01 August 2009

Sita Sings the Blues

I'll be teaching the Mahabarata to freshmen in the fall, so I figured I'd start gearing up by checking out this movie, which I missed when it was playing last year. Sita Sings the Blues is an animated feature that combines a retelling of the Ramayana with the story of the director's (Nina Paley) divorce. A curious idea, and the end result is worth watching, if somewhat disappointing.

First, the good part - the Ramayana portion is pretty delightful. Irreverent, certainly, but charming and quite clever. It's narrated by three characters who also provide a running commentary ("And then it turned out she was pregnant. Maybe they joined the Mile High Club?" "So what, she's just a bloodthirsty woman?") which is really well done, a very intelligent take on the text. It's also accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack of old jazzy blues songs by Annette Hanshaw that are just terrific. FYI - you can buy Ms. Hanshaw's complete best of, 47 (!) tracks, for only $9.99. I'm downloading them as I type this. So, yeah, Ramayana - lovely. Lots of fun.

The problem with the movie is the "parallel" story, that of the director's divorce. First off, there's not much there - to summarize, she and her husband are apparently madly in love. He gets a 6 month job in India, and he seems to grow a bit distant, metaphorically speaking. She comes to India, and he is quite clearly distant (this is conveyed, however, in just one scene of her in a bra and panties in bed, and him going to sleep instead of making love to her). She flies to New York for a meeting, and receives an email from him telling her not to come back. She is very sad. Very very sad. Then she starts reading Ramayana. End of movie. Seriously. It's actually even sparser than I'm making it sound. So, I guess there's sort of a parallel to Ramayana, in that Sita ultimately tells Rama to take a leap because she's tired of his bullshit, but that's a pretty weak parallel. Then, there's the fact that her husband was in India, so I guess that's kind of a link. But really, it seems like the point is, Ms. Paley read Ramayana while all this stuff was happening, and probably related to it on some kind of deep level, such that she decided to make a movie of it, and then she figured she'd keep the part about her relating to it in the movie.

Now, I don't want to be harsh about this, but here's the thing - either give me a solid reason why I should find your story as compelling as the Ramayana, show me how your own personal experience with the text illuminates it and brings out meanings that simply reading it on its own wouldn't, or - leave your story out. I'm sure it was a very difficult time for you. I imagine working on this film was a comfort. But putting in the story of your marriage ending comes across as pretty self-indulgent. Sorry.

Meanwhile though, as a cartoon version of the Ramayana - it's a lovely film. Worth checking out.

1 comment:

Marthine Satris said...

I felt the same way Kasia! I did enjoy the commentary and the songs for sure.

~doing a little blog stalking :)