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Mira Nair Documentaries on Double Bills With Her 'Salaam'

September 20, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

The Nuart will present Mira Nair's 60-minute "India Cabaret" (1985) tonight and her "So Far From India" (1982) on Thursday. These splendid, irresistible documentaries are testaments to the resilience of the countless Indian women victimized by a hypocritical double standard and decidedly second-class citizenship. Each will be accompanied by Nair's Oscar-nominated "Salaam Bombay!"

The women of the first film are nightclub strippers who occasionally supplement their incomes by prostituting themselves. They are hearty, intelligent, plain-spoken individuals driven purely by economic reasons into a profession greatly scorned. However, they don't seem to themselves any worse off than respectable married women. "So Far From India" delves into the absurd and cruel predicament of a young woman married off to a young man so that when he goes to New York to work--at a subway magazine stand--he won't be tempted to marry a foreigner. After two weeks of marriage, she becomes pregnant, but doesn't see her bridegroom again for two years!

Information: (213) 478-6379, (213) 479-5269.

The late Mikio Naruse was a master in transforming the traditional woman's picture into an enduring expression of the human spirit under siege. With compassion but detachment, the generally pessimistic Naruse viewed people's tangled lives and deepest longings straight on, and his steadfast vision and simplicity of style could bring dignity and meaning to even the most melodramatic soap opera plots. Two of Naruse's finest films, "Floating Clouds" (1955) and "Sound of the Mountain" (1954), commence a weeklong run Friday at the Little Tokyo Cinema 2.

Both pictures pack such an emotional wallop that it's worth adjusting to their measured pacing, ample hand-wringing and full-blown scores. Both are in glorious black-and-white and feature some of Japan's greatest star-actors of the era. Both are based on famous novels, the first by Fumiko Hayashi and the second by Yasunari Kawabata.

"Floating Clouds" is an epic-scale romantic love story set against the morally bankrupt postwar era. Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori are the star-crossed lovers who begin their affair in French Indo-China during the war. After the war, in Tokyo, the despairing Tomioka believes he can no longer leave his wife for Yukiko, a more determined survivor. As the film unfolds, we realize increasingly that for all her seeming hardness and cynicism, Yukiko is driven to recapture the past, and it's her unstinting determination, coupled with awareness of her enduring love for Tomioka, which gives the film its ineffable poignancy.

With "Sound of the Mountain," Naruse has given a neurotic spin to the sublime understatement of the Ozu domestic drama. In a large and gracious old house in invitingly rustic Kamakura, the Ogatas live lives of not-always-quiet desperation. Rising above the others are the patriarch (So Yamamura, convincingly aged a full generation for the role) and his beloved, selfless daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara). A trim, handsome man in his 60s married to a kindly but tiresome and obtuse woman, Ogata seems clearly in love with the demure Hara, something he would never declare. "Sound of the Mountain" is the story of an individual's discovery of the need to make a large, selfless gesture if others are to have any chance at happiness.

Information: (213) 687-7077.

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