If you live in a city like Santa Monica that showcases art films, independent productions and documentaries, you are very fortunate indeed.
If you do, I would encourage you to find a feature film called “56 Up” (playing at the Laemmle Theaters). It is a fascinating documentary that follows the lives of 14 diverse children from all over England, beginning in 1964, when they were 7 years old, and revisiting them every seven years.
Now 56, the “children” can look back on their lives and their accomplishments and, surprisingly, their disappointments with an equanimity which appears to come with age.
But it wasn’t always so. In the beginning they were a bouncy lot, filled with opinions, judgments, and childhood dreams. At 14 they were beginning to question their convictions and revising their plans for the future. By 21 their lives had begun to fall into place, and by 28 most of them were married and many had children of their own.
By 35 several of them were divorced.
At 42 and 49 they had resigned themselves to their lives and, ironically, the more successful of them had some regrets and unfulfilled dreams, while the less affluent and successful appeared more accepting of their lot.
Contentment seemed to be the prevailing mood at 56, although by this time, having been filmed over nearly half a century, and having become minor “celebrities” in England, they were aware of the limits of their portrayals and their roles as “representative Brits.”
Michael Apted, who created the series for television in Britain and released it as a series of films in the U.S., has done a brilliant job of reprising each of their life stories with warmth and generosity, giving us a glimpse of the changes, physical as well as emotional, that they underwent over the years and reminding us once again who they were at each phase of their lives.
It’s a moving documentary that touches everyone who watches it, inviting us to take stock of our own lives, and reminding us, inevitably, that there but for the grace of God.
Get a piece of Pi
I couldn’t get through the book, so now I feel the need to express my apologies to its author, Yann Martel. The film made of his novel, “Life of Pi,” is one of the most exquisite films I have ever seen. It has received rave reviews from everyone (Newsweek called it “stunning”), but I had to add my overwhelming reactions to this extraordinary film.
Each frame is visually gorgeous and emotionally provocative. India looks like India — swarming with color. The ocean, even at its most fiendish, is extravagantly blue. When the sun comes out, it blinds you. And the nighttime sky, filled with stars, is as you remember it from your childhood.
Not that director Ang Lee needs to have his genius reconfirmed, but this fantastical picture is bound to be remembered as one of his major masterpieces.
I sat enthralled as we journeyed through Pi’s childhood and his engagement with the tiger in his father’s zoo. I admired the way he earned his fellow students’ respect by filling up a room full of blackboards with the endless numbers that make up pi. (Does anyone know those numbers any further than 3.1415?)
And when he becomes the sole survivor of a catastrophic shipwreck and sails for harrowing months across the Pacific with only a tiger for company, you become as parched and debilitated as he.
The glistening scenes underwater. The variety of quirky animals. The flying fish and the flying birds. And the virtuoso performance of Suraj Sharma as he lives this story.
I usually have mixed feelings about 3-D movies because the directors can’t resist the gimmickry and it’s often distracting. But “Life of Pi” is 3-D at its very best and delightfully integrated into the story.
It’s so hard to believe that the tiger, Richard Parker, is only real some of the time. But I’ll bet you won’t be able to tell when he’s real and when he’s computer-generated! The computer work alone took a year, and 14,000 people were engaged in the final production.
This is a film not to be missed. And to all the people who worked on it, one can only say “Namaste,” or, “I bow to the divine in you.”
The “Life of Pi” is playing now at the AMC Santa Monica 7 and will be screened at the Aero Theatre on Friday, Feb. 1. It was a nominee for Best Picture at the Golden Globe Awards and is currently a nominee in that same category for an Oscar.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.