Powerful Passage to IndiaA Passage to India, directed by David Lean, with Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, and Alec Guinness; Sack Copley Place and Harvard Square Theater. Stranger Than Paradise, Nickelodeon Theater.
They don't make many movies like A Passage to India anymore. Reminiscent of epics like Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India is about a clash of cultures set against the background of 1920s India.
Don't go expecting a complex, intellectually challenging storyline. The plot is very simple. Two Englishwomen, one old and charming and the other young and enigmatic, travel to India at a time when the British rule the subcontinent as a colonial state. The women are disgusted by the strained relationship between the snobbish ruling English and the pandering native Indians. They are also disappointed by the lack of adventure. Everything in India seems so British, as if the British had artificially recreated their home there. The women want to see the "real India" and are determined to meet Indians who can bridge the gap between the East and West.
They make the acquaintance of an Indian physician well-enough versed in Western culture to be their guide. Although the younger Englishwoman is initially enthusiastic about finding the real India, her foray is unsuccessful. Her first taste of the East shocks her. She recoils to her home culture. The result is a scandal that threatens to tear India along ethnic and cultural lines. Miss Quested, the younger of the women, once opposed to the split between East and West, eventually finds herself to be a major cause of the split.
The acting is powerful and understated. Victor Banerjee brilliantly portrays a complex physician -- ambitious and anxious to please his British friends, but striving to maintain dignity despite his status as a second-class citizen. Alec Guinness demonstrates his acting range in the rather surprising role of a Hindu professor.
David Lean's direction is wonderful. Half the reason to see this movie is the simple but powerful images on the screen. A Passage to India can tell more in a few minutes of pictures than many movies can in two hours of dialogue. The recreation of the time and place is evocative; 1920s India is an exotic and exciting location. It holds our attention through the entire movie. A Passage to India is one of the best movies of the past few months. It is well worth seeing.
Stranger Than Paradise is a very strange movie indeed. It was shot in black and white, probably on a very low budget. The film strikes the viewer with well-crafted design, rather than Hollywood-style flamboyance.
This movie tries for a mood, rather than a gripping story, and it succeeds. In an unusual narrative style, each scene is separate and distinct, isolated by short periods of nothing but a black screen. It's almost like one of those photonovellas where there are few but well-selected pictures.
The story, such as it is, concerns a woman from Eastern Europe who immigrates to America. On the way to live with her aunt in Cleveland, she visits her cousin in New York for a week and a half. A year later, the cousin and his friend decide to take a vacation to Cleveland where they pick up the woman and travel to Florida. It's a mellow trip to nowhere, congruous to the experience of the film itself. Don't see Stranger Than Paradise for excitement or enthrallment; that's not what it's trying for.