Friday, 29 June 2012

W.E. by Madonna is a good film

Let the haters hate all they want, “W.E.”, Madonna’s directorial debut is a good movie. As a lifelong fan of Her Majesty, I don’t expect to dislike anything she does, but I have to admit some of her previous forays into the film industry (Swept Away, anyone?) were less than stellar. Having read the critical backlash against W.E., I was anticipating something along the same lines, and since I missed it in theaters earlier this year, I only got to see it on DVD this week.

W.E. tells the stories of two women: Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII of England (and at the time British Emperor) abdicated the throne in 1936 and Wally Winthrop, a modern day Manhattan housewife who obsesses with Mrs. Simpson as she visits an exhibition of her memorabilia.

W.E. doesn’t claim to be an objective retelling of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s (as they became known after they married in exile) story, instead it recounts it through the thoughts and daydreams of Wally, who is locked in a loveless marriage. Both stories advance in parallel and are intertwined just enough not to be overbearing. I really enjoyed that element of the film.

W.E. also examines what happened after the Duke and Duchess wed, and through a look at a collection of the Duchess’ private letters, recounts the unhappiness of the Duke who was refused back into the UK and felt redundant because of his inability to go back to public life. This in turn put a lot of guilt on his wife’s shoulders and raises the question that neither of them ever answered: did their matrimonial life turn out to be worth him giving up the crown and her being vilified forever?

What everyone agrees on (even the critics) is that the cinematography in W.E. is very well done. Thanks to costume designer Arianne Phillips who scored an Oscar nomination for her work on this film, and yes, IMHO excellent filmmaking on Madonna’s part, the movie is visually amazing. Fashion lovers relish it, because it stayed true to the Duchess’ legendary wardrobe, working with her favorite design houses such as Dior, Vionnet, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels to replicate her outfits and famed jewels.

If I were to nitpick, it would be along two lines: 1) I would have liked more of a view on what made Wallis Simpson so special to the King amongst all the women he could have courted and married without having to give up his throne. 2) There are a few scenes where Wally imagines talking to Wallis. These scenes are not bad as such, but I felt the movie could have done without them, as Wally’s constant daydreaming is more than enough to convey the lessons she is learning through her namesakes’ story.

I am not pretending that W.E is an all-time great, but it is a great piece of entertainment, as good as many acclaimed films in recent years, and a very interesting way to look at one of the most fascinating love stories in history. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein said that if Madonna “were Joe Smith, she would be heralded as a great new filmmaker, but her reputation precedes her”.

For some reason, critics and Hollywood types seem to have decided a long time ago that they would keep their kingdom closed to the Queen of Pop. Hollywood may have become more accepting of strong female roles, but maybe not of strong real life women.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Theater Review: "Rest Upon The Wind"

Inspired by the life of Gibran Khalil Gibran, “Rest Upon the Wind”, a play by Nadim Sawalha, deals with the events that lead Gibran to publish his all-time great “The Prophet” and includes flashbacks to his childhood in Lebanon and his family’s immigration to the USA.

I must admit that although I’ve read Gibran’s work, I am only loosely familiar with his life story, so the play was all the more interesting to watch. It starts when most of Gibran’s family members have died of illness and he lives with his sister Marianna who has devoted her life to taking care of him, but cannot seem to adapt to life in America. They live in the Lebanese enclave of Boston’s China Town and, as is often the case with immigrants, feel like social rejects. Gibran himself is portrayed as obsessed with Lebanon and the dream of freeing it from the rule of the Ottomans. As the plot evolves, he shifts his attention to completing the book which came to him as a vision when he was a child in Mount Lebanon. An American woman, Mary Haskell, pushes him to re-write it after it burns down in a fire and his focus turns to gaining recognition as a poet and an artist in the United States. He yearns to rub elbows with the likes of Carl Jung and other thinkers of his time and seems to be quite the ladies’ man.

Throughout the play, Gibran appears to struggle between his spiritual beliefs, as penned in The Prophet, and the very worldly aspirations of making his book a success and getting out of the cycle of poverty. The play ends after The Prophet is finally published, with Gibran surrounded by hordes of people reading his work aloud while he wears a cashmere coat, something he couldn’t have previously afforded.

One of the features that hit a chord with me is that, although the play is set in 1923, the political discourse around Lebanon and its freedom from foreign domination remains relevant today. How depressing to think that 89 years haven’t done anything to help us grow and mature as an independent nation. Even more depressing to think that-as the play contends- Gibran was invited to become president of the then newly established Republic of Lebanon but declined. Maybe having one of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists instead of tribal/sectarian chieftains head up the country would have set us on a different path.

"Rest Upon The Wind" has ended its run in London, but if you’re in Liverpool, Beirut, Amman or Dubai, I highly recommend that you try to catch it when it comes to your town. It’s well paced, nicely written, funny at times and with just enough “effects” to make it interesting without falling into the trap of trying too hard. The provisional dates for those cities are below:

Liverpool, Unity Theatre –July 10, 2012.

Beirut: End September (Al Madina Theatre - Hamra).

AMMAN: Early October (Al Hussein Cultural Centre).

DUBAI: Dubai: Mid. October (Madinat Theatre).

You can find more information here: