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A Valuable Discovery

Looking for an escape from Ph.D work, teaching summer classes, and with evenings free from duty, I have started to engage in a new passion: movie-watching. And I’m not referring to just any sort of movie. Forget Hollywood. NO action flicks, Brad Pitt look-alikes or any of that carry on. I refer to movies that educate and inspire transporting oneself to another nation, another culture, another reality. The kind of fix that only independent and international films can provoke in travellers at heart like myself. I have always adored engaging in hour-long international movie watching, although when living on a small island, the task of finding non-Hollywood flicks can be a nearly impossible mission. That is… until I found this impressive hole in the wall rental, which unlike its exquisite and varied selection of movies, goes by a very simple name: Video Place.

Video Place opened its doors the same year of my birth, almost 30 years ago, in Rio Hondo Mall, a landmark that divides 3 different towns: Toa Alta, Cataño, and Bayamón. Its owners, Miguel López and Carmen Mazzeo, his wife, are true film connoisseurs, who enjoy recommending different movies to all of their customers. Their enormous collection is divided by genre, geographical location and topic, and is able to satisfy almost any pallet: Italian, Polish, German, Eastern European, Cuban, Spanish, Indian, Mexican, Argentinian, local cinema, documentaries, drama, comedy, action, cut-vein, and other films ranging from the early 1930’s to the present.

Considering the fact that during the past years most family-owned small video rental stores have not been able to compete with or survive the claws of multinational movie companies such as Video Club or Blockbuster, it is truly admirable to see how there are still a few exceptions, as is Video Place, where the public can be offered valuable on-screen art that portrays subjects other than mere violence, sex, and drugs.

This said, Video Place has become my week escape from work and daily stress, up to the point that since I discovered it two weeks ago, I have been back and forth several times and have watched at least 10 movies! For those of you who share this passion, I have included a short list and synopsis of the flicks, which I consider my favorite so far, and soon I´ll update another array of titles which I am currently engaging in.

Fire (1996, Director- Deepa Mehta)

Forms part of a trilogy entitled Elements, dedicated to some of India´s most controversial and tabooed social issues. The other two films that compose this trilogy are: Water (2005),

a story about Chuyia, an eight year old girl who becomes a widow and must move to a ashram in Varanasi to live the rest of her life in renunciation and as an outcast of society. This was a common practice in India during the British Raj, where it was believed that widows not only are burdened with bad karma and considered a financial burden for their families, but also because half of a woman also dies when she becomes a widow. This is a great film as well and I highly recommend it because of its superb cinematography, spirituality, plot development, and even music!

The other film is Earth (1998),

which I consider to be one of the best. Earth portrays the story of Lenny, a girl who polio and her wealthy family who tries to maintain neutral amid the brutal tensions between Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus. Great love story and very educative in order to understand the many cultural and religious identities in a country as complex as India.

Fire, on the other hand, is the first film of this trilogy (although it is not indispensable to follow the order). It is one of the few Indian films to portray a homosexual relationship between two women: Sita (a young girl who has recently married a man who doesn’t love her and has another lover) and Radha (Sita’s husband’s sister in law, who is also caught in an unhappy marriage to her husband who under the influence of his spiritual leader, or Swamiji, has decided to maintain a vote of chastity). These two women initially become connected because of their common dissapointment in their husbands, and end up finding comfort and solace in one another until their relationship evolves and they become lovers.

The story is beautiful and is a fantastic way of viewing this social taboo through the eyes of New Delhi’s conservative mindframe. Besides Sita and Radha’s romance, the film revolves around a main theme: DESIRE (Fire) from each of the character’s experience.

The screening of the movie in 1998, anyhow, cause major uprising in Mumbai, Calcutta, and other cities around the country. Members of the Shiv Sena (right wing political party) invaded and looted cinemas, people were injured, and others were arrested… The trilogy Elements is worth watching and unique to most mainstream Indian films, especially because of its theme treatment and development.

The three of them are totally worth watching. Three thumbs up to Deepa Mehta, great job!!!

Moolaadé (Protection)- 2004, Senegal.

Is a film directed by Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembène.
The movie portrays a central theme: female genital mutilation, a common practice among some African and Arabic countries. Moolaadé takes place in a remote village south of the Sahara Desert, where Collé, a woman, protects a group of girls from becoming ¨purified¨. She must confront the people of her village who believe that this brutal practice is necessary and forms part of the pillars of Islam. The film is not only ethnographic and a great portrayal of African village life, but also a hopeful sign that the positive effects of globalization and gender roles are evolving even in the most remote areas of the world.

Stay tuned for more movie posts…

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