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As this highly original and provocative film once again demonstrates, John Sayles is not a traditional storyteller. Audiences are caught in the detective story focusing at one level on murders and abuses committed more than 20 years ago; but the filmmaker guides their attention to the survivors, the current and very ordinary folks inhabiting the small border town where secrets are closely kept.
Imagine a blank canvas on which seemingly unrelated splotches of paint appear; then imagine those splotches as members of various ethnic groups inhabiting Frontera on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. First, we have custodial white men who hang around the local coffee shop or fish on previously-owned Indian land transformed recently, and with some controversy, into a lake by the construction of a dam. Then we have Mercedes Cruz (Miriam Colon), a successful business woman and council member who curiously shows little compassion for "wetbacks" and those relapsing into the Spanish language. Her daughter, Pilar (Elizabeth Peña), of whom she is a constant critic, is a school teacher and single mother of two teenagers, a figure whose importance will increase as the composition develops.
Also, there is Otis Payne (Ron Canada), the African-American owner of the town’s black bar, a refuge for that minority group; and there is his estranged son, a rigid and unyielding colonel at the nearby base. Finally and less developed, are the Indians whose land has been claimed by the town’s ruling forces.
As fragments from the past and present provide dimension and meaning, increasingly the disparate colors are transformed into a representational form with clear connecting lines. Shapes and textures gradually become familiar and palpable. Within the context of good and evil, narrative lines blur and thicken. With tantalizing flashbacks, past and present fuse, allowing puzzle pieces to fit together; then engaged audience members realize that the narrative threads have twisted to expose unimagined patterns of sacrifice and love.
This film, like Nair’s earlier films (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala) presents serious social issues for viewers to consider, but the story this time, is set in a happier context. As the title reveals, a wedding is central. Monsoon is added to account for two kinds of turbulence: the weather on the day of the wedding and discomforting family factors such as pedophilia, secret trysts, and class distinctions. For the Punjabi Verma family, it is Father of the Bride with the universal tension, stress, and chaos associated with such happy events, but also with distressing twists that are sorted out or washed away symbolically by the monsoon’s arrival.
Sarah (Whoopi Goldberg) is an African-American woman who runs a bookstore, the "African Queen," in San Francisco. She has an adolescent daughter, Zora (Nia Long), conceived with donor sperm after the death of Sarah's husband, Charlie. Zora believes she is Charlie's daughter until she discovers a discrepancy while learning about blood types in biology class. Sarah tells Zora about her conception and Zora, determined to find out the identity of her "real father," breaks into the computer records of the California Cryobank.
She discovers the name of the sperm donor, Halbert Jackson, and tracks him down, discovering that he is a white truck salesman (Ted Danson). She and Sarah are both horrified (Sarah had requested the sperm of a black man), as is Hal, but after some comic conflict, Sarah and Hal fall in love and Zora begins to think of Hal as her father. They then learn that there was a mix up in the records and Hal is NOT after all Zora's genetic father, but by this point they have nonetheless become a family.
Six childless women from the United States are in an unnamed Latin American country (filmed in Acapulco, Mexico), fulfilling a residence requirement while they wait to adopt babies. The owner of the hotel they stay in (Rita Moreno) and her brother, a lawyer, both make a profit from this delay. The film explores the experiences of the six women and of the people of the place from which their children will come, a place of which they see only a small part of the surface.
The Americans' stories are juxtaposed with that of a young woman who cleans the hotel rooms, who gave up her own baby for adoption "up north," and a pregnant fifteen-year-old middle class girl whose mother takes her to Miami, presumably for an abortion. The film also looks at the implications of political activism which is, for the men in the film, necessary but, for the women, appears to come at the cost of security and domestic stability.
The hotel owner's son criticizes the adoptions as a form of "Yankee cultural imperialism," yet even as we are persuaded by his view, we are swayed by the film's telling contrast between the futures offered by the American women and the lives of the city's glue-sniffing street children. The film ends with two of the women about to receive their adoptive children.
Yesterday (Leleti Khumalo) is a young woman living in a tiny rural town in Kwazulu province in South Africa with her six-year-old daughter, Beauty (Lihle Mvelase). Yesterday becomes ill and, after several failed attempts to be seen by the lone doctor at a clinic several hours' walk away, is diagnosed as HIV positive. At the doctor's urging, she travels to Johannesburg to find her husband (Kenneth Kambule), who works on the mines there, to tell him of her diagnosis and that he needs to be tested. He beats her viciously and sends her away.
Months later, he returns to the village, dying of AIDS. He has lost his job. She takes care of him. Rumors spread in the village that Yesterday's husband has "the virus." The people begin to avoid them both, and the (true) story is told of a young woman in a nearby village who, after moving to the city and then returning home with AIDS, was stoned to death by her people. There is no room for her husband at the hospital, so Yesterday builds a scrap metal hut outside the village and cares for him there until he dies.
At one point the doctor observes that Yesterday's body is resisting the disease well; she replies that it is not her body, but that "I have made up my mind: until my child goes to school I will not die."
When the new school year begins, Yesterday gives a delighted Beauty her school uniform, and the schoolteacher promises Yesterday that she will take care of Beauty. Yesterday watches as Beauty begins her first day at school and then walks home alone.
It is 1938, Germany. A Jewish family--lawyer husband, Walter (Merab Ninidze), wife, Jettel (Juliane K?ler), and young daughter, Regina (Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz )-- must leave their homeland. Walter establishes a base as a tenant farmer in the British colony, Kenya, sending for his wife and child later. We see Walter in Kenya, sick with malaria, being nursed by Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), a native Kenyan who serves as a live-in cook. Juxtaposed are scenes of Jettel in Germany--fashionably dressed, socially active, secure in the presence of her parents, and not looking forward to living in Africa.
The remainder of the story takes place in Kenya after Jettel and Regina join Walter, who tries to scratch out a tenant farmer's livelihood on the barren, red earth. Walter is stoic but Jettel is miserable in the strange new country, where she cannot speak the languages (English and Swahili) and desperately misses her family. Her dissatisfaction strains the marriage. Adding to the strain on both Walter and Jettel is their worry over what will happen to their parents, who remained behind in Germany. Regina, however, adapts quickly, in part because she responds to the affectionate welcome offered her by Owuor.
When war breaks out between Germany and Great Britain, the family is interned (still in Kenya)--they are considered to be enemy aliens. Men are separated from women, but the women are housed in a former resort hotel where conditions are not too unpleasant. Jettel pleads with the British administrators to find a position for her husband so that they can leave the camps--after all, she points out, they are Jewish and no friend of Hitler. A young officer overhears her, seizes the opportunity to take advantage of Jettel's vulnerability, and in exchange for her sexual favors, helps the family to leave internment and resume farming in a new location.
When the war ends, Walter looks for an opportunity to return to Germany and to work in his profession (law). He is idealistic, believing he has a responsibility to help build a decent society in Germany while Jettel, on the other hand, has grown to like their life in Kenya and deeply distrusts the country that rejected them and murdered their parents.
Walt Koontz (Robert De Niro) is a retired security officer, cited for his heroism, and now living alone in an unsavory apartment building on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He regards his neighbors with contempt, especially the "faggot" upstairs, Busty Rusty, (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a transvestite and singer/piano player at a popular drag club. During a drug-related shoot-out with an upstairs neighbor, Walt attempts to help, but suffers a stroke that leaves him with paralysis of his right side and significant speech impairment. Walt's status as hero is radically changed. His friends become awkward around him.
Walt refuses to leave the apartment building for treatment. His doctor (Mahdur Jaffrey) recommends singing lessons to improve his speech. Walt reluctantly seeks help from Rusty. The relationship between a bigot and a drag queen is an unlikely one that begins with mutual loathing and considerable stereotyping on both sides. Eventually each is forced to renegotiate his own prejudices.
Summary:When shooting a music video in Cuba, director Carlos Macovich chooses a young Havana jintera to dance opposite the model Fabiola Quiroz. Several years later, he returns to find out what happened to the pretty, feisty girl they picked off the street to dance in their video. The documentary explores Yuliet's and Fabiola's relationships with the families, their fathers, and each other.
Summary:This film tells the remarkable story of Vivien Thomas (played by Mos Def), an African-American fine carpenter, who found his way into medicine through the back door and changed medical history. Hired when jobs were in short supply to work as a custodian and sometime lab assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), a research cardiologist, Thomas quickly becomes an irreplaceable research assistant. His keen observations, his skill with the most delicate machinery and, eventually, in performing experimental surgery on animals, make clear that he has both a genius and a calling.
Summary:Except for her canary and cat, Martha (Sheila Florance) lives alone in an apartment containing fragments and memorabilia of the past which speak to a rich and complex life comprised of various relationships and wartime horrors. Many of the fragments are further referenced in flashback scenes. Three current relationships--with her caretaker, her son, and her dependent and declining neighbor, Billy (Norman Kaye)--are central to this moment in time and provide an illuminating portrayal of Martha’s struggle for independence and undiminished zest for life. While her kind caretaker, Anna (Gosia Dobrowolska), respects the old woman’s fierce need for autonomy, her son, concerned about her frailty and safety, is intent on relocation to a nursing home where she can be supervised. Martha, on the other hand, provides gentle and kind care for Billy, who has been abandoned by his family; during the night, when he is unable to find the bathroom, Martha provides gentle and unobtrusive assistance. Martha’s strength comes from character and spirit, remarkable traits which leave an indelible impression about our tendencies to conventionalize aging.