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Friday, April 4, 2008

PARTITION -- DVD review by porfle

Not a big fan of mushy sentiment, I honestly didn't look forward to watching PARTITION (2007). But it won me over with its subtle and simply-told story of forbidden love that's set against an epic backdrop without being overpowered by it. The lengthy and informative "making of" featurette included on the DVD is subtitled "A Journey of the Heart", a stock phrase often used to describe tacky tearjerkers that are laden with cheap sentiment. In this case, though, the phrase is aptly and justly used, because PARTITION is a true journey of the heart in the most genuine and sincere sense, for both the characters and the filmmakers themselves.

Returning to India with his friend and fellow soldier Avtar after fighting with the British in WWII, Gian (Jimi Mistry) looks forward to a peaceful life as a farmer in his tiny village in Punjab. But he can't escape the hatred and killing that surrounds him. The end of British rule in India has partitioned the country into two nations--Islamic Pakistan and secular India--and religious refugees from both sides are being massacred as they flee persecution. Avtar (Irfan Khan) urges Gian to join his band of marauders and kill Muslims, but Gian has had enough of violence and refuses.

A young Muslim woman, Naseem (Kristin Kreuk) narrowly escapes death from Avtar and his men and is taken in by Gian despite vehement objections from the other villagers. Eventually they fall in love, marry, and have a son, while the other people in the village gradually begin to accept her. But when Naseem's surviving family members are located in Pakistan and she travels there to see them, her mother and two brothers refuse to allow her to return to her Sikh husband. So Gian, with his small son in tow, is forced to pose as a Muslim in order to enter the country and try to rescue her.

Veteran director Vic Sarin, who co-wrote the script with Patricia Finn, based the story on a tale he heard as a boy growing up in India, about doomed lovers who drowned themselves in a river rather than face separation. It's clearly a labor of love for him and everyone else involved. Filming took place both on location in India and in British Columbia, with Sarin serving as his own director of photography, and he has captured beautiful images of both breathtaking scope and quiet intimacy. Each aspect of the film is meticulously crafted, from production design to costuming, and Brian Tyler's moving score is an orchestral blending of Eastern and Western influences that underscores the emotional impact while only occasionally overwhelming it.

The early scenes of Gian hiding the traumatized Naseem in his house and gently caring for her are very sweet, and their growing love for each other is allowed to develop in a deliberate, believable manner without the standard romantic trappings. As portrayed so well by the sad-eyed Jimi Mistry (ELLA ENCHANTED, THE GURU), Gian is a soulful, melancholy man whose wartime experiences have given him an utter intolerance of violence and hatred of any kind. This doesn't mean he won't stand his ground, though--when a vengeful Avtar comes for Naseem, Gian calmly tells him, "If you enter my of us will die." The exotically beautiful Kristin Kreuk ("Smallville") is equally effective as Naseem, giving her a lost and vulnerable quality that evokes our empathy.

Neve Campbell is given one of her best roles ever as Gian's English friend Margaret, who uses her influence with the Indian government to help locate Naseem's family. When she discovers that the "child" Gian's been caring for is actually his wife and the mother of his son, there's a great moment in which the look on her face betrays the unspoken feelings she's had for him all along. It's very subtle and non-explicit where another movie might have beaten us over the head with it or even cranked it up into an added subplot--which is indicative of a lack of sensationalism and melodrama which adds to the film's appeal.

The aforementioned featurette, "The Making of Partition: A Journey of the Heart" is about 47 minutes long and contains a lot of good behind-the-scenes footage along with in-depth comments from Sarin, producer Tina Pehme, and other principals. Also included are the trailer, previews of other Allumination Filmworks releases, and optional Spanish subtitles. The 2:35:1 widescreen image and 5.1 audio are excellent.

PARTITION doesn't spare us the horrors of the Muslims vs. Sikhs conflict, with some early scenes of bloody violence and mass murder, but at its heart it's a "Romeo and Juliet" love story filled with genuine tenderness and warmth. Naseem's imprisonment by her own family and Gian's perilous journey to reclaim her add a great deal of suspense and an uneasy sense of impending tragedy, resulting in a richly-rewarding cinematic experience that may stay with you long after it's over. Hey, if all love stories were this good, I might even watch more of them.

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