Further to the Whole “Water” Thing

There must be a pony in here somewhereIf one had been paying attention to the Canadian entertainment media in the runup to the Oscars — and even if one hadn’t — one would have seen a great deal of coverage of Deepa Mehta, director of Canada’s Best Foreign-Language Feature submission and, therefore, the front-runner for the prize.

Of course, if one had been paying attention to the Oscars themselves, it was clear that “Pan’s Labyrinth” was the front-runner, and “Water” didn’t have a chance.

Hell, if you saw the analysis of the Foreign Language contenders in Salon or the New York Times last week — subscriptions required for both, unfortunately — you knew “Water” was regarded as the runt of the litter.

Now, had “Pan’s Labyrinth” actually won the award, there would have been a slew of post-game coverage rationalizing Deepa’s loss as inevitable, given the momentum of the winner and the relatively puny push mounted by Fox Searchlight in the U.S. for “Water”.

But “Pan’s Labyrinth” didn’t win. “The Lives of Others” won, in the night’s only upset that didn’t involve Eddie Murphy. And so that narrative — plucky, talented Canadian ignored in favor of a pre-determined favorite — is no longer operative. Instead, well, there’s been hardly a mention of “Water”, or Deepa Mehta, at all.

This is a good thing. It’s time we stopped pretending she was a major Canadian filmmaker.

I should probably point out, as I usually do around this point in the rant, that Deepa Mehta is apparently a very nice person, and when I’ve encountered her socially she’s been charming and effusive. But she’s a terrible filmmaker, and “Water” is a mediocrity — if a sumptuously photographed mediocrity — that panders to the Western viewer’s sense of social injustice with a parade of artificial and unconvincing scenes of foreign misery.

(Andrew O’Hehir’s Salon review put it best: “Well, I don’t know if they have VH-1 in India, but now I know what it might look like.”)

She’s a hack. If you’ve seen any of her English-language films — “Camilla”, “Bollywood Hollywood”, especially “The Republic of Love” — then you know this. I can’t really explain why her foreign-language work keeps getting a pass from the critical community, except possibly that her deficiencies are somewhat obscured by the subtitles and the general foreign-ness of the world in which those films are set.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column for Sympatico/MSN about how this year’s Genies were a bit of a joke, since none of the country’s major filmmakers had a movie out, and therefore the awards had to scramble for movies worth rewarding.

It’s kind of the same thing with Mehta. She’s not a major filmmaker, and doesn’t seem likely ever to be one, but people keep treating her like a major talent and making excuses when she inevitably fails.

Here’s hoping the media’s inability — or refusal — to explain away her latest disappointment is a step in that direction.

43 thoughts on “Further to the Whole “Water” Thing”

  1. A hack? That’s pretty harsh. I agree that Bollywood Hollywood and The Republic of Love were terrible (didn’t see Camilla) but I thought Earth was amazing. That film alone convinces me that she has great potential.

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