Slow but rewarding
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
If you'd like to know an example of "saga" that eschews violence and sex to concentrate on the impact of global living on the family unit, then see Mira Nair's Namesake. She traces a young Indian, Gogol, from his youth through his almost mid-life in New York with the kind of attention to detail and sympathy we all should hope from our biographers. Gogol's name derives from the Russian author with clear thematic relevance to his famous short story, The Overcoat.
Besides being literarily astute, the story exudes sympathy for families whose children pursue lives outside strong ethnic links, but whose influence is a daily reminder of a simpler time in a homeland offering more stability and love than the glamorous but unforgiving world-class New York. Nair's narrative is slow but rewarding so that no character's fate seems capricious, no culture overwhelming enough to keep a progressive child from emigrating to the New World.
In a way, Nair has caught the bittersweet nature of change, embodied in America as the Promised Land and India as the nurturing, safe past. The beauty of the slow but profound Namesake is that both worlds are the province of the progressive child, whose challenge is to retain the values of both in a global culture. The motifs such as changing names or slipping into someone else's shoes remind me of how well Mike Nichols integrates his symbolism into his otherwise realistic mise en scene.
No one who has seen Salaam Bombay or Monsoon Wedding can question Nair's romantic capture of culture crude and sublime. She is one of the genius directors of the century.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com