The Waiting City (2009)
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This is the fourth film written and directed by Australian filmmaker Claire McCarthy and it's a picture that vividly photographs India as a vibrant and deeply mystical place. The film was shot on location in India, mostly in Calcutta, and there is a commendable degree of verisimilitude in the way that the streets have been chaotically filmed by McCarthy and her cinematographer Denson Baker. The lanes that Joel and Fiona explore are trampled by hundreds of people at a time. Some of these people are children running along the streets. Others are just working adults, like the merchants that regularly try to coax Ben and Fiona into buying goods. There are strange abnormalities too, suggestive of the sense of mythology that has been etched into the city, like when Fiona is disorientated and thinks she is seeing a woman with many arms, only for a child being carried on her back to be revealed. It is because of the authenticity of the film's visuals that a palpable atmosphere surrounds the India's lower classes here.
There are less impressive elements relating to the script though. The pacing of the narrative stammers into its second hour too slowly, mainly because of the film's tendency to move in tangents. The subplot involving Isabel Lucas's character Scarlett is a primary example. It raises speculation about Joel's commitment to his wife and there are some weighty tensions between them but it feels unresolved because the character Scarlett moves in and out of the picture. The film also has a weak grasp on the ideas of spirituality. At one point Fiona admits that she can feel the spirit of her deceased mother in the city. But a potentially interesting idea is a rather transparent one because it isn't reflected on ever again. In another scene Fiona does not take part in a ritual and it might have been more interesting if the dialogue made reflections on this after the film's rather tragic climax. In spite of these deficiencies there are two solid and likable performances here through Edgerton and Mitchell. Their roles are constructed to the point where one has to question what they see in each other. It is again never touched on but at least the frustrations and the emotions shared between them ring true. Lucas's part seems to be underwritten and her character is a mild distraction to the story.
The Waiting City is a minor Australian picture that is rich in its atmosphere and sense of culture. Yet it is also marred by a problematic screenplay and uneven pacing. It wades through the tangents of the first act, towards a second half where the characters fail to reflect on what has really transformed their lives. In such a deeply spiritual place the film never seems quite as profound as it should be because both the characters and the audience remain as outsiders. There are questions over the relationship too, but both leads at least make them likable tourists, who only just skim on the surface of India.
I can't recommend this film enough and without giving too much away have to say this is one of the most stand out films I have seen in a very long time. The actors are superb, their chemistry is completely spot on, the way India is filmed made me feel like I was there and in so many moments made me question everything I've ever thought about. The story is touching and so real. I have never seen the lead actors Joel Edgerton and Radha Mitchell look so good or be so likable and I've seen quite few of their movies.
The director spoke at the Q&A after wards and mentioned that she spent a lot of time working in India in the slums of Calcutta and also made a documentary film about her younger sister in India. This really shines through. She has clearly put the time in, done the research and knows the world of this story. Her message in the film is also very moving. She has a balanced view of all the things the film covers in the story. The film does deal with some complex things like stresses between long term relationships, expectations between couples, family and cultural differences and a range of other things but somehow I managed to have quite a lot of laughs all the way through.
A really good balance between the drama and the funnier side. Very grown up film-making and a pleasure to watch.
It is has been a very long time that any film, in particular an Australian film has made me feel even close to what this film has. I cannot recommend THE WAITING CITY enough.
India plays a central role in the film; its population and crowding are almost suffocating and the obvious run-down vision of the city where the action takes place is striking for someone living in a Western city where everything is quickly repaired as soon as paint fades or tiles crack.
On the political side of the film, it can be no accident that the central drama of the movie revolves around the city of Bhopal where the world's worst industrial accident occurred in 1984 in a plant owned and operated by the American company Union Carbide. As the script develops, the viewer will see the logic of the inclusion of that tragic city in the film. There is not the slightest mention of what happened there in '84 but the chemical nature of that disaster leads inexorably to conclusions by the viewer.
I'm an adoptee myself, and being immersed in this world from the side of the prospective parents, well I guess I never really stopped to consider that very much. Now I do.
Set the popcorn aside and watch this film, and then think about family and relationships and the impact the arrival and anticipation of a child can have, especially if that child arrives by 'other means'.
Congrats Claire, and thanks for making me THINK of the thing that most people take for granted - family.
After the first ten minutes I knew I was going to be transported. I sat back, ready to begin this journey with an open mind.
What ensued was a truly original and profound exploration of human relationships in a foreign land and culture; both the conflicting expectations and quite naturally, the disappointments and disillusionments that follow.
In "The Waiting City", these themes are explored carefully with the depth and maturity they deserve. In the end, there are no answers provided to questions asked on the spiritual, or the morally right. The two main character grow, as does the audience, thanks to the amazing performances of Radha Mitchell and Joel Edgerton.
Radha Mitchell was absolutely captivating as Fiona Simmons, a young lawyer who carries the many flaws of her husband and their suffering relationship upon herself. Joel Edgerton naturally embodies all the warmth and enthusiasm of Ben Simmons, a musician / song writer who is still unsure of what he wants to do with his life, submitting himself to his wife's tendency to control and be the "adult".
As both lose control in a land where nothing seems to work or go according to plan. Ben rises and grasps opportunities to prove himself, Fiona in her turn learns to accept and let go.
Both are waiting to bring their adopted daughter home... both will learn to open their minds and find solace in ways they never expected.
One of the best movies I have seen world wide this year! An absolute must see!
As someone who was raised in different countries my whole life, I must say that this was a truly original and fair perspective from writer director Claire McCarthy on the experience of traveling and being transformed, in turn, by the unpredictability of the many worlds within our world.
I am eagerly waiting to see what's next!
The story, the imagery, the music, the subtlety and depth of culture that is presented is great to see and really enjoyable. Given the films topic, it was good to see it kept a light-hearted feel and did not get too bogged down in heavy drama that most Aussie films seem too.
It has left me with a good feeling, and I would recommend to people who want to see something a bit different from the norm. I know this is a bit of a rave review, but I really enjoyed it, and the rest of the audience seemed too as well.
A lovely film.
But sadly, it did not quite gel. For one, it was too long. At almost 2 hours, the pace, which hardly frantic, dragged at times. There was little chemistry between the two leads. And even though very different (she a lawyer, he a once-successful muso), their relationship wasn't wholly convincing - a crucial aspect of the film considering they are on screen together for much of the film.
I've yet to see a movie set in India that wasn't a visual treat to watch, and The Waiting City definitely earns it's place on that list. The story, about an Australian couple come to Kolkata to adopt a child in the hopes that it will fix their strained relationship, is also interesting, even though I thought it stumbled into predictable, melodramatic territory at times. This is sort of an emotional coming of age story for the two main characters, both as individuals and a couple. The transition from who they are at the beginning to who they are at the end isn't exactly handled in the most organic way, but it is mostly believable.
The movie dabbles in ideas about faith and spirituality, as well, but in a very unfocused way.
I recommend The Waiting City to those interested in India, fans of Radha Mitchell or Joel Edgerton, and movie fans comfortable with subdued, personal storytelling that takes its time to get where it's going.
The cinematography of the movie is not satisfactory in the sense of motion picture. It seems like the film is made for television short screen. But overall the film scored very well. I see Samrat Chakrabarti in his other films but in The Waiting City he did very well as a porter. The same story and the same film could be more breath taking by working on the cogitate. Wish all the best for the future projects.