Great visuals, but be ready for the cultural imperialism
I don't often review films but in this case I felt I had to balance the positives I see here. Yes, this is a fascinating portrait of the India of over 40 years ago. It has changed a lot since then, so it's valuable to have this social document. And it is true that Malle's identification of the dangers of globalization and Western values was prescient.
BUT the film is also an unintended document of French leftist cultural arrogance, self- indulgence, and prejudices. This is not exactly a criticism - I was amused as often as irritated - but it was not what I expected from the reviews I read.
The footage is often haunting and beautiful.
But all the while Malle's deeply felt narration piously deplores: Indian poverty and backwardness, the depredations of economic growth, the oppression of the priests and other Brahmins, the "enslavement" of animals as labor (esp. elephants) the viciousness of British colonialism (as opposed to just any version; one assumes the French version was better as in all things) the infighting among otherwise brave and forward-thinking communists, and finally, the unwillingness of the peasantry to rise up in glorious armed revolution!
I am not kidding, in episode 4 he literally laments the people's lack of violence.
Again, documenting those views is no bad thing. He does make useful political observations that are at least as relevant today. And his narration of his personal journey and evolution, while it rings pretty self-indulgent, seems sincere. He does slowly shed some of his arrogant assumptions of superiority.
But you need to be in the mood. I got tired of it by the end of the 1st disk, in spite of the many wonderful visuals.
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