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November 2, 2007

On the fast track to nowhere

India provides a lush backdrop for three brothers to reconnect

Scott Rudin has had a very interesting and prolific career as a Hollywood producer. One of the townís few openly gay producers, Rudinís works have straddled the spectrum from mainstream heavy-hitters like Rules of Engagement and The Village to more intimate art house hits like Closer and Iris.

He has also been an avid producer of filmsabout queer folk and by gay writers and directors: The Hours, based on Michael Cunninghamís novel and directed by Stephen Daldry, or last yearís Notes on a Scandal with Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett caught up in a lesbian Fatal Attraction.† Rudin is also producing Jack and Diane (set to be released in 2008), another lesbian tale of difficult love.

Rudin has also produced almost all of the films of Wes Anderson, one of Americaís most inventive and talented directors working today. The two have partnered on the zany The Royal Tenenbaums and the equally quirky The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

Now they have reunited for the moving and intelligently funny The Darjeeling Limited. Here, three brothers who have drifted apart after their fatherís death meet up in India to go on a spiritual quest where they hope to find the bonds of fraternal love and respect again.

Francis (Owen Wilson) has just survived a bad automobile accident and shows up in India with a bandaged head hiding terrible scars and bloody wounds. The internal scars are even more profound.

Peter (Adrien Brody) is about to become a father and has come to India without telling his wife where he is. Still reeling from the loss of his father, his own fatherhood seems daunting and impossible.

Jack (Jason Schwartzman) has been hiding in Paris for a year, living at the swanky Hotel Chevalier, running from his familial stress and the deep loss of the breakup with his bohemian girlfriend (Natalie Portman).

When they board the Darjeeling Limited, a train which will take them everywhere and nowhere all at once, the three brothers are weighed down, weary and worried about just about everything in life.

Self-absorbed, exceptionally affluent New York elites, these siblings cannot see beyond their own needs, their myopic gripes and grumblings. Their trip is about to be derailed and they are about to abandon their quest for enlightenment and togetherness when a tragedy in a small village opens their eyes to the vastly different universes that exist beyond their own private, selfish worlds.

Andersonís films have always examined the American family, often privileged ones, in unique and enlightening ways. Andersonís tales are flooded with flawed humanity, and in The Darjeeling Limited, he takes this examination to dizzying heights. He builds the tale with a slow pulsating tension and emotional resonances that hit like a sledgehammer by filmís end.

Brotherhood has rarely been examined with such simplicity and such humanity in contemporary cinema.

The three main performances by Brody, Wilson and Scwartzman are pitch perfect, each bringing their own humor and honesty to their roles.

Wilson, who has just survived a suicide attempt in real life, resonates a cosmic sadness masked by surface brio during every scene. The fact that his characterís wounds may be from a suicide masked as an accident raises the stakes of his role and that of the film as well.

Brody, who has made many acting missteps (King Kong, The Village) since his Oscar win for Roman Polanskiís The Pianist, is back in top form here. He brings earnestness to the role that is endearing.

Schwartzman, a very handsome man, seems to always mask himself with bad mustaches in his films. His lovelorn, sex-addicted Jack is an existential mess that we both want to laugh at and cry with because we can see so much of ourselves in him.

Angelica Houston as their runaway-mom-turned-nun is lovely in her small role, looking gorgeous as she ages with grace and elegance. Waris Ahluwalia as the trainís chief steward and Amara Khan as Rita, Jackís Indian fling aboard the train turn in nice performances.

Irfan Khan as a bereaved father in the village where the brothers are forced to grow up turns in another small yet nuanced performance as he did in this yearís A Might Heart, based on the real-life story of slain journalist Daniel Pearl.

Robert D. Yeomanís cinematography and the production design by Mark Friedberg bring India to life with its vibrancy and vividness. Together with Andersonís vision, India is as much a character in the film as any of the humans.

Another important set of characters in the film are eleven pieces of Louis Vitton luggage designed by gay fashion designer Marc Jacobs. The baggage that these brothers have come to India with, monogrammed and exorbitant, are as human as they are existential.

The Darjeeling Limited will steal your heart with slow, stealthy steps. Anderson continues to examine the American family with mature insight and quirky beauty. Young and brilliant, he continues to be a director of importance and relevance, one to watch for years as he goes from strength to strength.

The feature film is preceded by a short called Hotel Chevalier (with a stunning Natalie Portman) where the audience is introduced to the character of Jack. Itís a little gem foreshadowing the brilliance of The Darjeeling Limited.


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