Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You Can Teach A Old Dog New Tricks

Three and a half stars

You know, a lot of old people give up. I don’t mean old in the sense of a mean spirited way, but I mean old as in when you’re old, you’re old. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, the new film by John Madden, the director of “Shakespeare in Love”, is about the idea that growing old doesn’t mean it’s over. That’s the message of the film. It’s not a groundbreaking message, but not a bad one none the less. The film is about a bunch of older people in Britain who are preparing to retire. However, they all chose to retire to India, for various reasons. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a widowed housewife who sells her house to cover expenses. Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nightly) lose their retirement savings. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is outsourcing her hip replacement in a hospital program, Madge (Celia Imrie) is hunting for another husband, Norman (Ronald Pickup) is looking for love and Graham (Tom Wilkinson) is there for very personal reasons.

They all arrive at the hotel, and are greeted by Sonny (Dev Patel), who dreams of escaping his mother’s watchful eye and marrying his girlfriend, Suniana (Tena Dasae). All these people are in India for their own personal reasons, not because they are just there for an adventure. However, it can’t help but be an adventure for all those involved. Going to India isn’t exactly retiring to Florida. No offense, but India’s a bigger adventure than Florida. However, I’m getting off subject. India is a supporting character in this movie, and while the movie wisely focuses on these retiree’s stories, India is the supporting character that provides the opportunities for these characters to move forward with their stories.

India is beautifully shot in this movie and provides the backdrop for some culture shock and some wonderment. The film shows India’s colors and scenery, and uses it beautifully as a backdrop to the newcomers. Evelyn gets a job teaching those who work at a phone bank how to talk to older people. Though, the most affecting story in this is the story of Graham, who is there for very personal reasons, of which I won’t reveal. However, his story is beautifully told. In a way, all their stories are beautifully told. Of course, it’s inevitable in a film like this that the older group would end up helping out the younger people. Evelyn and Muriel end up helping out Sonny a lot. When you think the hotel is going under, they come to the rescue.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a feel good movie for grown up’s, as opposed to a movie that looks at old age as some kind of lame end of the road. I like movies about grown up’s for a couple reasons. One of the pleasures of a film like this isn’t just the backdrop of a foreign country or heartwarming stories. It’s seeing those older actors, those pro’s. With so many movies about young people with superpowers, it’s always a pleasure to see a movie about older people who happen to just be people.

 “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a wonderful film about growing older, and not looking at it as the end. However, a lot of people will probably think this is some boring film only for the older set, and I don’t think that’s really true. Just because they are older doesn’t mean their stories are any less important. So, instead of lingering on the age of the people in this film, which will probably drive away many viewers, linger on their stories instead. You can do a lot worse than retiring to India. At least it’s an adventure. You know, unlike Florida.  

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Monseieur Lazhar" is Wonderful

Four Stars

If there was a word to describe “Monsieur Lazhar” that word would be compassion. That’s certainly what the teacher has for his students throughout this picture. This isn’t just a story about a good teacher. It’s a story about a good man, as well, who is dealing with his own grief, while the children around him deal with theirs. “Monsieur Lazhar” the French-Canadian picture that was a nominee for Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars last year, presents us with a school community reeling from the suicide of one of their beloved teachers. One of the students, Simon (Emilien Neron) walks in on his teacher, who’s hanging from a rope in the classroom. Another young student, Alice (Emilien Neron) also gets a glance at the teacher. Seemly innocent, the two students develop a complicated relationship, as Simon feels responsible for the teacher’s death. Alice blames him for her beloved teacher’s death, as well. The school scrambles to find a replacement teacher, and quickly hires Bachir (Mohamed Fellag), who presents himself for the job soon after the teacher’s death.

The film takes place over one school year, as Bachir leads his new class through their grief and questions. Baschir, meanwhile, is trying to seek refuge, as his family was killed by terrorists back in his home country of Algeria. This sounds like a lot going on, and the film offers no easy answers. However, Bachir is such a kind man, that I smiled when good things happened to him. There’s also the case of the children, who are dealing with their grief. Simon and Alice especially are the focus of the story, and they are played with much complexity by the two young actors. Baschir is played by Mohamed Fellag, with kindness and compassion. He has an almost fatherly concern about his students and doesn’t want them to feel abandoned again. Mohamed Fellag is a popular comedian in Canada, but here he plays the dramatic role very well. 

Unlike other movies about inspirational teachers, “Monsieur Lazhar” isn’t about a teacher making big speeches or standing on desks. Instead, it’s about a teacher having compassion through simple gestures. Instead of making big statements, he reads a sonnet to the class. He goes about his job teaching the class. When Alice reads a paper on her former teacher, he wants to pass it around the entire school because of the maturity she showed. He cares for Alice, and the rest of his students. There’s the question of dealing with grief, in this film. The school has the students meet with a child psychologist.  The psychologist asks the teacher to leave the room while she talks to the students. Baschir is eager to get back in the classroom because he feels so protective of his students that he doesn’t even trust the child psychologist to fix their problems.

This might sound like another inspirational teacher film that deals with issues of grief and the teacher student relationship. However, writer/director Philippe Falardeau finds the right balance between innocence and a deeper issue at hand. The film unravels in an elegant and quiet fashion. Bachir, ever the traditionalist, sees the classroom as a safe haven for children. However, he also recognizes that a classroom can also be a place to learn more than just languages. The role of a teacher is to comfort as well as teach.

The principal tells Baschir that all touching must be avoided with the students; however, Baschir can’t help himself when Simon is blaming himself for his teacher’s death. He puts his hand on his shoulder, and tells him that it isn’t his fault. This leads to a final and wonderful scene that shows that sometimes all a kid needs is a comforting hug from a caring adult.