Saturday, November 7, 2009

1984 - A Passage to India

After a frustrating experience with the frustrating New York City transport system which left me waiting, frustrated, on a platform for thirty frustrating minutes before being told the train would never arrive, I was forced to call my director to explain why I was absent from today's rehearsal. Frustrating. The subway system here is usually more than satisfactory, especially in comparison to Sydney's equivalent, but then something frustrating like this happens and I lose all faith in it. Anyway, the frustration was alleviated when Kat and I walked to the nearby Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden for a bite to eat. Too cold for the impressive outdoor beer garden, we dined inside on the scrumptious Czech and Slovak food. As a schnitzel aficionado, I simply couldn't go past the Bohemian Schnitzel, a breast of breaded chicken stuffed with ham, cheese, egg and garlic. Simply heaven. Although, my arteries may have something to say about that.

After a quick stroll through Astoria park, we arrived back home to watch another 1984 Best Picture nominee...

A Passage to India
David Lean
David Lean
(based on the novel by E.M. Forster and the play by Santha Rama Rau)
Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, James Fox, Alec Guinness, Nigel Havers
Academy Awards:
11 nominations
2 wins, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Score

A Passage to India is one of those films that I've always been meaning to see because of its pedigree, but never quite got around to because ... well, honestly, it just seemed like it would be boring. The subject matter simply didn't appeal to me. Then again, I really didn't know much about its content, so I'm not sure why I came to that conclusion. The lesson? Don't judge a book by its cover ... or a film by its poster, as the case may be.

Miss Quested and Mrs. Moore head to British colonial India in the 1920s to visit city magistrate Mr. Heaslop, both Miss Quested's fiancé and Mrs. Moore's son. Dismayed by the local Britons' lack of interest in Indian culture and their disrespect of Indian people, the two women accept an invitation by Dr. Aziz to take a somewhat gruelling journey to some legendary caves. The elderly Mrs. Moore soon becomes exhausted and decides to remain with the main group while Miss Quested and Dr. Aziz continue with a local guide. After a short time, however, Miss Quested scampers away from the caves in clear distress. Once back in town, Dr. Aziz is charged with attempted rape, resulting in a controversial trial that incites hostility between the Indians and the British.

With David Lean as the director, you know to expect some beautiful sweeping landscapes and this film does not disappoint in that regard. There are some truly majestic scenes to which a humble TV screen hardly does justice. The first half of the story unfolds in a relatively leisurely pace but there is gratification in meeting the vivid characters, especially the excitable Aziz, who delivers some of the film's most amusing lines. For instance, upon describing his late wife, he proclaims, "She was not a highly educated woman ... or even beautiful."

At approximately the halfway point, things become much more engaging. The events in the caves are deftly treated with plenty of mystery and the trial is just as engrossing. The characters become a tad black and white, though, as it is painfully clear as to which side of the proceedings each person is leaning. There is simply no middle ground.

Despite the occasional melodramatic moments in performance, the cast are all superb. Aussie Judy Davis delivers a captivating portrayal as Miss Quested, and Alec Guinness is almost unrecognisable as an Indian religious scholar. All in all, a very pleasant film.


  1. Don't get me started on transport here Matt. Buses replaced trains over the weekend and it took 40 minutes for a bus to arrive; 15 minutes to get from Waitara to Wahroonga (one stop away) 35 minutes to Gordon Station. 1hr and 15 minutes for a trip that should've taken 10.

    I won't be buying a I Luv Sydney shirt in the near future

  2. Glad you liked. Lean reminds me of Minghella sometimes [The English Patient in particular]. Speaking of which, I'd love to hear what you thought of 1996!

  3. Yes, I suspect Minghella counted Lean as one of his influences.

    Your suggestion of 1996 is duly noted. I have the next couple of awards years lined up (to accommodate a certain revival screening of one particular nominee) but perhaps I'll bring in 1996 after that. Thanks!

  4. Maurice Jarre's familiar musical themes that call to mind "Doctor Zhivago" and "Ryan's Daughter" start in over the opening credits, with the two final cymbal crashes perfectly timed to coincide with Screenplay by David Lean and Directed and Edited by David Lean. Who says big time directors don't have big time egos, but perhaps these healthy egos are what is needed for masterpieces.

    "A Passage to India" isn't quite a masterpiece, but it is a fitting conclusion to a great canon of work that does include several masterpieces. Lean did have a tendency to over-produce his films after "Lawrence of Arabia," and took a bit of criticism for "Ryan's Daughter's" overblown production. Personally, I have a fondness for "Ryan's Daughter," flaws and all.

    With that shot of the train crossing the Indian horizon at sunset, you know you are watching a David Lean film. The Blu-ray on my 50" plasma screen was just beautiful to look at.

    As mentioned elsewhere, we Americans are a bit cheeky calling our baseball championship a 'World' Series, but when it comes to displaying feelings of superiority, you just can't top the Brits. As you say Matt, not many shades of gray in these characterizations. It was rather comical how all these educated people seem to run on pure emotion rather than reason.

    A nice cast chosen by Lean. Peggy Ashcroft was just excellent. I hadn't seen her in much since way back in Hitchcock's "The Thirty Nine Steps," where she was so good in a very small part. I guess like Paul Schofield, she preferred the stage. I recognized one of Aziz's companions are legal advisers as the heavy in "True Lies." I don't know what to say about Alec Guinness and his character. He seemed out of place most of the time. I read that much of Guinness's work was left on the cutting room floor, and for that he never spoke again to David Lean.