Little Women

Last night I watched my first best film of 2020. I know the year has just begun and there will be so many great films that will come to the fore but no matter what, Little Women will top the list for me even then. Even though it’s an adaptation of a well known novel by Louisa May Alcott that many of us have read while growing up and there have been numerous adaptations of the book in the popular media but this one surpasses them all by a huge degree. For all those reading ahead, there might be spoilers and if you haven’t watched the film, I suggest exercise restraint before you read further.

The story is about a modest family going through the challenges of domestic life centred around the March sisters in ways that are relatable, inspiring and empowering in its portrayal. The film moves through the perspective of Jo March, who is hellbent on carving an identity for herself and not succumb to the pressures that a woman often caves in and eventually gives up on her ambitions. She works as an anonymous writer in New York where she keeps visiting a publishing house often submitting her work under the name of another friend cause she feels like her mother wouldn’t be happy with the kind of gory writing that she is into to earn some money in order to support the family. Friedrich who is another professor at the house where Jo lives happens to read some of her writings and on giving her an honest feedback, Jo is hurt and breaks their friendship. Soon after she also receives a letter from her mother informing her that her youngest sister Beth has gotten sicker. The story keeps cutting between past and present. As Jo returns home and Amy has met their childhood friend Laurie (played by the gorgeous Timotee Chalamet) again, the movie goes back to the time when they all met for the first time. There are some tender moments in the movie where Laura Dern who is playing their mother (fondly called as Marmee) comes home one Christmas morning when the girls are excitedly waiting for their mother to join them for breakfast requesting them to give their food to their needy neighbour and her starving kids. She tells them their father (who is at the American Civil War during that time) would’ve done the same and reads a letter from him to them.

As the film continues, Laurie starts to befriend the March sisters since he is the only and a lonely guy in the neighbourhood. Beth, the youngest of them all finds a fancy with a huge piano at their house and Laurie’s grandfather even lets her play it since she reminds him of his dead daughter. During one of the times, Jo, Laurie, Meg and Laurie’s professor go to the theatre which angers Amy and she ends up burning Jo’s writing that leads to a huge fight among the sisters. Amy soon realises her mistake and tries to make up to Jo but she doesn’t give in. Next day, Jo and Laurie are out skating when Amy follows them and ends up falling in ice cold water. This saddens Jo who realises that how could she be so selfish that she didn’t care about her sister’s well-being. Her mother explains to her that how she reminds her so much of her younger age and Jo is surprised to know their mother who she has always known to be so patient and resilient could have been temperamental ever. To that Laura Dern tells one of my favourite moments between a mother and daughter, “There are some natures too noble to curb and too lofty to bend.” This is followed by Meg (who has always been a good actress) falling in love with Laurie’s professor and deciding to get married which Jo tries to resist since she thinks that her sister shouldn’t be giving up so easily on her dream of being an actress. She tries to convince Meg by telling her that both of them will flee to New York where Jo will work as a writer and Meg can pursue her theatre and both of them will never get bored of each other. Meg then tries to assure her that just cause their dreams aren’t similar doesn’t mean that they are unimportant.

One of my another favourite moment is when Beth makes a shoe for Laurie’s grandfather as a token of gratitude for letting her play piano at their mansion regularly. This makes his grandfather so emotional that he ends up gifting Beth the piano with a heartfelt letter of how even after owing so many pairs of shoes, hers make him feel the best. Throughout the movie one wants to see Jo and Laurie end up together but you also know that somewhere that’s not going to happen. Laurie confesses his feeling to Jo and she simply turns him down saying if they get married, eventually he will get bored of her writing and she wouldn’t be able to adjust to his lifestyle and then they will squabble and it’ll be horrid. And in that moment Laurie tries to convince her by saying that they’ll be enough but Jo simply isn’t prepared to give in yet. It makes you sad cause you want to see them together and you are like why is she giving up every good thing coming her way cause she thinks it’ll hamper her personal liberty. After this they go their separate ways and in the present Laurie’s path intertwines with Amy who has always loved Laurie but never wanted to be a second fiddle to her sister.

Beth and Jo spend a lot of quality time together since she is trying to help her sister feel better. Beth requests Jo to write something for her and thus begins a serious of heartfelt stories and the subsequent demise of Beth that pushes Jo back into resuming her novel. The grief of her sister is too much for her to bear and she starts finding solace in writing. During this time she also realises that love and companionship is probably what we all eventually need and she tells her mother that perhaps she was too quick in turning down Laurie and if he asks her again, she will probably say yes. To which Marmee asks her, “Do you love him?”. Jo responds “I care to be loved. I want to be loved.” Marmee: ” That’s not the same as loving.” This is followed by a powerful monologue by Saoirse Raonan, one of the best I have watched in a long long time.

Amy finally comes home with Laurie to announce that they have gotten married and this hits Jo like a rock but she pretends to put up a happy face for her sister. During the time when the entire family is spending good time together they have an unexpected visit from Friedrich (the professor from New York who likes Jo). And somewhere you know where the movie is headed and although Jo and Laurie do not end up together, but she eventually finds her happily ever after in Friedrich, under the umbrella 🙂

I personally loved how Greta Gerwig has portrayed every character so strongly that it makes you feel empowered and you simply cannot help but marvel at the way small yet important nuances have been highlighted. Little Women for me is a winner in every sense. Too bad the Oscars didn’t see the beauty of it.

Life is indeed beautiful

While we crib and whine about unimportant things in life, which, might not even matter the next day, those are the times I truly hope (for myself as well) that I am reminded of the movie Life is Beautiful. It is a 1997 Italian film directed by Roberto Benigni that won him the Oscar in the Foreign Film category. Since then, the director hasn’t been able to make anything memorable as such. The movie is sensitive, emotional, strong on characters and will make you cry towards the end.

******spoiler ahead******

life-is-beautifulThe story rides on the shoulders of the director who is also the lead in the film, Roberto Benigni, who is portrayed as a Jew by the name of Guido and dreams of starting his own bookstore in a country that discriminates against the Jews in the pre Second world war time. He works as a waiter in a restaurant where he loves playing riddles with a doctor appointed with the German concentration camp. Guido falls in love with an Italian teacher Dora (played by Nicoletta Braschi), who he meets at several occassions and tries to woo her every single time with his antics. Dora finally gives in to Guido’s affection and they get married and eventually have a beautiful son Giosue. When the World War II breaks out, Guido, his uncle Eliseo and son are captured by German army to be sent off to a concentration camp. His wife, Dora, although not originally a Jew volunteers to go to the camp too, just so she can stay close to her family.

As an audience, you’ll expect that the movie will take a serious turn and there will be blood, gore and all sorts of unpleasant things, but Roberto gave the series of events such an interesting treatment that it wouldn’t be non-violent visually, yet it will break your heart. Like everyone would know how old people and children were gassed in chambers under the pretence of a hot shower, Guido’s son Eliseo escapes the holocaust every single time as he hates taking bath and on other occasions Guido convinces him to stay hidden under the garb of projecting the concentration camp as a game and the one who manages to stay alive until the end wins a tank. He chooses to hide their true situation from Eliseo so as to not affect him mentally. There will be times in the movie when his son is unconvinced by Guido but Guido manages to get him along every single time.

As the war comes to an end, Dora and Eliseo are united after Guido loses his life in order to ensure their safety. Guido in all respects, fulfils his promise to his son who gets to ride on an American tank that he assumes he has won as a prize. It is only years later that his son realises the sacrifice his father made for him and his mother. More than them, it is the sacrifice for your loved ones. The love that is pure, selfless and unconditional. I was weeping profusely by the end of it, merely by the performances and the narrative. Even as I am writing this (although it’s been a really long time that I watched the film), I can feel the exact emotion I felt when I watched it for the first time.

One of my favourite movies of all time.