For today, we have a wonderful three-episode nature documentary, and a colorful depiction of a young, bisexual American-Jewish girl. And there’s a third film, that’s an anthology about Love, set in modern India.
Life in Color with David Attenborough (Netflix) – This Natural History documentary series drops on Netflix April 22; and it’s hosted by the indefatigable 94 year old Sir David Attenborough. It’s a 3-episode series that dwells on the various ways Color is used in the Animal Kingdom. For the first time, they utilize special ultraviolet-filtered cameras to simulate the way certain animals view the world, and it helps us appreciate better just how intricate and diabolical Nature can be. The third episode might be considered as filler as it basically explains the cinematography and makes use of footage we’ve already seen in the first two episodes. But there’s no denying just how wonderful this all will be for those into natural history.
Among the vignettes I especially loved were Sir David explaining why pink flamingos are pink, as they’re born white. And he explores how some animals change colors when it’s winter; the ptarmigan, the Artic fox, a species of rabbit and weasel. And there’s his study of the colorful snails that inhabit Cuba. Whether to attract, to protect, to repel, to court, to confuse, or merely to survive; the diversified ways in which color is employed by different animals make for a truly fascinating tour of the animal kingdom; from mammals, to insects, birds, and to aquatic life.
Shiva Baby (Video On Demand) – Shiva Baby is a precious, hilarious comedy that utilizes dramatic tension to produce its’ comedic moments. It’s set in contemporary American-Jewish subculture, but unlike films like Unorthodox or Disobedience, decides not to take itself too seriously while still hitting the mark in terms of social commentary. Written & directed by Emma Seligman, it’s a pitch-perfect minor gem that relies fully on its ingenue title character, Danielle (the engaging but neurotic Rachel Sennott), to engage with the audience. Running for 1 hour and 17 minutes, it knows well enough not to overstay its welcome, leaving us actually wanting more and invested in what will happen to the main characters after the film ends.
Danielle is a directionless young girl unsure of what to do career-wise. To make extra money, she fakes baby-sitting to keep her parents mollified, but is secretly having an affair with a ‘sugar daddy’. When attending a shiva with her parents, tensions arise when her ‘sugar daddy’ arrives with wife & child in tow, which Danielle didn’t know about. And this is complicated by the presence of Maya, the high school sweetheart of the bisexual Danielle. From the above, you can already appreciate how different this slice of Jewish America is going to be, and the rich potential of the social situations that will transpire during the shiva. The casting is top notch, and you’ll love Danielle’s parents as well.
Ajeeb Daastaans (Netflix India) – This is really four short films turned into one anthology, very much like how New York Stories was executed. As with almost any of this type of films, there’ll be unevenness in the four shorts – some will stand out, while others may pale in comparison. But what it does explore with a strong veneer of modernity is the different ways love is expressed, tolerated, and/or rebuffed in India today. If only for that, it’s a potent reminder of how so much in Indian life today is still bound up by the notions of caste, of class and entitlement, and of how what works for some, is the burden others have to carry.
I especially liked the one about caste; as it involves a girl who tries her hardest in her job but gets passed over because the one promoted comes from a more privileged caste. What ensues is both contemporary and yet, left open-ended. And there’s the one about the mother of a girl who’s slowing growing deaf, and how the father doesn’t have the patience to learn sign language. That the mother meets someone more sympathetic is inevitable but how she copes with that becomes the subject of the short. What is consistent is that this is well done, a polished product that I found worth watching.