Monday, September 18, 2006

on munich

The sister of my heart Kate/Bob was out of Bombay this weekend. She was visiting my funny, ugly step-childlike neck of the woods, where autorickshaw meters run too fast, and packets of instant noodles have been known to disappear into the cavernous maw of the aether, and where it is beautiful when it rains. (Your eyeliner is here, by the way. You aren’t having it back, as I’ve already used up most of it practicing my gawth chica impression. Sorry.)

We spent a mostly vegetative weekend consuming television and cinema. What does it say about Hyderabad that Munich, released a full four months earlier elsewhere in India, stumbled mistakenly into an early evening PVR show last week, while The Devil Wears Prada splashed across our own silver screens right alongside those in the vibrant, pulsating cultural hubs of Bombay, Gurgaon and Whathaveyoupur? (If, even in jest, one feels like attempting an answer to the question, one may want to consider shoving it.) I’m glad to have seen both films in a space of thirty-six hours, and in that way that everything has of relating to everything else, I found that both films have in common markedly similar ways of leaving unanswered questions hanging in the air above one’s tiny head. Something tells me that this was not the intention of the makers of TDWP.

Spielberg, on the other hand, seemed to be pushing very hard for most of three hours to do anything but answer questions. I liked both films, in the sense that DWP left me unoffended and temporarily amused, while I senselessly adored Munich, which tried so damn hard, and apparently I am the sort of person that grades on effort. It was overlong and melodramatic, but it’s been long since I watched a film that used length and melodrama as means that successfully justified the ends. I was one of those who missed Spielberg-mania, but Munich definitely opened a window through which dawning realisation trickles in. I haven’t seen a film that leaves so many questions unanswered to satisfaction.

I think what Spielberg really succeeded in tackling, in a very poetic fashion for what is, on several levels, a smart, sinister action-thriller, is the idea of home – home as something prosaic and annoying, even ultimately disillusioning, on the one hand, but precious and necessary for survival on the other. The way the narrative lingers, in speech and visuals, on the shapes of houses, hotels and families was exactly reminiscent of the also-flawed but interesting Salman Rushdie. Rushdie has answers in the end, though – no man’s land is his home; his books tell us that the person of no country, if wretched, is also incredibly fortunate. Spielberg offers no such comfort to anyone, not the ordinary folk, not the (very nice!) terrorists, and least of all to Avner, the Mossad agent who is his central character. There’s a moment of brilliance at the end of the film, when Avner, played by Eric Bana, confronts his boss (an exceptional Geoffrey Rush), who asks him why, after everything Avner has done for the sake of his homeland, he has chosen exile – such a loaded word in the Jewish context – in a different land. Avner doesn’t answer; he asks, in return, why they believe that murdering terrorists will make Israel any safer, since younger, angrier men will replace them each time. Rush’s answer is pithy and evasive, pure rhetoric: “Why do I cut my fingernails? They grow back.” It isn’t a satisfactory answer, nowhere near enough to induce Avner to return home, in whose service he’s pursued and killed a chain of men responsible for the massacre of the athletes at the ’72 Munich Olympics – if he is any longer convinced at all, at the end, that Israel is worthy of being called home (or is he the one unworthy of Israel? Rush’s character might think so).

Munich has a lot to do with what seems like a classic case of Jewish guilt; its central characters can be said to be stereotypes, in some way – the chatty, kvetchy, good Jews that Spielberg (or Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, the writers) apparently cannot reconcile with Israelis who aggressively pursue survival and other, less-vaunted goals in the Middle East today. The Palestinians are all young, emotional; wrong-headed, but passionate, and desperate and human. How do they ever get any work done? You see where Spielberg is coming from, though – and just the volumes of criticism heaped on him for raising even these basic questions of rectitude and moral justice make it evident that even going this far doesn’t turn on any of the empathy taps in the US media.

I enjoyed the film because it didn’t have any answers. Names and crimes do change from generation to generation, but neither fact nor fiction seems capable of providing solutions to the problems of the Middle East, and I respect the fact that Munich’s concerns, while grand, weren’t all that grand. It played out the realisation of its only simple conclusion – blood calls for more blood – in a captivating way. It is enormously sympathetic to both sides and endorses neither, and I was far more moved by that than I was by Crash. Crash used a smaller canvas, and it had a tight script, but I always thought it was a bit too glib, and having seen Munich, I can’t imagine how anyone would think Crash was smarter or more insightful in any way.

Serious love for the cinematography and the look – the recreation of the seventies in cities across Europe, Israel and America was masterful, but the interiors, oh. The motel rooms, the safe houses, the cars and elevators and the kitchens were something else. The music did tend to veer into schlock, but never too completely to undermine the dizzying effects of Bill Withers in a smoky dark room, or the Israeli anthem picked out hesitantly on a piano. Perhaps the only part of the film I actively disliked was the inter-cutting of the final sequence of the Munich murders with a sex scene, but the Olympics sequence in itself was terrific – claustrophobic, violent, and tragic. The performances were very satisfying, too. Eric Bana obviously had the role of a lifetime, to which he rose well, I thought, and Geoffrey Rush, Ciaran Hinds and Matthieu Kassovitz were all spot on. And I’m determined to watch a James Bond film for the first time come November, possibly more than once, just because I am convinced of Daniel Craig’s brilliance. (He’s also playing Asriel in the adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which now means that I will explode if this film isn’t made soon enough. He proves my truly detestable weakness for evil men beyond all reasonable doubt.) This certainly takes the sting out of the unmitigated embarrassment that was The Terminal, and I’m very interested to see what Spielberg does next.


  1. Nice stuff

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  2. Hi Supriya!

    I've just the past few hours of my supposedly productive workday reading your blog, which is, in many many many way, utterly fabulous. Seriously.

    Anyway, so you don't assume I'm just a weird kind of fem-stalker, Prerna Shankar (who you may or may not remember - she was in Bombay working for CNBC) told me that you work for Google. Or have worked for Google. Since I am considering doing the same job, I was wondering if you could tell me whether its unmitigated hell or whether you actually might've sorta enjoyed it.

    P.S. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your mention of Cannavaro's naked! pic. I have never been so grateful.

  3. Actually, I am also thinking of trying out for Google - what I want to nkow is, do they have any kind of non-coding job for which they would consider an engineer? Like maybe some content kind of role.....?

  4. anonymouse1:40 pm

    Lakesidey, they do (I do know people in their admin team, and on the gmail side). On the other hand, those jobs don't pay too well.

    I know quite a few people, including me, who have turned down Google, and a few people who work in the tech teams.

    Put up a note here if Roswitha can't figure out a good contact for you.

    OTOH, we are hiring so if you want to send in a resume, feel free to ask for details.

  5. Thank you, thank you everyone, for your compliments, blog-pimps, and offers and requests regarding job advice. In order to sort out the dizzying array of aspects to this discussion, I have ordered my responses in point form:

    a. I like my job.
    b. Naked Cannavaro is good.
    c. I don't enjoy discussing my employers on this blog. Can we all just get along on email instead? Shoot me a line if you find my ID via Orkut/Prerna, and I'd be very happy to tell you all I know. :)
    d. Are you sure you're not a fem-stalker, Yamini? A small fucked-up part of my brain shrivels up in disappointment!

  6. e. Also all of you, get the hell out of here and go watch Munich again and again.

  7. Do we have content writing jobs? News to me.
    I liked what you had to sy about Munich. Though the football never does go away now, does it?:(
    I intensely disliked the sex scene interspersed with the violence in the end. It was so, well, American. Oh well, hope floats.
    Eric Bana is HOT by the way.:D

  8. do you have a wordlimit set everytime you sit to write? or do you naturally end up writing so much??
    btw...when is the porn novel you are writing coming out? :)

  9. And many sorts of hurros. I have wanted to watch Munich for a long time. :( Now I must proceed to get my hands on it.

    How is you? :D Was generally thinking about you today...and prodding that November is a good time to come to Delhi. It is pretty and suchlike.