchorman takes on the financial crisis” sounded from the start like it would be divisive, and The Big Short doesn’t disappoint in that department. It’s uneven and full of questionable choices. Yet somehow it works. Director Adam McKay throws everything he can at the topic, juggling outrage and absurdity in equal measure, a combination that suits the material. Does the film have flaws? Absolutely. But it’s something of a small miracle that, by the end, its ADD-sensibility comes to seem absolutely appropriate, and even the surreal, fourth-wall-breaking jokes can’t hide an anger I didn’t expect from McKay. Love it or hate it, you should check it out.