Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie Review: The Equalizer

The Equalizer
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua.
Written by: Richard Wenk based on the television series by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim.
Starring: Denzel Washington (Robert McCall), Marton Csokas (Teddy), Chloë Grace Moretz (Teri), David Harbour (Masters), Haley Bennett (Mandy), Bill Pullman (Brian Plummer), Melissa Leo (Susan Plummer), David Meunier (Slavi), Johnny Skourtis (Ralphie), Alex Veadov (Tevi), Vladimir Kulich (Vladimir Pushkin).

Denzel Washington has essentially been on cruise control ever since he won his second Oscar for Training Day back in 2001 – and you could argue that even Training Day is little more than a decent genre film, with two great performances in it. For every time Washington has collaborated with a great director like Spike Lee in Inside Man or Ridley Scott on American Gangster or Robert Zemeckis on Flight, he seems to have four or five mindless action films.  There is a reason why – beyond simply that they make money – Washington is sought out by the directors of these films – and that is that Washington is capable of making even the ridiculous seem at least somewhat plausible. Take his latest, The Equalizer, where he reteams with his Training Day director Antoine Fuqua (who it must be said is competent director of movies like this, that kind of lucked into Training Day). In the film, Washington plays Robert McCall, a former CIA operative who can take out a room full of people in under 20 seconds, who has “retired” and is working at a Home Depot like store. He meets Teri (Chloe Grace Mortez) – who works as a prostitute for Russian gangsters – at an all-night diner, and when it becomes clears she’s being abused he snaps into action – killing a bunch of Russian gangsters. He finds he’s good at it, and decides he’ll help other people who need it – all the while, he’s being tracked by Teddy (Marton Csokas) – an even worse Russian gangster who wants to know what happened to his boss’ men. The whole movie is patently ridiculous from beginning to end – yet damn it all if Washington doesn’t sell it.

The film is stylishly directed by Fuqua – who has always been good at action sequences, and even if at times in The Equalizer he tries too hard to be Tony Scott (in the sequences where McCall visualizes what he’s about to do before he does it), he still knows how to stage an action sequences, and he does so with skill here. It may take a while for the movie to kick into high gear in terms of action, but it is worth the wait – even if the movie never quite tops its first action sequence.

The non-action sequence are anchored by Washington, who makes his character believable, even though there is nothing remotely believable if you stop to think about it at all. His early scenes with Mortez are very good – as the two bond and banter, and generally complement each other well – kind of like the unlikely pairing of Washington and Dakota Fanning in Man on Fire (one of the better Washington genre offerings post-Training Day).

The Equalizer has its share of problems. At over two hours, the film drags on too long – which is especially apparent since none of the action sequences are as good as the first, and the fact that movie misses Mortez when he character essentially vanishes in the second half. And, for the second week in a row, we have a movie where women are portrayed more as victims than as real human beings (last week’s was A Walk Among the Tombstones – which The Equalizer outdoes simply by having speaking roles for women, but cannot match for its stylish atmosphere). The film has a somewhat episodic structure – which I guess comes from the television show it is based on (which I had no idea of). The film kind of limps towards the finish line.

Overall though, The Equalizer is a decent example of the kind of ultra-violent, revenge fantasy film it wants to be. No, it’s not as ambitious as Washington at its best – it doesn’t even really attempt anything new, different, or all that interesting. And it’s the type of film you forget about by the time you reach the parking lot. But there are worse things a film can be.

Movie Review: Borgman

Borgman
Directed By: Alex van Warmerdam   
Written by:  Alex van Warmerdam   
Starring: Jan Bijvoet (Camiel Borgman), Hadewych Minis (Marina), Jeroen Perceval (Richard), Alex van Warmerdam (Ludwig), Tom Dewispelaere (Pascal), Sara Hjort Ditlevsen (Stine), Elve Lijbaart (Isolde), Dirkje van der Pijl (Rebecca), Pieter-Bas de Waard (Leo), Eva van de Wijdeven (Ilonka), Annet Malherbe (Brenda), Gene Bervoets (Gardener), Mike Weerts (Arthur Stornebrink), Pierre Bokma (Priest), Benjamin Boe Rasmussen (Man with Dog), Reinout Scholten van Aschat (Man #2), Ariane Schluter (Gardener's Wife).

Looking back over Borgman, I am reminded of Howard Hawks’ rule for making a great movie – three great scenes, no bad ones. Borgman does the more difficult of these two things – it contains not a single bad scene, not a single scene that doesn’t work. And yet, I’m not sure if the film has even one truly great scene. It is a film that builds slowly, that draws you into its mysteries, not unlike a Michael Haneke film. And yet, when the movie is over, I’m not sure the whole thing adds up to anything more than an elaborate tease on the part of writer-director Alex van Warmerdam. I already mentioned Haneke, and the film of his this most resembles is Funny Games (either version) – but for better or for worse, Funny Games has a point, and builds to something. Borgman doesn’t really do that. It is ambiguous to the point of opaqueness. It is a fascinating film, brilliantly directed and acted, and one that has haunted me since I have seen it. Perhaps it doesn’t need to add up to something.

The film opens with a fascinating scene, where three men – two farmers and a shotgun wielding priest – head out into the woods, and start digging. This is when we meet Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijovet) – who is literally living in an underground bunker – he escapes, and then warns a number of other underground dwellers. Borgman is a big, imposing figure with wild hair, and a wilder beard. He heads into the suburbs, and starts knocking on doors with a simple request for a bath. He gets nowhere fast – and then at one house he meets Richard (Jereon Perceval) who doesn’t just say no, but beats Borgman rather brutally. Feeling guilty, Richard’s wife Marina (Hadewych Minis) catches up with Borgman, and not only offers him a bath, but also a place to stay – a small guest house on their vast property which is little more than a shed. All she asks is that Borgman stay in that shack, and not talk with her family – which of course, he cannot do. It isn’t long before he has started to have some sort of mind control over not just Marina, but the couple’s three children, and the beautiful young nanny Stine (Sara Hjort Ditlevsen) – and then he brings along his friends. After “disposing” of the gardener, Borgman shows back up – now clean shaven – and Richard, who does not recognize him, hires him to be the new gardener. This allows Borgman and his friends to truly start exacting their plan.

But what precisely is their plan, and what is their ultimate endgame? Even after watching the film, I’, still not sure I could explain it to you. There is an element of class warfare at play here – Richard and Marina are rich, have a stylish, modernist house – he works as some sort of television executive.  By contrast, Borgman and his cohorts are poor and homeless. Are they really just exacting revenge on the materialistic society that they have rejected, and in turn have rejected them? But what about the quote that opens the film “And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks”, which sounds like something from the bible, but as far as I can tell, isn’t actually. This would imply some sort of religious reading to the film – that Borgman and his cohorts are some sort of angels, descending upon the earth – but then again, they quite literally rise up from the ground at the beginning of the film- they do not descend at all. And the fact that van Warmerdam simply made up the quote, instead of finding an actual bible quote (which he most definitely could have) – makes me once again think that he doesn’t really have a greater purpose than to screw with the audience.

If that is his purpose, it must be said that he accomplishes it expertly. Part of the reason is that the two lead performances are so good. Bijovet is excellent as Borgman – who we are immediately uneasy about, although he doesn’t really do anything menacing for a while. When he starts slowly upping the ante, he maintains the same calm, methodical demeanor. He seems to have no passion about anything at all – even as he starts to control the rest of the family. Minis is great as Marina as well, who is slowly turned against her own family to the point where she’s willing to do monstrous things – but it never seems outlandish.

Borgman is a haunting film – it shows van Warmerdam with complete and total control over the medium, as he slowly ratchets up the suspense and deepens the mysteries of the film. Does he ever answer the questions he raises? No – not really. I’m not even sure he knows what the hell Borgman actually means. But it’s a strange, surreal, disturbing journey to take. Borgman doesn’t have to mean anything to haunt you.

The Holocaust Films of Claude Lanzmann: Shoah (1985)

Shoah (1985)
Directed by: Claude Lanzmann.
Written by: Claude Lanzmann.

So much has already been written about Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah that it can be intimidating for a first time viewer to actually sit down and watch the film. The first thing you hear about the film is its length – 566 minutes, or approximately nine and half hours. It’s meant to be watched all in one sitting, or perhaps two – as Lanzmann does break the film into two different “eras” – although watching one four and a half hour long movie followed by a five hour movie the next day is just as intimidating. The next thing you hear about the film is that Lanzmann uses no archival footage at all – that he switches between so called “talking head” sequences with survivors, witnesses and the Nazis themselves – and shots of the locations as they were when Lanzmann shot the movie in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It should be clear to anyone who has read anything about Shoah that it is not a typical Holocaust documentary – it’s not a typical documentary at all. In many ways the film is a one off in cinema history. You’ve never quite seen anything like it.

What becomes clear early on in Shoah is that Lanzmann is not going to ask anyone any of the “big questions”. He’s not going to ask “why” it happened – what made Hitler and the Nazis decide to exterminate 6 million Jews – alongside other “undesirables” (who Lanzmann doesn’t really mention in the film). Hitler and the top ranked Nazis are actually barely mentioned in the movie at all. You would think that a movie that is as long as Shoah would detail everything that happened – and walk you through step-by-step the major turning points. But that’s not really what Lanzmann is interested in doing – and besides, you can get that information from any number of other sources. Instead what Lanzmann is interested in is the memories of those who were there – those who suffered, those who witnessed their suffering and those responsible for their suffering. His camera rarely moves during the interviews he conducts – and they often stay on the face of his subject for extended periods of time – 10 minute shots are greater are not uncommon. What he is most interested in is what happened on a micro level, not on a macro level.

For instance, he interviews a barber – who is still cutting hair in Israel – whose job at one of the camps was to cut off the hair of those who were about to go to their death in the gas chambers. How many other barbers worked alongside him? What was the setup like? What did he use to cut their hair? Were their mirrors? How long did he take to cut one person’s hair? What was the style he cut it into? What did they do with the hair? Lanzmann is not on camera much in Shoah, but his voice is persistent. He pushes and pushes and pushes everyone he talks to for more details. When they breakdown, as they often do, and ask him to stop he doesn’t. He keeps pushing, he keeps his camera trained on them as they go quiet, or start to cry. They cannot go on. They must, Lanzmann tells him. Some complain that he is cruel – and he is at times – but he knows how important the interviews are not just to him and his film, but also to the individuals. They haven’t talked about this for decades. It’s important to get it out.

Lanzmann does this over and over again – training his camera on his subjects and not letting them go. He gets a wealth of information from a few of the Nazis who helped run the death camps. These were shot on a hidden camera, in grainy black and white, and the Nazis ask for assurances that their conversation will be kept confidential. “Of course”, Lanzmann responds, boldly lying. Again with these men he isn’t asking the large questions, but the smaller ones. How long did it take to “process” one train car full of victims? The entire train? How did they manage to keep these people under control? What order did they go in? Why that order? And on and on and on. He spends a lot of time in Poland, asking the residents what they saw and how they feel about the Jews. Do they miss them? There is not a lot of introspection on their part. He has interviews with some of the Germans who were in charge of running the trains? Did they know what was on those trains? Of course not, they say. They were so busy they never left their desks. One train was just like all the rest. But when he examines the train documents with an historian, he wonders why none of the people in charge ever wondered why they were scheduling full trains to arrive and empty trains to depart later that same day go somewhere else, fill up again, and return to the same location?

Because of the way the film is made, it has the feeling of memory – as both the people and the places they are talking about are somewhat out of time. The men and women are talking about events 35 years ago, and the locations Lanzmann is shooting – the death camps, the Polish cities, the ghetto, etc. – have also changed. They are different, and yet haunted by their past. When Lanzmann’s camera is not trained on his interview subjects, it is attached to the trains for minutes on end – sometimes with the interviews heard on the soundtrack, sometimes not – or slow and steady tracking shots along the grounds of the areas they are talking about. The shots are haunting – beautiful and sad at the same time.

The movie needs to be as long as Lanzmann has made it for it to have the effect he desires. This is not an issue of a filmmaker not knowing what needing to be cut and including everything – he has already made four other documentaries out of the interviews he shot while making Shoah that didn’t fit in to this movie (I’ve seen three of them, all great, but Lanzmann made the correct decision not to include them in this film, as they really do not fit). The film is about the accumulation of small details, the memories of everyone involved the merging of past and present. He takes an unfathomably large subject and concentrates on the small details, illuminating the whole in a distinct way. This would not be the film to watch if you were some sort of alien creature who had never heard of the Holocaust at all – it assumes some knowledge on the part of the audience. But Lanzmann is interested in specific parts of the Holocaust – not the exact events, but how it happened to individuals instead of how it happened to 6 million people. More than any other film I have ever seen about the Holocaust, Shoah gives us the details that allows you to get closer than ever before to what it was liked to be lined up heading into the gas chambers to be killed. Between the words of those being interviews, and the landscapes Lanzmann captures, he creates images that only exist in the mind’s eye. Like in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona where many people think that Bergman actually shot Bibi Andersson’s sex scene, when really she just described it, or in the shower scene in Psycho, where many think they saw a lot more than they actually did, Lanzmann achieves the same thing in Shoah. The effect is powerful, disturbing, haunting and unforgettable.

I haven’t talk about many of the details in Shoah – the individuals interviews themselves or the details they uncover in the movie. If I did, then I’d be here all day writing, and you’d be here all day reading. Those details matter – but it’s up to the viewer to find them. I don’t often urge viewers to see a particular movie – I feel my reviews should give the reader an idea as to whether or not they’ll enjoy a particular movie or not, and leave it at that. But I do urge everyone to see Shoah. I put off seeing the film for at least a decade, not wanting to subject myself to what I thought would be a thoroughly depressing experience. But Shoah, while offering a fairly bleak portrait of humanity, is not that. It is something altogether different and unique in cinema history. A masterpiece in every sense of the word.

The Holocaust Films of Claude Lanzmann: Introduction

The website They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? has what I consider to be the best and most comprehensive list of the “Greatest Films of All Time” – taking into consideration the results of many polls of the Greatest Films of All Time. For a long time now, Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) has been the top rated film on that list that I had not seen – and after its excellent showing on the 2012 Sight & Sound Critics Survey (where it ranked tied for 29th) it moved into the Top 100 on the They Shoot Pictures list, and became a film I had to see.

To be clear, I’ve always meant to see Shoah – it’s one of those films on my “to see” list that has been there for a decade or more. But I always had an excuse not to see the film. For a while, it was only available on 4 separate DVDs, meaning I’d have to rent four DVDs separately to see one movie. Who has the time to sit there and watch nine and half hours in one sitting – or even four and half hours and then five hours over the span of two days if you give yourself a break and watch only Era 1 than Era 2 as separate experiences? All these were excuses (and the ones I’m still using to avoid Bela Tarr’s Santatango, which is over 7 hours long – and now becomes the top rated film I have to see) – and not very good ones. The truth was, I didn’t really want to see Shoah. I never doubted those who said it was a masterpiece, but much like the reaction of people who I told that Shoah was the movie I was watching this past weekend, the thought of spending that long watching a documentary on the Holocaust would simply be too grueling, too depressing – and I wasn’t sure I wanted to subject myself to that. I feared that the film would be drowning in “importance” and be dry and dull. In short, while I wouldn’t say I was scared of Shoah, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to get to it either.

A few things made me change my mind. One was the desire to simply get it over with. I’ve been saying for two years now that I plan on watching Shoah this year – and after I went through 2013 and didn’t get to it, I knew I needed to get to it in 2014. The Criterion Collection released an excellent Blu-Ray addition, which also included the first three “outtakes” movies that Lanzmann has released in the years since made up of footage that didn’t fit into the original film, and with the release of fourth “outtake” film, The Last of the Unjust, hitting theaters this year, I figured it was now or never.

The following five posts are reviews of Shoah (1985) and the outtakes movies – A Visitor from the Living (1999), Sobibor October 14, 1943 4pm (2001), The Karski Report (2010) and The Last of the Unjust (2013) (which for the record, I watched months after the other four films, which I watched over the course of a weekend – but saved the posts until I could see the final film).  In them, I will explain why I feel Shoah is a masterpiece, why it needs to be nine and half hours long, and how while a grueling experience that could easily be called bleak, why I wasn’t for a second bored by the movie, and why I don’t think it’s a depressing experience. In short, I will explain why I wish I had seen the film sooner.

So if you’re like me and have been avoiding Shoah for years, I urge you to reconsider. It deserves it’s spot on every “Greatest Movies of All Time” list – and the reasons why are far more than just its important subject matter. It is a stunning film in every way.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Movie Review: This is Where I Leave You

This  is Where I Leave You
Directed by: Shawn Levy.
Written by: Jonathan Tropper based on his novel.
Starring: Jason Bateman (Judd Altman), Tina Fey (Wendy Altman), Jane Fonda (Hillary Altman), Adam Driver (Phillip Altman), Rose Byrne (Penny Moore), Corey Stoll (Paul Altman), Kathryn Hahn (Alice Altman), Connie Britton (Tracy Sullivan), Timothy Olyphant (Horry Callen), Dax Shepard (Wade Beaufort), Debra Monk (Linda Callen), Abigail Spencer (Quinn Altman), Ben Schwartz (Rabbi Charles Grodner).

You would be hard pressed to find a better ensemble cast in any movie this year than the one Shawn Levy assembles for This is Where I Leave You. By themselves, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton and Timothy Olyphant are fine actors, more than capable of carrying their own movies.  But the movie throws them all together, adds in a few more characters, and forces them through a story with so many meaningless subplots, so many tonal shifts that do not work, that the actors are forced to try very hard and not get anywhere. I have a feeling that perhaps all of this worked better in the novel the film is based on – novels are better than movies at containing so many characters and so many subplots and doing justice to them all. But in a movie than runs just over 100 minutes, everything in This is Where I Leave You feels rushed – by trying to cram so much into the movie; the movie doesn’t really do any of it justice. The cast is game – but they`re let down by the movie.

The movie centers on the Altman family. The father has just died, and the mother Hillary (Fonda) has called her four adult children back to their childhood home, and insists that they sit Shiva for him for 7 days – even though they weren’t really Jewish. All four of the Altman children have issues – and are going through a lot in addition to their dead father. Judd (Bateman) has just found out his wife has been cheating on him for a year with his boss – so now he has no wife and no job. He meets a woman from his past (Rose Byrne) – the type of free spirited woman who always exist in movies like this to break the main character out of his funk. Wendy (Tina Fey) is married to a man who is always working, and trying to raise her two children – but is still in love with the neighbor Horry (Olyphant) who she dated years ago, and left when he got a brain injury. Paul (Corey Stoll) has been trying for years with his Alice (Hahn) to have a baby – but the two cannot conceive no matter what they do. The much younger Phillip (Driver) is an irresponsible, yet charming, screw-up who shows up with his new fiancée – the older Tracey (Britton). And all of this covers only about a half of all the subplots contained in the movie.

I enjoyed most of the performances in the movie. The actors are all talented, and have an easy chemistry together. Best in show is probably Driver, because he gets most of the films best lines and moments – and it’s always fun to see Driver behave like a buffoon. Everyone else in the film is fine – although because the movie focuses almost all of its attention on Judd – the rest of the cast is pretty much shunted to the background, and is never really given a chance to fully develop their characters. They do what they can however.

The movie is a strange mixture of comedy and drama – containing moments of near slapstick right next to more serious moments of introspection. In theory, a film could pull both of these off – but director Levy (best known for his comedies) never quite finds the right tone, and at times I got whiplash trying from all the shifts.

This is Where I Leave You is not an unpleasant experience really – it certainly has its moments. But it’s basically like one of the many American indie movies, about screwed up families, that we see many times a year – except this time, we have a cast of nothing but movie stars, in a major studio release that seems to want to sand off all the edges. It is a movie that contains no surprises, but watching this cast work is at least never boring – but if the best I have to say to say about a movie is that it isn’t boring, that’s not saying too much, is it.

Movie Review: Tracks

Tracks
Directed by: John Curran.
Written by: Marion Nelson based on the book by Robyn Davidson.
Starring: Mia Wasikowska (Robyn), Adam Driver (Rick), Robert Coleby (Pop), Roly Mintuma (Mr. Eddy).

When you hear the basic outline for Tracks – a young woman walks across the Australian outback by herself – with only a few camels and her dog – you probably think that what you`re in for is a journey to self-discovery – especially when you hear the movie is based on a true story. Based solely on the preview, and a few reviews, I assume that the upcoming film Wild, with Reese Witherspoon, will deliver on that front – a film filled with flashbacks that illuminate the characters life, and why they decided to go on the journey in the first place. But Tracks is a more difficult film in that it doesn’t fall into that basic outline. Yes, there are some flashbacks in it (and to be honest, I would have preferred if there were none), but they do not shed too much light on why Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) went on her journey back in 1975. In voiceover, she does say that she is tired of being treated a certain way because of her `gender and class` but the movie doesn’t delve too deeply into that either. Neither is this really a spiritual journey – or even a woman getting back to nature film. It seems like Davidson simply went on her journey to get away from people – to be alone.  Whatever she learned from that journey, she keeps to herself.

Directed by John Curran, Tracks is a beautiful film in many ways, and a harsh one in many others. The Outback is unforgiving, and as the movie goes along, Wasikowska gets dirtier, and her skin gets sunburned and chapped. She faces difficult tasks and challenges – and even heartbreak – but she simply keeps going. The only other major character in the film is Rick (Adam Driver) a photographer for National Geographic, who the magazine insists on shooting photos of Davidson on her journey as a condition for underwriting the trip. He`s a little goofy and charming – and clearly likes Davidson – but the romantic relationship we expect doesn’t really develop between the two of them (apart from one scene, which is a one off).

This is the fourth film by Curran I have seen, and like the other three (the infidelity drama We Don’t Live Here Anymore, the Far East costume drama The Painted Veil, the psychological thriller Stone), Curran doesn’t give in to the stories more obvious trapping – and doesn’t go in the same direction. Like all of his films, I fear that some will find Tracks a little slow – and to be honest, it does move slowly at times – but the effect of making these films quieter than most is that they dig a little deeper. The movie asks a lot of Wasikowska – she is basically a character who keeps everyone, including the audience, at arm’s length – but the talented young actress delivers a wonderful physical performance. She has already been great in two other movies this year – The Double and Only Lovers Left Alive – and when combined with this film, she has deliver three great, completely different performance in a row (and she still has Maps to the Stars directed by David Cronenberg coming out later this year). She has become one of the best actresses in the world in a short period of time.

Tracks perhaps keeps the audience a little too far away from its central character. She is an interesting person, but she remains more of an enigma than anything else. I wanted a little bit more from the movie. But that would have been a different movie – than Tracks, and not necessarily a better one. Perhaps keeping the central character so unknowable will make Tracks all the more memorable – the type of film that grows in your mind after you’ve seen it.

Movie Review: The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox
Directed by: Ritesh Batra.
Written by: Ritesh Batra.
Starring: Irrfan Khan (Saajan Fernandes), Nimrat Kaur (Ila), Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Shaikh), Lillete Dubey (Ila's Mother), Nakul Vaid (Rajeev), Bharati Achrekar (Auntie), Yashvi Puneet Nagar (Yashvi), Denzil Smith (Mr. Shroff), Shruti Bapna (Mehrunnisa).

The Lunchbox could have easily devolved into a typical romantic comedy or an easy melodrama. The setup – that the famed lunchbox delivery system in Mumbai makes what we are told is the first mistake ever mixing up the meals delivered by a mediocre restaurant to an office drone on the verge of retirement, with the delicious home cooked meal by a stay-at-home mother, whose husband pretty much ignores her, and when the two realize the mix-up, they do not report it, but start exchanging letters through the lunchbox, slowly getting to know each other and falling in love – could have easily been made into a romantic drama as silly as The Lake House, or a romantic comedy as predictable as You’ve Got Mail. But the writer-director, Ritesh Batra, making his debut, is not really interested in making either of those films. His film is quieter and more introspective than that – and a good deal sadder than that, but not in a tearjerker type of way.

The office drone is Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) who is a month away from retirement. Like all, boring office drones in movies, he is an accountant who works in the claims department, and all he wants to do is be left alone to do his work – so he can go home at night to his empty apartment and smoke. He is a widower, and no one much likes him – and he doesn’t much care. He is given a comic foil early in the film when his boss announces that Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) will be taking over his job when he retires – and once Saajan to train him. Saajan does everything he can to avoid doing that – but after some time communicating through the lunchbox, and learning that Shaikh is a poor orphan who has had to fight for everything in his life, he changes his mind and takes the younger man under his wing.

The mother is Ila (Nimrat Kaur)   - who works hard on the daily meals she makes for her husband – communicating with her Auntie, who lives in the apartment above her, mixing the exact spices for him. He works long hours, and when he is home, he`s always on the phone and ignores her, and their daughter. When she starts writing to Saajan, she doesn’t know anything about him – but starts telling him things she wouldn’t tell anyone else. By communicating with him, she starts to see the life she wants for herself. And the same is true for Saajan. There are separated by years in age – but in some ways want the same thing. Not a passionate love affair, but something calmer – just someone to talk to.

The movie doesn’t completely avoid the sentimentality in its premise – there is really no way around it. Some of the homespun wisdom the two share is basically maudlin clichés that only work because they are delivered so sensitively in the voiceovers of the two actors, and because Batra shoots the montages of those voiceovers so beautifully.

While the movie does a great job at showing day-to-day life in Mumbai – where everyone is busy, where long commutes are normal, where you are constantly surrounded by people, and yet completely alone – but its message is universal (couldn’t you write that same sentence about workers in New York or Toronto – or any major city).

The ending of the film is perhaps the only one that would make sense given everything that has come before it. The two people don’t really love each other – they barely know each other – but through their communications they get to know themselves better than before. Yes, that`s a cliché – as is much of the rest of The Lunchbox. But in this movie, the cliché works.