Great Expectations (1946)

Country: United Kingdom

Books written by Charles Dickens have been translated into the medium of film for years and years. From Oliver Twist to A Christmas Carol, his stories have been made into musicals as well as animated films. Perhaps one of the most famous renditions of Charles Dickens’ immortal story Great Expectations is the 1946 film made by David Lean.

Lean is considered to be one of the most influential filmmakers in the world, and is revered by many famous directors. At the time Great Expectations was made, Lean was just starting to get noticed. He would then go on to make iconic films such as Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India, which immortalised him as the man with an epic vision. In fact Steven Spielberg had once said that he wanted to be a director after watching Lawrence of Arabia.

Lean’s impact in the world of cinema is therefore undeniable, and any fan of old films, or films based on books, or even David Lean, should never commit the sacrilege of not watching Great Expectations.

Pip, (played by Anthony Wager as a child and John Mills as an adult), is a poor orphan who is threatened by an escaped convict to give him food. Pip steals some and hands it over to the convict. Also during his childhood, an old rich woman, Miss Havisham (who was abandoned on her marriage day), calls Pip to spend time with her, paying her for his company. There he meets a cruel but absolutely beautiful teenager, Estella, with whom he later falls in love.

Many years later, Pip discovers that he has been taken under the wing of a secret benefactor, whose identity he is unsure of. As a result, Pip moves into the city and lives with Herbert Pocket (played by Alec Guinness) and rubs shoulders with high class people. Who exactly is this secret benefactor? Pip thinks it is Miss Havisham, but is he right?

John Mills is brilliant in his role here and though he was around 40 at the time the film was made, he makes the perfect Pip. Jean Simmons is another treat to watch, as the spoiled young Estella.  Not only does she look uncannily like Vivien Leigh, but also to an extent, acts like her in Gone with the Wind. Valerie Hobson plays the older Estella to perfection as well. There will probably be no Miss Havisham as iconic as the one played by Martita Hunt.

The film is an absolute visual treat. Though it is in black and white, its start contrasts and haunting images make for a completely different experience. One only has to see the scene where Pip finds Miss Havisham sitting in her bridal dress in front of a rotting wedding cake just to believe it.

The film is absolutely haunting, and its images will play in your mind after you finish watching it. Surely this has to be the best adaptation of Great Expectations ever.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you are a fan of David Lean. Also watch it if you want to see a great rendition of Dickens’ classic tale. For Alec Guinness fans, here is a sneak preview of him as a young man, before he went on to play Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai, Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia and Obi Wan Kenobi in the old Star Wars trilogy.

Avoid it if you cannot bear black and white movies. Any other reason to avoid it? Definitely not.

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Osama (2003)

Country: Afghanistan

Looking at the title of the film, one immediately assumes that this film is about Osama Bin Laden – but that would be a completely wrong thought. However, even without a mention of Bin Laden, Osama manages to be just as emotionally scarring.

The film follows the story of a young girl (probably of 11 years of age), who has to become the breadwinner of her family after her father is killed. The only other members of her family are her mother and grandmother, both women.  In this strict Taliban regime, women are not allowed to work – which is what puts her mother out of work in the first place. To make sure that they do not go hungry, her mother chops off the young girl’s hair and disguises her as a boy so that she can work with the local milk vendor. Her true identity is only known to her family and to another male friend, who gives her the name ‘Osama’.

However, fate has its say in another manner, and the Taliban come to enlist all young boys. She is scooped up by them forcibly and is trained in military school. But this becomes a disturbing journey for her as she has to protect her real identity – because she knows that if she is discovered she will be killed.

How long can she hide this truth? And does she ever return to her family? Osama leaves you both shocked and disturbed as you undertake the harrowing road to life in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.

Thankfully this is not a film about how good the Americans are to wage war in Afghanistan, or is not about how evil the Taliban are for their support of Bin Laden and 9/11. This is the story of a young girl, and nothing more.

The acting is top-notch, and Marina Golbahari (Osama) performs completely realistically, making her the ray of light in this otherwise dark and depressing tale directed by Siddiq Barmak.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you would like to watch a film about the effect of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Avoid it completely if you do not want to be depressed. Though this film is not physically violent or gory, it is emotionally draining and distressing.

Phörpa ~ The Cup (1999)

Country: Bhutan

A couple of youngsters wanting to watch the FIFA World Cup may not sound so unusual. After all, most people do that anyway, don’t they? But, what if these youngsters were Tibetan students living in a religious monastery in India?

Phorpa is far from typical Hollywood fare, relying on its unusual, yet delightful story to catch the attention of its viewers. Interesting questions are raised over the course of the film.

First is the Tibetan question itself. This amazing part of the world has seen so much strife over its history, and so many of its people are still scattered all over the world, not knowing whether they will ever get back to their homeland. In spite of this, Tibetans living abroad in countries like India still continue to follow their culture and their religious duties and this is apparent in Phorpa.

Another question is raised regarding the impact of popular culture and modernity over a very old religious way of life. The Lamas discuss whether it is right for the young ones to be pulled in by the material lure of the world cup. Is material pleasure the ultimate source of evil? Or does religion have to give place to modernity as well?

As the film progresses, the young novices try to find a way to watch the world cup. They are forced to rent a TV from an Indian dealer. However, things don’t go as smoothly as planned and a number of problems cause obstructions. However, these problems only test the solidarity of the young students.

There is no action in this film – no catfights or rat races. The film is realistic and visually beautiful. The music, like the film, is completely fresh and unique.

Bhutanese filmmaker/Lama Khyentse Norbu’s film is definitely worth watching for its wit and humour.

FINAL VERDICT: Watch it to see the lifestyle and beliefs of Tibetan monks as they try to accept modernity in an old way of life. Also watch it for a heartwarming story.

Avoid it if you are looking for something big to happen every two minutes. Also miss it if you are easily disappointed with subtle climaxes.