Review

Before the Rains Review

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May 09, 2008 | 4:41am EDT

This stunning looking Merchant Ivory production is set in remote southern India in 1937 when Englishmen ruled the colony and had a life-changing impact on the local people both personally and professionally. Henry Moores (Linus Roache) is one such man with plans to create a spice plantation in Kerala which requires the erection of a new road through the mountainous region. He enlists the help of a crafty villager T.K. (Rahul Bose) who works hard for his new boss by convincing his people this is a good thing. Henry’s involvement with the locals doesn’t stop there as he carries on a clandestine--and forbidden--affair with his married house servant Sarjani (Nandita Das). When Henry’s own wife (Jennifer Ehle) and son arrive from England the plot thickens. Sarjani can’t let go emotionally and is threatened with death for her betrayal; she wants Henry’s protection from her husband. She also pleads for help from T.K. now caught in the middle between the traditions and morals of his country and his own career ambitions. The ultimate decisions Henry and T.K. are forced to make could have great human and political consequences. Law and Order star Linus Roache returns to his comfort zone in English art-house cinema in past movies like Priest capturing just the right balance between an ambitious man looking for upward mobility professionally and satisfaction personally against a turbulent backdrop of emerging nationalism in India. Love scenes with the gorgeous Nandita Das are sensual and believable--the stuff of classically tragic movie romance. Das is a real find. Not only does the camera love her she acts with great poignancy as a woman trapped in traditions her heart will not let her follow. The other big female role goes to Jennifer Ehle a fine actress stuck with a rather thankless role as “the wife.” Along with Das the other standout in the cast is Indian superstar Rahul Bose who makes his “right hand man” conflicted and convincing as a man smack in the middle of two worlds with only one way out caught up in events drifting out of his control. Often foreign directors taking on their first English language projects flounder as something gets lost in the translation and they stray too far from roots they are comfortable with. For Indian director Santosh Sivan the choice of this fascinating if somewhat soapy story is perfect. Based on an Israeli short film Red Roofs the setting characters and time period have been changed but its universal truths remain with Sivan working in a new language while shooting in his native land. He successfully walks the fine line between a starkly realistic approach and melodrama landing somewhere in the middle. Perhaps key to his triumph over the language barriers is the international feel of the whole enterprise and the choice of Indian actors who are able to make the leap themselves. But without question the key ingredient to Sivan’s vision is his own stunning jaw-droppingly gorgeous cinematography. When director and cameraman are the same the results at least in this case are really something to watch.

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