Jalebis, Google Earth and Lost Children in Lion

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The unexpected presence of jalebis (an Indian street food/sweet treat) at a friend’s party in Australia transports Saroo (Dev Patel) back to India and memories of being a hungry child desiring that delicacy, which was always out of reach but his older brother promised him he would have one day. Saroo was adopted at age five from a Calcutta orphanage by a loving Australian couple living in Tasmania. Lion would have you believe this jalebi moment is the first time he has thought about his birth mother and family (a dramatic interpretation from this true-life tale) since then, but we the viewers have that story and its compelling images and emotions seared into our brains by this point. Thus we willingly go along with adult Saroo’s journey back to those moments on his quest to find his original home and family.

The film wisely plays out the drama in chronological order. We first meet Saroo and his family when he is five, where they live a harsh but happy rural life…one that disappears when Saroo falls asleep on a train that takes him 1600 km from home to Calcutta where he becomes a street urchin running from danger at every corner. Even in light of the clever cinematography (aerial shots early on meld into dream-like memories and scanning of Google Earth for home in his adulthood), the star of the film is without a doubt young Sunny Pawar, who leaves an indelible mark that follows the proud tradition of orphans and lost and wandering children in such classics like Pather Panchali and Salaam Bombay! The episodic nature of the film’s first half is effortlessly compelling and casts a Dickensian spell over the viewer as Saroo encounters increasingly shady characters before finally connecting with those who could help him. Continue reading

Nature, Redemption and Tasmanian Tigers in The Hunter

The Hunter is one of 2012’s best films.

One of the greatest pleasures of being an avid film lover is discovering those overlooked gems.  The Tasmanian-set Australian allegory The Hunter (directed by Daniel Nettheim) is one such film.

The titular character is a man with no back-story played by Willem Dafoe in what is ironically the peculiar actor’s richest role since portraying Jesus in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.  His Martin David is a man tempted by necessity to track and capture the elusive Tasmanian Tiger (thought to be extinct) by a stereotypically evil corporation (Red Leaf – echoing the Weyland Corporation alluded to in The Grey and the driving force in Prometheus) looking to unlock the secrets of the beast’s DNA and its alleged paralyzing toxins.

The cresting and rolling landscape of Tasmania (which can only be described by this ignorant American as a cross between the Smoky Mountains and a tropical rainforest) are on display in a coldly haunting way.  The hills seem cut off and without an apex – as if Mother Nature came down with the wind and shaved off the peaks with a butter knife.  David becomes the lodger of an environmentalist widow (the elusively alluring Frances O’Connor) with two young children (the endearingly naturalistic Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock) and is guided into the Tasmanian wilderness by Sam Neil. Continue reading