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20th Century Fox presents
Water (2005)

"Do you remember getting married? Your husband is dead. You're a widow now."
- Baba (Buddhi Wickrama)

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: August 28, 2006

Stars: Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray, John Abraham
Director: Deepa Mehta

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual situations, and for brief drug use
Run Time: 01h:57m:15s
Release Date: August 29, 2006
UPC: 024543266143
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In 2000, controversial filmmaker Deepa Mehta began the last of her conceptual trilogy of elemental films set in India. Fire (1996), the first of the series, had already been banned in India and Pakistan for its depiction of women in a lesbian relationship. As filming began on this third film, Hindu fundamentalism was at the height of its power in Indian politics, and factions within the government as well as conservative religious groups worked to undermine the production, culminating with the destruction of the sets, and a total shut down. Four years later, director Mehta recast the film and resumed filming in Sri Lanka.

Water takes place in 1938 (which makes its current relevance and controversy even more surprising). Chuyia (played by Sarala) is married off by her parents at the age of 8, and is almost immediately widowed. In certain traditions, it seems, a widow has two choices, neither of which would appeal to a young girl who never knew her husband: she may throw herself onto her husband's funeral pyre, or head off to one of the widow's ashrams where girls that the family won't be able to marry off can be put out to pasture, living ascetically with minimal provision. Either way, not much fun to be had.

The controversy, and consternation surrounding the film's production are difficult to look past when watching it. Is there a movie here, or just a message? While director Mehta has a real point to make, and one that, again, is surprisingly controversial, this is a human story. Little Chuyia is both precocious and angry, and her arrival at the ashram along the Ganges coincides with the historic moment of Gandhi's ascendance to prominence. The unquestioning acceptance of the widow's lot is endangered, and Chuyia's inablility to comprehend her fate pushes the other widows to question theirs as well, particularly the devout Shakuntala (Seema Biswas). There's tragedy, but there's also romance, and this is not the dour polemic that a lesser director might have produced with the material. The story does, however, switch gears a few times, with three stories intertwining, so some moments feel underexplored. Still, when it works it's moving and beautiful to watch.

Visually, it's stunning. The influence of Bollywood is here in the palette of bright colors, and the mere fact of being downtrodden doesn't render the main characters ugly. Mehta's camera is kind to almost everyone, though she assembled a lovely cast, with several talented veterans.

Water doesn't go out of its way to offend, so the controversy over it in India seems quaint, and hard to fathom. Best not to let ourselves off the hook too easily, though. In the last couple of years in the U.S., large-scale protest campaigns have been launched at The DaVinci Code, Brokeback Mountain and Kinsey, all over issues of religion or sexuality. These protests have been of a quantitatively different character, to be sure...no one, to my knowledge, was burned in effigy, and lives went mostly unthreatened. Still, the spirit and intent are the same. There are certain things about which we aren't menat to think too hard.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's a beautiful movie, with a beautiful transfer. The colors are bright, contrast is good, and there were no truly noticeable distractions or problems. Very nicely done.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This has a nice 5.1 audio track. It's largely center channel-based, which is a bit of a shame, but many of the musical elements make use of the rear channels, which is a nice touch. Good, if not exceptional.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Deepa Mehta
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: There's not a ton here, but there's a great commentary.

The first extra is The Story Behind the Making of Water. It's a scant four minutes long, which is a real shame because it's really all we get on the tribulations involved in the making of the film. There's some footage of Deepa Mehta's effigy being burned via Indian television news, and discussion of the destruction of the sets. Again, it's brief, and I would have been interested in much more.

Next is the cleverly titled Behind-The-Scenes Featurette. It runs 21 minutes, and basically an EPK style making-of. Pretty good for what it is, but not particularly insightful.

The real winner here is the feature-length commentary track with director Mehta. This is extensive and interesting, covering pretty much every aspect of the production. It's somewhat scene specific, but she only uses the action on screen to springboard into a discussion of a particular topic or an anecdote. This is absolutely what a commentary track should be. Almost makes up for the relative thinness of the other features.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Water is absolutely beautiful to watch, with a talented cast and an exceptionally skilled director. There are three main plot threads that all fight for time with each other, and the balance doesn't always seem quite right. Still, it's a personal story with an epic backdrop that had me in tears by the end. The disc is light on special features but the director commentary is an absolute winner. Worth checking out.


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