Salaam Bombay! (Mira Nair, 1988). Director Mira Nair’s first fiction film owes a lot to her preceding documentaries. In depicting the plight of children living on the streets of India, Nair worked largely with amateur actors, many of whom were enduring precisely the sort of existence the film dramatizes. Nair’s modest budget and still-developing style are apparent in the film’s somewhat perfunctory visual styling, and arguably also in the somewhat predictable narrative (Nair developed the story with Sooni Taraporevala, who is credited as the screenwriter). What Salaam Bombay! lacks in inventiveness, it makes up for with raw emotional openness, rendering the hardships of the characters with rough honesty. It’s a film heavy with social cruelties and therefore appropriately short of hope.
Found Memories (Júlia Murat, 2011). There’s slow-build brilliance in this marvelous debut from Brazilian filmmaker Júlia Murat. The film takes place in an isolated community where all the villagers go about their modest daily tasks with ritualized complacency. When a traveling photographer (Lisa Fávero) arrives. the ambience isn’t so much disrupted as set just the slightest bit askew. Her curiosity about conventions that have been accepted for who knows how long sets a few eyebrows on a slightly higher arch than usual, but the dramatic conflict is mostly at low hum, at least until a turn into magic realism so gradual and gentle that it could almost be missed by a viewer understandably lulled by the film’s generally soothing tone. Murat’s filmmaking is marvelously deft, exemplified by repeated scenes of a shop opening for the morning that are shot and assembled in subtly inventive ways. Found Memories is a real treasure.
Along Came Jones (Stuart Heisler, 1945). Gary Cooper clearly had a sense of humor about his own onscreen persona of exacting stolidness. Full-fledged classics Meet John Doe and Ball of Fire are proof enough of that. And yet Along Came Jones feels different, almost revelatory, in the way it affectionately spoofs the sterling masculinity of the standard-issue Western hero, just a few years before Cooper himself helped cast that figure in granite in High Noon. Cooper is loose and engaging as Melody Jones, who briefly gets mistaken for a fearsome gunslinger and then gets drawn into all manner of frontier intrigue because he’s understandably sweet on a local rancher (Loretta Young). Director Stuart Heisler guides Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay (adapted from an Alan Le May novel) with aplomb. It maybe lacks some heft, but the film is full of zingy pleasures in its genial irreverence.