Lucia Lane (Jennifer Kendal), an English novelist, comes to Bombay to research the Bollywood film scene for a book she is planning to write. She is introduced by a producer (none other than Ismail Merchant) to the dashing movie star Vikram (Shashi Kapoor) and the screenwriter Hari (Zia Mohyeddin). Vikram, who is married to the beautiful but barren young Mala (Aparna Sen), falls in love with Lucia and they begin an affair, evoking a fierce rivalry between Vikram and Hari, and a painful envy on the part of Vikram's wife. Lucia, seeking escape and enlightenment, flees to a guru (Pincho Kapoor) but cannot bring herself to abandon her worldly desires for a subservient life in the ashram. She returns to Vikram and the various love triangles collapse, bringing the characters to desperation and the entanglement to a startling resolution.
Shot entirely on location in and around the city of its title, Bombay Talkie is one of Merchant Ivory's most distinctive films, at once a psychological drama and a parodic hommage to the Indian film scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The eclectic dramatis personae include Uptal Dutt as Bose, a corrupt producer, Nadira as Anjana Devi, Vikram's confidante, and a full complement of women who enact a musical number on a giant typewriter (one of Ivory's favorite film sets to date), as the dancers' movements type out Fate ("It's very symbolic," Lucia compliments). Subatra Mitra, the master cameraman of Satyajit Ray, provides the photography, and it is to great effect that his unassuming lens is set upon the director's shrewdly observed scenes. At one moment in the film, an elderly Indian fan of Lucia's novel Consenting Adults arrives at her hotel to ask her for an autograph: as Lucia flees and the absurd exchange is played out, the camera pulls back and patiently watches the two descend the grand staircase of the Taj Mahal Hotel. It is one of the film's many moments in which the comedy of a situation is made more acute by the lyricism of the visuals.
Jennifer Kendal is magnificent as Lucia: her offhand candor and genuine sweetness make her all the more believable as a homewrecker who doesn't seem to grasp the consequences of her actions. She moves effortlessly from quiet despair, a middle-aged woman alone in a foreign hotel, to fish-out-of-water scenes at an ashram which put one in mind of Maria von Trapp in the convent, dreaming of the hills and the Captain. Shashi Kapoor brings to Vikram that star quality which attracts the legions of adoring women who seem always to surround him; and Aparna Sen paints a quietly affecting Mala. Like the goddess Devi, whose image appears on screen, Sen's Mala is part long-suffering wife, part Fury.
From the opening credits sequence (probably the most original of any Merchant Ivory film) to the films within the film (the musical, the Indian western), Bombay Talkie claims a unique place in Ivory's work for its elements of meta-film -- a film about film, in which the viewer is at once involved in what is on-screen and aware of the medium. Yet there are also those familiar elements of uprooted persons and cultural difference that characterize both the earliest and the most recent films of Merchant Ivory. Lucia, late in Bombay Talkie, tries on one of Mala's saris and Vikram explains to the uninformed Englishwoman that it is his wife's wedding sari. Just then, Mala enters to see her husband's lover dressed in her own wedding clothes: as in many of Merchant and Ivory's films, cultural misunderstanding leads to human drama of the most visceral and affecting kind.
A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries is the story of an American family living in Paris in the mid sixties, told from the point of view of the daughter, Channe. The father, Bill Willis, is a successful expatriate writer (based on Kaylie Jones's father, the writer James Jones), a WWII veteran haunted by his experiences in the Pacific. His wife, Marcella, is an emotional, fun-loving woman. The film opens the day five-year old Benoit, a French orphan, is brought into the family for adoption.
Benôit's natural mother, an unmarried French girl who was only fifteen when her child was born, holds up the adoption proceedings out of feelings of guilt and remorse, thus terrifying the Willises with the possibility of Benôit's removal. Jealous, Channe retreats to the protective embraces of her Portuguese nanny Candida, who takes her frustrations out on the small boy. Benôit, who has been moved around from foster home to foster home, keeps his suitcase packed, ready at a moment's notice to be sent back to the orphanage. It is only after much tenderness and reassurance from Bill and Marcella that Benôit relinquishes his suitcase, and asks to have his name changed to Billy.
Against the backdrop of their parents' poker games and all-night parties, the children grow up attending a bilingual school where they struggle to be accepted. When necessary, Marcella intervenes at school, defending her children with a fierce loyalty and railing at the form-obsessed French teachers. Still, Billy wants - more than anything else in the world - to be American. Just as Channe reaches puberty, she is befriended by a sensitive and artistic boy names Francis Fortescue. Francis is fatherless, somewhat effeminate, and the son of an expatriate American mother. They become inseparable. Billy thinks Francis is weird, but Channe admires Francis' knowledge of opera, his ability to tell dramatic stories, and his courage in always being frank and up front. As sexual maturity overtakes Channe, the friendship becomes strained, and Francis, who is excluded from the school's teen-age party scene, becomes more and more withdrawn and morose as Channe looks romantically to the other boys. Their friendship collapses just as Bill announces that at the end of the school year, the family will be returning to the U.S. He explains that a congenital heart problem is getting worse, and he wants to be under the care of American doctors. The children's entire world is suddenly and unceremoniously left behind.
In Sagaponack, Long Island, on Labor Day weekend, the Willises arrive at their new home, an old farm house in the middle of vast, green potato fields. Bill teaches Channe how to drive, continues the tradition of all-night poker games, and plays down Marcella's fears about his family's history of heart disease. Channe and Billy attend the local high school, fitting in no better than they did in Paris. Channe begins having sex in the backseats of cars, searching for acceptance and attention. Unsure of herself, she shares intimate conversations with her father about boys and girls and sex. Bill tries to guide her way but feels powerless; he is getting worse, and is preoccupied with trying to finish his final novel about WWII.
With the leaves falling outside their home and Billy raking the yard furiously, a dying Bill tells Channe that she must read the diary of Billy's pregnant mother, a diary Bill has kept all these years in anticipation of the day when his adopted son would want to know the truth about his origins. Struggling against time to finish his novel, Bill speaks the final chapters into a tape recorder from his hospital bed and passes away.
Billy and Channe are brought close by the enormity of their loss. Marcella tries to give Billy his natural mother's diary, but he refuses to take it. He gives it instead to his sister Channe, in an unprecedented act of love and trust, saying he can manage only one mother at a time. In bravely attempting to fill the role of the responsible man of the family, holding everything together, he comes closer to his American father than he had ever dreamed of being.
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