Mira Nair's 'Monsoon Wedding' is the type of movie that seems almost genetically engineered to appeal to art house theater patrons. It's got an exotic location (check); a huge familial gathering (double check); a heavy emphasis on food (oh yes); dark secrets slowly revealed (definitely a plus); a wonderful soundtrack (always a plus); and a jaunty, colorful palette (bingo).
And, yet, it isn't even a little bit annoying. It is, in fact, a joyous and dramatic ode to the chaos of the wedding. Sure, it's set in India, and does take a very close look at the cultural specifics of a wedding taking place in a modern day India, but its themes are fairly universal.
The movie is about a wedding. This much is known from the title. (The wedding takes place during monsoon season, but it was filmed shortly after monsoon season ended.) And the movie sticks fairly close to the wedding - the coming together of family members (the wedding is semi-arranged), the outdoor structures are constructed, food is prepared, and everything around the event seems to buzz like some multi-colored bee hive.
Around the central wedding, there are a number of satellite stories, mostly relationship pieces. It's sort of hard to untangle, and I'd be here all day if I attempted to do so. As the groom says at one point in the movie, "I don't even know who's who half the time." But there is a really wonderful kaleidoscope of love - all types of love, as well as the darkness that occasionally creeps into those relationships.
If you love romantic comedies, if you love romantic dramas, if you love foreign films, if you love weddings, then 'Monsoon Wedding' is the movie for you. It really is wonderful. Director Mira Nair does a great job capturing both the chaos and joy that go along with weddings. Along with ace cinematographer Declan Quinn, every single color in the movie (the gowns, the marigold flowers, the sky) pops with electric power.
Nair managed to make a film that was deeply personal while at the same time achieving an almost cosmic level of universality. If you've ever been in love, been to a wedding, held a secret too long, been to India, love food, love life, then this is the movie for you. It's a wonderful story, masterfully told, and Criterion brings it to high definition with all the flair and care you could hope for.
Criterion's MPEG-4 1080p transfer (1.85:1 aspect ratio) on this 50GB disc is absolutely stunning.
To quote from the booklet that comes in the Blu-ray case: "'Monsoon Wedding' is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Director Mira Nair and director of photography Declan Quinn supervised and approved this new high-definition transfer, which was created on a Spirit 4K Datacine from the original 35 mm interpositive, blow up from the original Super 16 mm A/B negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, flicker, and X-ray damage were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction."
Whew. Well, all that hard work shows. The most shocking thing about the movie is that it was shot on Super 16 and still looks this amazing. I saw the film when it was originally released, and I don't remember the colors popping, the amount of detail, and the darkness of shadows that are present here. (Keep in mind the original DVD wasn't even anamorphic.)
Additionally, skin tones look great, and the image is just lush and full of warmth. The digital clean up never makes anything look too waxen, and it is free of any buggy technical issues. This is another wonderful transfer from the fine folks at Criterion.
Criterion has done just as wonderful a job with the audio for 'Monsoon Wedding.'
Again, to quote from the booklet: "The 5.1 surround soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using ProTools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AutioCube's integrated audio workstation."
In other words: the DTS-HD 5.1 mix (the disc's sole audio track), in English and Hindi (with English subtitles), is very, very good. The film is dialogue heavy, and for a foreign film much of the dialogue is in English. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, and when atmospherics are called for, like the sequences in the rain or showing larger urban areas of India, the surround mix kicks in beautifully, creating a dense aural sound-scape.
The music also sounds gorgeous on this mix, both the Indian traditional and pop songs and the orchestral score sound absolutely dynamite. This may not be the type of movie where your surround sound system will get a dynamic workout, but it's a surprisingly complicated mix and one that has been brought to life in a truly dazzling way.
There are also subtitles in English for the hard of hearing.
This being a Criterion release, there are a whole host of wonderful extra features. The full title for this release is 'Monsoon Wedding and Seven Short Films,' because there are seven "short" films (short being a relative word) right alongside the main feature. So I'm going to cover each short here in the 'special features' section of my review, even though they're sort of co-headliners on this disc.
'Monsoon Wedding' is a wonderful film and Criterion has delivered an outstanding disc. With first rate A/V, seven fascinating short films (which could warrant a release all on their own), and a host of great special features, 'Monsoon Wedding' is highly recommended for both longtime fans of the movie and those interested in unique, warmhearted foreign films.