Saturday, December 27, 2008

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Danny Boyle, 2008, UK) Two brothers must remain true to their nature by paying their karmic debt, and escape the stinking slum of samsura to extinguish the material world: their motto, “One for one and all for one!” Jamal is a young man from the brutal slums of Mumbai who miraculously becomes a contestant on India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire game show. But the story isn’t about his greed at winning money, at scrabbling his way from the gutter to the glitter of a rich life: Jamal is a man whose goal is to find Latika his lost love through karma and fate. Danny Boyle subverts formal cinematic structure by generous use of flashback, fast-forward, and elliptical storytelling to create urgency, a frenetic energy that permeates the film and catapults it towards its fateful conclusion. Boyle foreshadows the events with questions from the game show, and we experience these unrelated vignettes that have led Jamal to his current predicament and answers: though the outcome is predetermined Boyle still surprises us with moments of irony and insight, humor and humour, which lead us to care for the characters and root for them, like contestants in the fatal game of life. The exceptional cinematography brings us into Mumbai’s vile ghetto where children somehow play and laugh, living amidst this unimaginable squalor like cubs at the mercy of hungry predators. Boyle isn’t concerned with making a political statement, at damning this unjust caste system, which represses millions of human beings, subjugating them to an existence not fit for rats; he uses this as a backdrop for his story that becomes a tiny beacon of hope in a world of suffering. A third of the film is spoken in Hindi and Boyle uses a comic book style exposition for the subtitles that are unobtrusive and creatively revealed. The powerhouse soundtrack is the film’s pulse, blending contemporary Indian and Western beats that pump verve throughout the flash-cut editing. I especially like the marriage of The Clash’s Straight To Hell with this colorful aural alchemy. Though the story is ripe with pathos and Thanatos, like any great Bollywood film it ends on a positive life-affirming note, a crescendo of jubilant expression: as the final credits roll, our musketeers break into an infectious song and dance routine. Thus it is written. (B)

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