Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Heaven on Earth

Deepa Mehta | 2008 | 106 mins | Canada

When I first heard the phrase “magic realism” bandied about in reference to Deepa Mehta’s latest film, I was a bit nervous. We all know only South Americans can do magic realism well, and besides, wasn’t this supposed to be a film about an abused wife?

As it turns out, the magical parts of Heaven on Earth were actually the best parts.

Married off to an Indian man who lives in Canada, Chand (Bollywood star Preity Zinta) has to trade in her warm community life in India for a bleak existence in Brampton. When new hubby Rocky (Vansh Bhardwaj) turns out to be a violent mama’s boy with an awful, manipulative mother, Chand retreats into herself, repeating a story her mother used to tell her about a young woman and a cobra. The scenes of abuse, while not particularly graphic, are made harder to watch by Rocky's family's silent acceptance of his behaviour.

After a botched plot to make Rocky fall for her with her by feeding him a supposedly magic root, a snake appears in the family’s back yard, and Chand’s deep desire for love is suddenly given form.

Heaven on Earth was beautifully shot, but it was sometimes hard to follow Mehta’s visual choices – occasional black and white sequences seemed scattered almost at random throughout, and some portions seemed to have been shot on video while others looked very much like film.

It's a very pretty fairytale, but as my viewing companion said, it feels "a bit CBC-ish".

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