Movie Review

Done-me-wrong done right

Staff WriterJuly 10, 2009 

  • A-

    Cast: Annette Hanshaw

    Director: Nina Paley

    Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

    Web site: www.sitasingstheblues.com

    Rating: Not rated

    Theaters

    Cary: Galaxy.

I think I love "Sita Sings The Blues" more than I should, especially considering it's another one of those man-did-me-wrong movies where a filmmaker puts her failed relationship on blast because the man who left her is nothing but a dumb jerk who didn't know what an outstanding thing he had with her. I mean, men can be such idiots!

But I have to say, the way Nina Paley tells her story, biased and self-involved as it is, is highly entertaining. And how does she do that? With plenty of animation, old jazz tunes from the '20s and a much more fascinating story of spurned love.

With this movie, Paley finds a kindred spirit in Sita, a character from the ancient Sanskrit epic "The Ramayana." Sita had nothing but undying love for her husband, blue-skinned prince Rama. Even when she was kidnapped by demon king Ravana, who demanded that she become his, she never strayed and remained devoted to her man. Unfortunately, Rama had his doubts after he showed up to rescue Sita and take down the king. Even after Sita submitted to a trial by fire and was rescued by the gods, Rama couldn't shake the idea of having a soiled woman by his side.

Paley's tale isn't quite as dramatic, but it's still painful. She thought she and her husband were head-over-heels in love. But all that changes when he moves to India to work for six months and then is cold and distant when she joins him. The relationship eventually becomes nonexistent when she returns to the States and receives a "Dear John" letter -- via e-mail. Wow, in this case, men really are idiots.

Paley throws many clever things into the Sita saga. For one, she has three Indian narrators (voiced as shadow puppets) give their own humorously rambling, ever-changing, commentary-filled accounts of the story. But the true stroke of genius comes when Paley has Sita voice her own perspective through the old jazz numbers of deceased singer Annette Hanshaw. Hanshaw's voice, complete with the sympathetic melancholy needed to verbalize Sita's sorrowful plight, is so prominent in this movie (even though many of the recordings are more than 80 years old) that Hanshaw gets a starring credit.

The visual aspects of "Sita" are fascinating; Paley uses various forms of animation throughout the movie. While using hectic Squigglevision to tell her own story, Paley also uses painted figures of the characters in profile (in the style of Rajput paintings) for the "Ramayana" re-creations. And, in the musical segments, Paley uses vector graphic animation, making Sita look like quite the curvy, bosomy torch singer.

One thing I enjoyed about "Sita" is Paley's thoughtfulness as a filmmaker. (As online film critic Victor J. Morton pointed out to me on Twitter, "Sita" is the most generous "spurned lover" film imaginable.) Instead of throwing herself a huge, self-centered pity party, she brings in the captivating story of Sita to remind herself and the audience that it can happen to the best of 'em. It's a universal story as old as time itself, something both women and men can sympathize with.

Paley is so thoughtful, she even has a cute, 2-1/2-minute intermission in the middle of this movie so people can stretch their legs, go to the concession stand or whatever.

If more man-did-me-wrong movies cared this much about the audience, I would go see them. I'll just have to settle with seeing this one over and over again, a happy/sad delight that deserves repeat viewings.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com, 919-829-4760 or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle

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