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Such A Long Journey  

There has been much debate over the notion of Canadian content regulations, and what qualifies as specifically "Canadian". For example, obscure movies made in this country, because they are produced with government money and deal with specific regions and issues, are correctly deemed Canadian content. However, a tv show like The Outer Limits, because it is a science-fiction program appealing to a mass audience, is, even though produced in Canada, not "truly" Canadian. Of course, this argument doesn`t make a good deal of sense, since not everybody is attuned to writing a movie about unemployed Maritimers, for instance. Not every writer has a Goin` Down the Road in them. Some Canadians may actually want to write a sci-fi production, and just because they work in a "low" genre doesn`t mean they are any less Canadian.


This brings me up to this particular film, Such a Long Journey, which has won a number of Canadian Genie Awards, including Best Actor for Roshan Seth. It is based on a novel by a Canadian author. It was funded with government money. And yet........ it has nothing to do with Canada. The story takes place entirely in India. I recognize two of the actors in this film, including Seth, and they are of Indian desent and have appeared in American films, most notably Mira Nair`s Mississipi Masala. So is it Canadian? You might say, hardly!!! But here`s food for thought: a recent National Post review stated that, in the writer`s opinion, this was a good Canadian film precisely because it didn`t make a fuss over how Canadian it ought to be. It merely tried to be an interesting movie, which it succeeded in being. And while I don`t necessarily believe no movie shouldn`t try to be Canadian, I certainly have no problem in viewing any movie in terms of its content rather than its nationality.

Now, the movie itself. The story takes place in the 1970's in India. A typical Indian family is about to go through numerous calamities, hitting noone harder than the father, a long-time bank clerk. First, his eldest son defies his father`s wish to go to a good business-oriented university, which sets off cries and threats of disownment. Then, the father gets letters from a long-lost friend who turns out to be involved in a rebel army from Pakastian, and who needs the man`s help in transferring funds to an account. The man agrees, reluctantly, due to a sense of loyality. Yet that loyality could cost him dearly.

I`m making the film sound deadly serious, but its tone is much lighter than that, mainly due to a number of elements. It has the benefit of the script`s dry humour, which runs throughout. Much of that humour is able to exist due to the performance of Roshan Seth, who perfectly balances himself between the perilous divide between comedy and drama. You will be able to laugh at his Indian variation of the thoroughly at-ease father, who slowly flies apart at the domestic crises around him that dent his comfort. Even the scene where he about to threaten his disobeying son with his belt draws laughs, as at this portion of the film we are still in comfortable, almost sitcom territory.

And yet that humour works as part of a larger context, that of a man who takes his life too much for granted. He doesn`t want to escape the life he wants to have, and expects everyone around him to have precisely the same values as he. You see flashbacks of his childhood, with seemingly friendly people and innocent atmosphere, and you understand how he would not suspect his old friends` motives to be anything other than necessary. He grew up in a world of British gentility, before India`s independence, where you stuck by your friends, and ruled over your family, in the hopes it would carry on your values after you pass. His fantasy evaporates as the movie reaches its close, and it is up to him to discover something even more valuable than tradition.

The local colour of the city is another attribute. You witness a lot of strange and interesting characters among the locals, from an old woman who seems to be an enchantress, with many different spells and remedies which can supposedly twist the arms of fate, to a mentally challenged man whose rapid babble is somehow comprehensible to the people in the community. My friend said she believed he had to have been a very good actor to be able to protray such a psychological mess. There is no way a real person with this affiction could stay still long enough to understand the director. So chalk this one up to a fine example of immersion into one's role.

This is a gentle, thoughtful wisp of a film. It is perhaps too light and sentimental to be regarded as a classic, but it`s locale, humour, and acting make it a film worth tracking down.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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