Written by Victors

Viceroy’s House

by Rachel Willis

History is written by the victors.

So begins Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House, a film that focuses on the transition of power from England to India and the partition of India into two countries. It’s an interesting sentiment as the film seeks to show that in the transition of power, there are no victors.

With a history such as India’s, Chadha makes the wise decision to focus the bulk of the story within the confines of the viceroy’s house and grounds. The film opens with the arrival of India’s last viceroy from England, Lord Mountbatten, with his family. Because of the intimacy of the setting, the audience is privy to the negotiations between the British and the leaders of India. Many will recognize Mahatma Gandhi, but may not be familiar with the other leaders, including the head of the All-Indian Muslim League Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who led the charge to partition India with the creation of Pakistan.

In addition to the wider story focused on this transition of power, a more personal tale is woven behind the scenes through the love affair of Aalia and Jeet. Aalia is a Muslim woman in love with Jeet, a Hindu. As tensions between Hindu, Sikh, and Muslims rise, the two are pulled in different directions as family and religion come between them. Their story provides the audience with a more personal connection to the conflicts that arise as Lord Mountbatten tries to negotiate a peaceful transition of power.

As Lord Mountbatten, Hugh Bonneville plays a familiar role, as those who have seen him in Downton Abbey will recognize the similarities between characters. Gillian Anderson is his wife Edwina Mountbatten. Flawless as always, Anderson is almost underutilized in her role. However, the scenes in which she does appear are riveting. The two are sympathetic as they try to avoid a violent passage of power.

However, the film truly belongs to Huma Qureshi and Manish Dayal. As Aalia and Jeet, they bring life and hope to a movie racked with conflict. As tensions rise, their love is a light in the dark. Though the history of India may be written by the victors, it’s the stories of the people who live through it that connect us to the past.

As a love story, as a history, Viceroy’s House is a moving examination of a tumultuous moment in India’s history.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Silence

by Hope Madden

Yes, the faithful believe Jesus sacrificed himself for us – to clear our sins with God. But would he have sacrificed us for the sake of reverence?

Martin Scorsese’s elegant pondering on faith, Silence, enters the mind of Jesuit priest Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) as he and his colleague Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver) venture into 1640s Japan in search of a mentor priest lost to a violently anti-Catholic government.

Gorgeous, imposing shots paint the image of the vast and dangerous beauty of God’s world and the small if admirable people trying to survive there. Garrpe and Rodrigues first hide with faithful Japanese villagers, losing their primary mission while serving those oppressed Christian Japanese longing for signs of the church.

Garfield and Driver cut nicely opposing images, Garfield the sweet-faced picture of buoyant faith, Driver the more skeptical, impatient believer. While it’s Garfield whose story we hear, Driver’s counterpoint is a required piece of this crisis of faith driving the film and his performance delivers something painful and honest.

Scorsese’s abiding interest – some might say preoccupation – with faulty men and their tenuous grasp on Catholic faith has flavored many a film, though rarely as thoroughly as this one. What is faith? What is it, really? And who’s to say what harm Jesus would have you do to protect him?

The film may take itself too seriously (though, this is hardly light fare). Any possible misstep Scorsese can mostly overcome with meticulous, near-magical craftsmanship, though there are a handful of hang ups that sometimes break the seduction of the project.

These are Portuguese priests in 17th Century Japan speaking English (why?), and mainly with British/Irish accents (Liam Neeson plays lost Fr. Ferreira). (At least Driver gives the Portuguese accent a shot.)

And though Garfield is a genuine talent, this role requires something perhaps uglier than what he has to offer.

Mainly, though the film’s resolution is both nuanced and satisfying, there are certain answers, certain signs that feel more like movie magic than spiritual presence. They are minor flaws in a beautiful if ponderous work, but they keep Silence from joining Scorsese’s true masterpieces.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Pick Up Every Stitch

The Witch

by Hope Madden

The unerring authenticity of The Witch makes it the most unnerving horror film in years.

Ideas of gender inequality, sexual awakening, slavish devotion to dogma, and isolationism roil beneath the surface of the film, yet the tale itself is deceptively simple. One family, fresh off the boat from England in 1630 and expelled from their puritanical village, sets up house and farm in a clearing near a wood.

There William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) will raise their five children: the infant Samuel, young twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), nearly adolescent Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and the eldest, Tomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), nearly a woman now.

Each performance is remarkable. The twins are enormously creepy and both parents are flawed in the most necessary and compelling ways. Young Scrimshaw offers layers and tenderness galore, leading to an astonishing scene it’s hard to imagine a child managing.

Still, it’s Taylor-Joy who not only anchors the film but gives it its vulnerable, burgeoning, ripening soul. She is flawless.

As a series of grim catastrophes befalls the family, members turn on members with ever-heightening hysteria. The Witch creates an atmosphere of the most intimate and unpleasant tension, a sense of anxiety that builds relentlessly and traps you along with this helpless, miserable family.

Every opportunity writer/director Roger Eggers has to make an obvious choice he discards, though not a single move feels inauthentic. Rather, every detail – whether lurid or mundane – feels peculiarly at home here. Even the most supernatural elements in the film feel appallingly true because of the reality of this world, much of which is owed to journals and documents of the time, from which Eggers pulled complete sections of dialog.

Though The Witch is Eggers’s first feature as filmmaker, his long career in art direction, production and costume design are evident in this flawlessly imagined and recreated period piece.

Equally important is the work of Eggers’s collaborators Mark Kovan, whose haunting score keeps you unnerved throughout, and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke. From frigid exteriors to candle-lit interiors, the debilitating isolation and oppressive intimacy created by Blaschke’s camera feed an atmosphere ripe for tragedy and for horror.

As frenzy and paranoia feed on ignorance and helplessness, tensions balloon to bursting. You are trapped as they are trapped in this inescapable mess, where man’s overanxious attempt to purge himself absolutely of his capacity for sin only opens him up to the true evil lurking, as it always is, in the woods.