Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Movie Review: Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues *** ½
Directed By:
Nina Palfrey.
Written By: Nina Palfrey.
With the Music of: Annette Hanshaw.

Sita Sings the Blues is a stellar example of what you can do by yourself at home on your computer. Written and directed by Nina Palfrey, Sita Sings the Blues is a wonderful, hilarious, original animated film that she made after returning from India and being dumped by her boyfriend. The film is an adaptation of the Ramayana, the story of the Indian God of War Rama, and his wife Sita, and has mixed with it the jazz music by Annette Hanshaw. The result is pure movie magic.

Sita is so in love with her husband Rama that she follows him into the forest when he is banished to the forest for 14 years by his father at the behest of his evil stepmother. She is kidnapped by a warlord, and when Rama comes to rescue her, resulting in a bloody war, he then rejects her because she feels she may longer be pure. But she passes his test of fire, and he takes her back again. Then he gets her pregnant with twins, and then banishes her to the forest because his subjects are doing the same thing. When he comes across his twin sons, now teenagers, years later, he wants to take them back to the kingdom - but once again questions Sita’s purity. Apparently Rama was a bit of a douche.

Palfrey brings a modern female sensibility to this story. She switches animation styles between four unique animation styles. In the “dramatic” sequences, she uses a more flat animation style, when the “shadow puppets” come on to comment on what is happening, it almost appears like an episode of South. The musical numbers are thrilling fluent and alive. Finally, there are scenes from Palfrey’s own life that reminded me of that old TV show Dr. Katz. The result is an ever changing animated film. If you didn’t know that the songs in the movie were recorded in the 1920s, you would swear they were written for the movie. Palfrey uses the songs to advance the story, and to reveal Sita’s personality.

Of course, when you make a movie like this, some people are going to be offended. Some Hindu groups have claimed that Sita Sings the Blues mocks their religion. I disagree. I think the movie celebrates a classic Hindu story, and brings it into the modern day. The shadow puppets observations on the story are witty and often hilarious. The same process could be used to tell the story of any religion. As with everything, you have to have a sense of humor about it.

Sadly, Sita Sings the Blues will not get a theatrical release, and will only come out in a limited edition DVD run of 4,999, because apparently Palfrey did not clear the music rights. But you can download and watch the movie for free on the internet. The movie has already reached untold numbers of people, been praised by film critics like Roger Ebert, and has become a cult sensation. I hope this is the start of a long career for Palfrey. She is talented, not just in terms of her animation ingenuity, but also in terms of writing, which is something much rarer. Imagine what she could do with a real budget.

Note: To watch Sita Sings the Blues follow this link. Believe me, you will not be sorry.

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