Wednesday, October 14, 2015

My review of Parvez Sharma's "A Sinner in Mecca" on KPBS/Cinema Junkie

Guest Review: ‘A Sinner In Mecca’

A pilgrimage as personal journey

A pilgrim pauses to pray before the Kaaba during the Hajj in Mecca.
Above: A pilgrim pauses to pray before the Kaaba during the Hajj in Mecca.

Companion viewing

"A Jihad For Love" (2007), Parvez Sharma (US)
"Trembling Before G-d" (2001), Sandi Simcha Dubowski (Israel/US)
"Gay Girl in Damascus: The Amina Profile" (2015), Sophie Deraspe (Canada)
"Three Veils" (2011), Rolla Selbeck (US)
Guest reviewer Rebecca Romani says Parvez Sharma's new documentary, "A Sinner in Mecca" (now playing at the Digital Gym Cinema) is a mesmerizing look at a gay Muslim's search for religious meaning in an age-old rite.
Like all devout Muslims, filmmaker Parvez Sharma dreamed of fulfilling the ultimate act of religious duty, the Hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Unlike most other Muslims, Sharma lives in a sense of suspension, an openly gay Muslim, regarded by many other Muslims as condemned by Islam to a perpetual state of sin.
For Sharma, after coming out as gay and Muslim in his last feature documentary, “A Jihad for Love,” going on the Hajj was a response to a call to faith and an opportunity to explore whether someone like him even has a place in the House of Islam.
It is a question that many gay and lesbian Muslims have struggled with with various degrees of success. Gay men from Egypt to Saudi Arabia have found themselves criminalized in trials and some have been executed.
“Islam is at war with itself, and I have fought hard not to be a casualty,” said Sharma, whose films on Islam and homosexuality have earned him death threats and security details at many of his screenings.
Sharma’s newest film, “ A Sinner in Mecca,” shot in Saudi Arabia in 2011, is a deeply personal and moving film that covers an event that non-Muslims can only see in pictures in a country most will never visit. “Sinner” is also highly political, critical as it is of the ruling House of Saud, the current guardians of two of the most holy sites in Islam, Mecca and Medina.
Sharma’s new documentary is lyrical, yet loaded with his own personal quest as a gay man and as a Muslim seeking to reform the religion he loves.
Laid out like some of the best personal documentaries of the 1990s, Sharma incorporates gorgeous shots, lovely animation and sometimes overly self-indulgent scenes and melodramatic voice-overs.
While filming limitations produce some shaky, unfocused scenes, the general effect is mesmerizing. As an unusually close look at one of the oldest religious rituals in the world, this is one of the best personal works to come out of the Muslim world.
Early in the film, Sharma marries his longtime boyfriend, a New York-based musician, and starts to revisit his coming to terms as a gay man and a Muslim. His journey will take him from New York to India to the heart of Saudi Arabia.
What really jumps the film into gear is Sharma’s preparation and time in Mecca.
Shot on an iPhone and two suspended cameras, Sharma’s footage of the Hajj is a mixture of stunningly beautiful shots from the thousands of pilgrims in a swirling mass around the Kaaba, a holy, cube-like structure in the middle of the Al-Masjid Al-Haram to the hand held close-ups of the crass commercialism that lies barely 1,000 feet from Islam’s holy sites. It is where the sublime meets the squalid as streams of faithful move between the holy sites while trash threatens to engulf the city.
Sharma is well aware of how risky this Hajj is.
“I am once again in the closet, not only as a gay person but also as a filmmaker,” he said.
He works in constant fear of Saudi’s religious police, the “Mutaween” who harass him for filming and of being found out as gay, in a country where gay men have been stoned to death. He is unsure he will be let in. Once in, he is not sure he will make it out.
And yet, Sharma, a Sunni Muslim, also discovers unexpected grace and humanity. On his “hajj of defiance,” Sharma finds fellowship with Shia Muslims, also outside Orthodox Islam, and unexpected solace in the confessions between perfect strangers such as Mohammed, who has come seeking forgiveness for his participation in an honor killing. Sharma falls when he circles the Kaaba, only to be helped up by the hands of unknown faithful, a sign, he too, will be forgiven.
But it is the confluence of Islam and Saudi influence over it that arouses some of the greatest conflict in Sharma.
“I need to separate Saudi from my faith,” he said.
As part of a growing number of reform-minded Muslims from writers Irshad Manji to Tariq Ramadan, Sharma is put off by the growing commercialization of Islam in Saudi (“the mallization of Mecca") and repulsed and deeply angered by the Wahhabi strain of Islam, often described as “austere” and “puritanical,” which is spreading through parts of the Muslim world.
Sharma clearly sees the Saudi destruction of its historical sites, since Wahhabism frowns on veneration of locations, as links to groups such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Da’esh) and its destruction of historic and holy sites in Iraq and Syria as part and parcel of the same destructive force that threatens to overwhelm the more moderate forms throughout the rest of the Muslim world with petrodollars and Saudi-funded mosques.
In Medina, where the Prophet Mohammad is buried, Sharma reflects, “Today’s Islam, which has been hijacked by a violent minority, would not be recognized by him.”
And yet, Sharma is able to come to reconcile his identity as a gay man and as Muslim in one of the most moving sections of the film. When unable to complete his final act of the Hajj, sacrificing a goat to commemorate the sacrifice of Abraham, in Saudi, Sharma moves full circle to India, to complete the ritual, finding the spiritual peace he seeks.
“I have emerged from my Hajj a better Muslim,” Sharma said. In doing so, he seems to have found the answer to his initial question.
While not really as unusual in its access as Sharma claims- thousands of hajjis come home with reams of video and selfies- nonetheless, “A Sinner in Mecca” is a view of a personal quest to reconcile the personal self with the self in faith, a quest that is as universal as it is compelling to watch.
"A Sinner in Mecca" runs through Oct. 15 at the Digital Gym Cinema. Please check the website for time and details.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Upcoming reviews of films opening this week!

Parvez Sharma
the Digital Gym in San Diego

Hubert Sauper
The Digital Gym in San Diego

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Cut: Review

Fatih Akin's new film "The Cut" isn't brilliant or even amazing. However, it IS important. During this centennial anniversary year of the Armenian Genocide, Akin's film brings a humanity and focus to part of the Armenian narrative.

Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) and his twin daughters in Fatih Akin's "The Cut."
Above: Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) and his twin daughters in Fatih Akin's "The Cut."

Companion viewing

“Ararat” (2002) Atom Ergoyen (Canada/France)
“Mayrig” (1991), Henri Verneuil (France)
“The Lark Farm” (2007) Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Italy)
“Head On” (2004) Fatih Akin (Germany)
“The Edge of Heaven” (2007) Fatih Akin (Germany)
Guest blogger Rebecca Romani says Fatih Akin's new film "The Cut" (opening this weekend at the Ken Cinema) may be one of the best feature films yet on the Armenian Genocide.
German-Turkish director Fatih Akin may say he didn’t intend his new film to be a “genocide film," but Akin’s “The Cut” may well be one of the best films yet to address what befell the Armenians living under Ottoman rule between 1915 and 1918.
A beautiful and somewhat sprawling film, “The Cut” is a deeply felt, compassionate piece, just right, for this, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian massacres, also known as the Armenian Genocide. “The Cut” joins a bare handful of films on what is one of the least commented upon modern massacres of the modern era.
Little known to many Americans, but much discussed in Europe, what happened to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire concurrent with World War I, is generally considered the first genocide of the 20th century by many nations (Turkey and the U.S. are two of the exceptions). Starting in April of that year, the Ottoman Empire systematically deported and murdered between 800,000 and 1.5 million of its Armenian subjects over the course of about three years. Thousands more fled the empire, and the Ottoman State seized property and lands as well as Armenian children made wards of the state.
The Armenian solution was graphic and brutal and provided the blueprint for similar actions like the Holocaust, the Bosnian massacres and what is happening to theYazidi in Iraq today under ISIS, also known as Da’esh.
It is against this background that Akin’s “The Cut” follows Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim), a young Armenian blacksmith living a comfortable life in Ottoman Mardin with his beautiful wife, Rahel (Hindi Zahra), twin daughters, and an extended family. The year is 1915, and the new leaders of the Ottoman Empire, The Young Turks, have made secret and not so secret plans to rid the empire of its non-Turkoman people, especially the Armenians.
The Ottomans begin rounding up Armenian men like Nazaret as conscripts, only to use them to build the railroads as slave labor. Nazaret and his friends are slated be finished off by Turkish brigands and convicts, when the Ottoman Army is done with them, but at the last minute, a Turkish convict allows his hand to slip, merely piercing Nazaret’s neck instead of slicing his throat. Later, the convict, Mehmet (Bartu Küçükçaglayan), doubles back to save Nazaret, and together, they evade the Ottoman Army.
Saved, but now mute, Nazaret searches for his family on a journey through the horrors of the Armenian “refugee camps” in Ras-al-'Ayn to the safety of a Muslim Syrian’s soap factory turned refugee sanctuary in Aleppo. Along the way, Nazaret, a devout Christian who wears an Armenian cross tattooed on his wrist in memory of his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, will lose his country, his people and his faith. He will learn why his sister-in-law is no longer able to see God as merciful, and he will be told of the fate of most of his family -- like hundreds of thousands of Armenians -- deported in death marches toward the Euphrates, raped, beaten, shot, or left to die. All have perished but his twin daughters.
Their fate becomes Nazaret’s obsession and his eight-year search for them leads him along the threads of the Armenian diaspora -- from the orphanages of Aleppo to the Benevolent Societies of Havana, to the icy plains of North Dakota. What Nazaret finds will break your heart.
A word of caution, while Akin does not indulge in splatter action, the scenes of executions and the death marches are shot with such quiet attention to detail that they feel all the more horrific.
Akin’s last film in his trilogy of “Love, Death, and The Devil” is both an ode to the power of parental love and the moral quandary that is human nature. In his trilogy, Akin sees people as being capable of love, compassion, and horrific cruelty driven by ideology or the need to survive. In “The Cut” not all Ottomans are horrible, and Nazaret is no saint -- several times he ignores opportunities to save others in favor of pursuing his dogged quest, nonetheless learning that small mercies can be found in the most unexpected of places. It is against the backdrop of one of the most depraved State-sanctioned massacres that Akin gives the Devil his due.
As a director of Turkish origin, Akin is also reaching across a divide with “The Cut.” Until recently, discussing what some Turkish officials called “The Armenian Question,” could lead to censorship at best, death at worst in Turkey. Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian journalist was killed in 2007, by a young Turkish nationalist. Akin himself has received death threats from ultra right Turkish nationalists. The Turks have steadfastly refused to recognize the massacres, saying, in part, this was committed under the Ottoman Empire, and not an issue of the current modern state. They have yet to acknowledge the deportations, seizure of property, and assassinations. Only recently has the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inched toward recognition and apology.
If Akin is looking back 100 years at unspeakable violence against a population, he is also addressing our times and the current state of affairs in Syria and Iraq. The Armenian Genocide set not only the tone but also laid out the blueprints for similar actions throughout the 20th century. Now, 100 years later, when you see the scenes of forced marches and the Armenian slave girl, you cannot help but think of ISIS and its abuse and enslavement of the Yazidi people and Christian minorities. Akin, himself familiar with being a religious and ethnic minority in Germany, clearly sees the parallels.
Akin wrote the script with Mardik Martin, an Armenian-American scriptwriter, who also co-wrote Martin Scorsese’s “New York Stories” and “Raging Bull.” Martin adjusted the script, adding details. Akin and Martin even named the main character after Haig Manoogian, the Armenian-American film professor who co-produced “Raging Bull.”
And again, this might be part of the issue with the film. By focusing on one person, Nazaret, and peeling back the layers of the fate of the Ottoman Armenians, Akin gives his story a weight and compassion that sheer facts and numbers cannot do. However, if a story like this is not told, when it is finally explored, every detail begs to be let in, there is a need to do justice to the enormity of the event. As a result, “The Cut” loses focus at times and wanders through the landscape.
Akin has engaged in exhaustive research which lends his epic an unusual level of accuracy from the Armenian cross tattooed on Nazaret’s wrist to the streets of Havana. Lest you think the refugee camp scenes are exaggerated, dozens of photos taken at the time show scenes of greater horrific detail and the contemporary reporting out of the region is more graphic still.
If “The Cut” has a major weakness for American audiences, it is because Akin has chosen not to analyze what happened but to let Nazaret the Blacksmith guide the viewer through some of the horrors of the Ottoman solution to the Armenians and the goodness of people. While many Europeans and some Turks already know many of the details of what happened to the Armenians, Americans tend not to, which might make Akin’s film a little less accessible.
Nonetheless, "The Cut” is a beautiful and deeply compassionate film. Shooting across four countries, Akin lenses his scenes in deep focus, beautifully exposed 35mm. His vistas are gorgeous even when you know heartache and tragedy may lie just over the hill. The camera loves the faces of his cast and the bounced lighting and careful use of filters makes even scenes such as when Nazaret’s sister-in-law, Ani (Arevik Martirosyan) is mercifully released from her degraded state in the camps, horrifically beautiful. And the haunting, circling melody underscores Nazaret’s search for information about his daughters, always on the verge of finding them, always coming up short.
However, Akin’s sweeping vistas also stretch out the film a little too long. At a run time of about 138 minutes, much of it spent in the company of the mute Nazaret, the deserts, beaches, and winter plains start to drag on. A more tightly edited journey would allow the film to focus more on Nazaret’s reaction to his surroundings as opposed to endlessly stranding him in a gorgeous tableau.
Akin has called upon a stellar cast, many Armenian and the rest of Middle Eastern descent. The versatile and expressive French Algerian actor, Tahar Rahim (“The Prophet,” “Free Men”) is amazingly supple with his eyes and face once Nazaret is made mute and the shifts in his expression as he watches Charlie Chaplin for the first time deeply underscore the very real tragedies Nazaret has seen. The very talented French-Armenian actor Simon Abkarian does a nice turn as the refugee, Krikor, who has lost everything and unlike Nazaret, discovers the hidden cruelty of the oppressed, while Israeli-Arab actor Makram Khoury, seen recently in “Homeland” and “Miral” brings a weary compassion to his role as Omar Nasreddin, the Syrian soap seller who protects the refugees.
Of all of Akin’s recent films, “The Cut” is possibly his most ambitious and least constructed films. It overreaches in part of the story and leaves some important stones untouched. Nonetheless, it’s a telling commentary on how past can become prologue if not dealt with properly and it is clear from Akin’s portrayal of the brutalities Nazaret witnesses, that Akin is drawing clear connections to today’s headlines from Syria and Iraq. “The Cut” may not be the best film you watch all year, but it may well be one of the most important.
"The Cut" opens Friday, Oct. 2, at the Ken Cinema.See the Ken Cinema website for times and details.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mona Lisa Is Missing- interview with documentary maker Joe Medeiros (KPBS)

This is a fun little documentary about THE art theft of the first half of the 20th century.
Here is the interview with the director:

A Comedy Writer Follows The Trail Of One Of The Greatest Art Thefts In History

Speaking With Joe Medeiros, Director Of “Mona Lisa Is Missing”

Joe Medeiros, director of the documentary, "Mona Lisa Is Missing," will in person at the screenings
Above: Joe Medeiros, director of the documentary, "Mona Lisa Is Missing," will in person at the screenings
— You could say Joe Medeiros has a long attention span. You could even call him, well, obsessed.
“But in a good way,” Medeiros said.
Medeiros is screening the fruit of his obsession, the fun and informative documentary, “Mona Lisa Is Missing,” Thursday night at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas as part of the San Diego Italian Film Festival’s monthly screening series.
RELATED: Review Of ‘Mona Lisa Is Missing’
“It’s perfect timing,” Medeiros said of the screening. “It’s 101 years to the day that Vincenzo Peruggia brought the Mona Lisa to Florence.”
Just how and why Vincenzo Peruggia came by the celebrated painting in the first place has occupied Medeiros for more than 30 years. At first a fascinating tale, the story of the theft, the thief, and the thrill of the scandal soon turned into an obsession for Medeiros. Originally, he thought it would make a great feature film script.
“But maybe I’m not much of a fiction writer,” Medeiros joked.
Medeiros, who has worked as a writer/producer for Jay Leno, let the idea percolate for awhile until, “one day I was looking up Peruggia to see if there was anything new and I discovered Celestina (Peruggia’s daughter)."
Medeiros said as soon as he started thinking of the project as a documentary and not a fiction piece, things fell quickly into place.
“Serendipity?” he said.
Peruggia’s daughter, by then 84, was willing to talk about her father. Other interesting bits fell into place as Medeiros worked on the documentary. For example, access to the apartment where Peruggia lived in Paris, and permission to shoot in the Louvre when it was closed.
For Medeiros, as well as the family, pursuing the documentary was a type of closure. A long standing mystery about why would an Italian immigrant laborer, Vincenzo Perrugia, steal one of the most important paintings in the world was finally being investigated and told.
The documentary, “Mona Lisa Is Missing,” has what Medeiros calls a through line- a narrative that keeps the story on track. Part of the film involves Medeiros’ search for material and his interactions with Celestina Perrugia and her family.
“It’s basically a quest to find the truth,” Medeiros said, a way of working with his interest in Perrugia, the crime and its aftermath.
As with many historical documentaries, Medeiros had to solve the problem of making the material interesting and creating material where there was none. Ken Burns did this for his series on the Civil War by creating what is now known as the Ken Burns effect - the zooming in, out and around pictures of the era. Medeiros takes a more eclectic tack, often inserting pieces of pictures into another picture and animating people and objects. The effect is both funny and effective. Medeiros describes his technique as “born of desperation” and as a way of dealing with little to no footage for parts of the story.
In addition, Medeiros wanted to keep the tone light and entertaining. After all, he said, “I’ve written comedy for 15 years!”
Medeiros said the Perrugia family is pleased with the final product even though it might not show Vincenzo Perruggia in the most romantic of lights. The project was both fun and the answer to a long standing mystery, why did Peruggia make off with such a famous painting? For Medeiros, Peruggia’s crime needs to be seen against the backdrop of the times.
According to Medeiros, Peruggia was an immigrant in France, and the painting was his “golden ticket to honor and financial reward.” Treated as an inferior immigrant by the French, Peruggia “believed he was better than what was happening to him.”
As the documentary points out, Peruggia was arrested in Italy when he offered the painting to a dealer in Florence, and served time in prison. The painting was returned to France where it had been legitimately acquired from Da Vinci himself.
Peruggia, Medeiros explained, actually returned to France after World War I and couldn’t resist showing his new bride the painting whose theft shocked the art world.
As for Medeiros, finding the truth turned out to be much more fun than creating the fiction.
Medeiros and the producer, his wife, Justine Mestichelli Medeiros, will be on hand for questions after the screening tonight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.

Friday, September 18, 2015

"Learning To Drive"

This review appeared on "Learning to Drive" opened in San Diego September 11, 2015- a rather appropriate date, given the racism one of the characters faces, and is distributed by Broad Green Pictures.

Guest Review: ‘Learning To Drive’

Metaphors to live by

Guest blogger Rebecca Romani says that while "Learning to Drive" (opened this weekend in cinemas around San Diego) is largely predictable, it's the little moments that make a gorgeous late summer film.
(l to r) Ben Kingsley stars as Darwan and Patricia Clarkson as Wendy in "Learning to Drive."

Above: (l to r) Ben Kingsley stars as Darwan and Patricia Clarkson as Wendy in "Learning to Drive."

Companion viewing

Cairo Time” (2009)
The House of Sand and Fog" (2003)
Elegy "(2008) and
The Secret Life of Words " (2005)
For Wendy Shields, fierce intellectual book critic, life has been a series of words, pages, articles, and books. She admires writers, is admired by them, lives in a lovely apartment that looks comfortably messy, has a husband, has a daughter and leads a nice, lived-in life.
And then, one night, her dust jacket of a life goes to hell in the back seat of a cab. Her husband of 21 years has just informed her he’s leaving her and instructs the cabbie to take her home.
For Wendy (elegant, always interesting Patricia Clarkson), weepy and wrung out, the cab ride is a short, wretched sob session of minor confessions and self-flagellation. Distracted, she leaves an important manuscript on the seat, much to the consternation of the driver, Darvan Singh Tur (calm, slightly rumpled Ben Kingsley), who feels compelled to return it to Wendy the next day.
It’s an odd meeting between the composed Sikh and the fraying critic who finds herself suddenly alone in Manhattan, having never learned to drive. When Wendy realizes Darvan also gives driving lessons, a tiny door of hope opens. Wendy has no idea of how to drive, and up to now has never needed to. So she turns Darvan to show her how and to take her mind off her collapsing marriage.
Darvan takes his charge seriously and gently coaxes Wendy into first gear and eventually onto the freeway (“What’s wrong?” “We’re moving!”). Eventually, they make it across the Brooklyn Bridge and survive parallel parking and a fender bender.
In the process, Darvan and Wendy come to learn about their parallel worlds - Wendy becomes aware of how post 9/11 hysteria still dogs Darvan in his turban and how Sikh tradition pairs him in an arranged marriage, while Darvan begins to see Wendy as a woman learning to negotiate a newly uncoupled life who might have some advice for him as he embarks on a new marriage.
And from here, “Learning to Drive” coasts predictably enough along as driving turns into a metaphor for life.
“Learning To Drive” telegraphs its basic moments quite clearly, nonetheless, it pulls sweet little punches in the unexpected details. Under a lesser director and with a less interesting cast, “Learning To Drive” could have easily become an older chick flick, driving cougar jokes into the ground.
Instead, under Spanish director, Isabel Coixet (“Elegy”), “Learning to Drive” has well-timed, deeper moments. Its lack of polished and perky observations come as a shock, at first. And then comes the realization that it’s a film for grown ups, grungy pajamas, elegant dinners and all. It’s fun and surprisingly earthy, whether talking about blowjobs (“Why do you think it’s called a 'job?'”) or loamy sod in Vermont.
Coixet has teamed up with her "Elegy” costars to create a gentle, lived-in film, sensitively adapted from a short story in The New Yorker by screenwriter Sarah Kernochan. The result is a masterful combination made even better by the intelligent, relaxed editing.
Patricia Clarkson gives Wendy the right amount of elegance and sense of impending collapse if she doesn’t keep it together. There is something about her Wendy that recalls an earlier character, not quite sure of her element, that of Juliette in Rubba Nada’s luscious “Cairo Time.” Here, too, Clarkson’s character is not sure how attracted she should be to her companion on her journey through another culture and place, in a comfortable, moving interaction.
Kingsley’s Darvan Singh Tur is a rumpled, disciplined contradiction. Seemingly not quite at ease in his turban, still, Darvan is deeply committed to the Sikh principles including service to others, all the while clearly affirming his American identity, even in the face of daily, low level, obnoxious racism - a subtle comment on the reality of post-9/11 racism for Sikhs and others.
Kingsley, himself of Indian descent, gives Darvan a sort of innocent gravitas, which slowly flowers into a desire for companionship. Kingsley brilliantly balances the moment Darvan hesitates between his commitment to his new wife, Jasleen, and the possibility Wendy might be the educated woman he seeks – so clear is Darvan’s hesitation, you can almost touch it. And yet Kingsley is also able to deftly draw the tenderness in the moment Darvan is able to see the possibilities of a satisfying relationship with a woman he is only beginning to get to know.
Like Clarkson, there is something that harkens back to earlier work. Here Kingsley’s Darvan has echoes of his role as the tragic Col. Behrani, a stern Iranian immigrant trying to create the American dream for his family after the fall of the Shah in “The House of Sand and Fog.” Both are committed to principle, and where Behrani is sternly unbending, Darvan is a kinder, gentler version of the immigrant who must make it because he has no choice.
Sarita Choudhury does a lovely turn as Darvan’s new wife, Jasleen, who marries a bit late in life. Usually seen as the sensual beauty in films like “ A Perfect Murder,” Choudhury is much plainer, much more the country bride here. It’s a deeply human performance as Choudhury allows Jasleen to unfold before our eyes to become a woman with goals and finally, the potential for a comfortable relationship with a man she has committed her life to sight unseen.
It’s nice to see Sikhs finally get some dignified screen time. Coixet foregoes, and perhaps wasn’t even tempted by, that tried and tired trope of the Western woman (re)discovering the non-Western man in his exoticness. Instead, Coixet treats Darvan and his fellow Sikhs not as creatures to be spied upon in their native state, but as existing independent of Wendy and, therefore, with lives to be considered in their own right. Coixet allows Darvan to explain his circumstances - an educated man in exile for political reasons, his arranged marriage; but this is also set against the context of Wendy’s crumbling marital status. There are intriguing shots of the inside of a Gurdwara or Sikh temple and moments from Darvan’s marriage ceremony. But Darvan isn't explained ad nauseam. He just is in his being and dignity, and that’s refreshing.
There comes a time, around September, when the precious love story, the precocious irony, and the pithy generalities of summer fare just seem so done. You can’t decide if you have moved beyond them or if they've held you under and drowned you with their earnestness bit to seem forever young.
In contrast, “Learning to Drive” is a great cinematic palate cleanser for the waning dog days. It may not forge completely new paths, but Coixet presents a fun film with unexpected moments of tenderness, reality and sharply observant humor - and a reminder, that “learning to see,” as Darvan explains to Wendy, may help you keep your life on the road.
"Learning to Drive" is currently playing at the Hillcrest Landmark, Reading Cinemas Town Square in Clairemont, AMC La Jolla 12, The Cinépolis Luxury Cinemas in Del Mar, and the Edwards San Marcos 18.
Welcome to Cinefille!   

For now, this will be the compilation and posting blog for my writings on film, including interviews, reviews and background writing.

Most of the currently listed work comes from, as part of the Cinema Junkie Blog. Early pieces come from here and there.

Eventually there will be a writer blog. but for now, my film writing is here.