Feb 26, 2009

An Uncomfortable Admission

Watching the DVD version of Bend It Like Beckham was two hours well spent. It's not often one sees the pursuit of female sports portrayed with such positive energy and sympathetic camera angles.

*SPOILER ALERT: the following reveals the nature of this film's ending, and discusses the resolution of a primary source of tension/conflict.*

I knew, because of comments other people had made to me, that this movie had a happy ending. And yet I couldn't help feeling a sense of forboding as it unfolded.

One of the main characters, played by Parminda Nagra, is from an immigrant Sikh family - which expects her to behave in a traditional manner at odds with that of modern day Britain. This young woman's desire to become a professional soccer player receives little support from her family. In order to play at all, she must constantly deceive them.

While everything works out well in the end - due, primarily, to her father's realization that remaining inflexible will shatter his daughter's dreams and leave her miserable - in real life, these conflicts sometimes turn ugly. It isn't unheard of for young women such as this to be coerced into arranged marriages, assaulted by their elders and brothers, and even murdered because their non-traditional choices are viewed as bringing shame upon their families.

From a certain perspective, this film provides a template for families facing such challenges. Its message is that respect on the part of the young, compromise on the part of the elders, and old-fashioned love and affection can all help to preserve the family unit rather than rupturing it. (A tragic account of a real-life family destroyed by its inability to navigate similarly tricky waters appears here.)

But here's another thought, one I'm still turning over in my mind: watching this film made me glad I wasn't born into an immigrant family from India. As a photographer, I'm attracted to the vibrant colours of the textiles, footwear, and jewellery on display in Toronto's Little India. I've often thought that Indian children - with their dark eyes - are among the world's most beautiful. And if I had to choose only one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life - it would be East Indian, no question about it. In other words, my associations with East Indian culture have always been hugely positive.

But while watching this fictional young woman struggle to accommodate the suffocating expectations placed on her by a family rooted in another time and place, it became clear to me that I wouldn't ever want to be a young woman in that culture - any more than I'd want to be one in a hyper-traditional Italian family.

This is a new idea for me. One I didn't anticipate coming away with when I sat down to watch this film.

[full movie info]

Feb 24, 2009


Here's the backstory to my latest attempts at self-portraiture: My husband and I spent the past few weeks in Hawaii and, after having flown from Honolulu to the Big Island in order to view the active volcano, came up short on a rental car.

Twenty-four hours and a fortuitous cancellation later, we found ourselves behind the wheel of a Ford Expedition - one of the largest vehicles in which I've been a passenger. I mean, there was room for an additional six adults and their luggage in this gas-guzzler.

Refueling, it turns out, was a bit of a production. The automatic gasoline dispensers demanded a numerical zip code in order to verify our credit card, but we're from Canada and use a system that includes letters as well as numbers.

So while my husband was sorting out matters with the filling station attendant, I amused myself by shooting into the Expedition's gigantic side mirror. It provides the frame in the above image.

A few more shots in the series may be viewed here (freeze an image by placing your cursor over it; remove your cursor to cycle to the next one).


Feb 3, 2009

Shirley Valentine

Re-watched this 1989 release recently with four other women aged 24 to 76. The majority were of British descent, so the film resonates differently for them. I've never met people like those depicted, but evidently some of my viewing companions have.

What struck me is that, despite its overt feminist message that middle-aged women are more than wives and mothers, the film is also gentle and humane.

The husband who treats his wife like a doormat isn't demonized here. We come to understand that his life, too, has stagnated and calcified. Moreover, because we see the heroine being bullied by her neighbor, her friend, and her own daughter, we come to realize that she herself is part of the problem.

The film's over-arching message is not that men (or the system) are bad but that:
  • we each are responsible for the state of our own lives and
  • the power to change things lies within us
From a certain perspective, this movie serves admirably as a time capsule. Twenty years later, it's difficult to believe that large numbers of people - even in the stodgiest corners of the United Kingdom - live like this.

But there was a time when many did.