Midnight’s Children (London Film Festival review)

Midnight's Children Shriya Saran Satya Bhabha red light

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is my problem with so-called magic realism: it feels like fantasy that cannot commit to itself, for people who don’t want to admit they like fantasy. This is one overwhelming problem with Midnight’s Children, adaptated from Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] and directed by Deepa Mehta (Water): the bare touches of the fantastical — from a beautiful young woman with authentic magical powers to a mystical paranormal communion of the hundreds of Indian children all born at the very hour of India’s independence in 1947 — serve merely as excuses for storytelling convenience and coincidence instead of things intriguing in their own right. I suspect that may be inherent in Rushdie’s novel, but the other overwhelming problems feel like consequences of a failed transfer to the screen. Epic bloat prevents the story from really starting till about 40 minutes in, thanks to the prelude that takes way too long to get to the birth of Our Hero Saleem (Satya Bhabha: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) on that fateful ’47 night while adding nothing to what we’re intended to see in this man’s life as metaphorically connected to the fate of India as a nation… a metaphor that, as a bad sort of bonus, gets stretched way beyond the point of even fantastical plausibility by the end. (Eliminating the prelude would have fixed another, smaller issue concerning a comically large nose as a family trait, which is nothing but a bizarre puzzlement. It must make more sense in the book.) Rushdie himself wrote the screenplay, and he manages to slip some of his lovely, lively prose into the narration — the protagonist is “mysteriously handcuffed to history”; another character “contracted a dangerous form of optimisim”; yet someone else commits “her own private revolutionary act.” But it’s almost never a good idea to let novelists adapt their own fiction for the screen. A cold distant appraisal of what works onscreen and what doesn’t is required, and it’s not fair to expect writers to be so brutal with their babies.

viewed during the 56th BFI London Film Festival

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