HEAT AND DUST
Review by Ed Nguyen
Julie Christie, Shashi Kapoor, Greta Scacchi, Nickolas Grace, Madhur Jaffrey
Director: James Ivory
Audio: English stereo
Video: Color, full-frame 1.78:1
Studio: Home Vision
Features: Commentary, interview with the filmmakers, trailer, Autobiography of a Princess
Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2003
may not be here. If it gets too boring, I'll run away."
(1983) marks the cinematic return of producer Ismail Merchant and director James
Ivory to the Indian subcontinent, the setting for many of their early films.
While Merchant and Ivory collaborated on India-themed films in the
1960's, the 1970's saw them experimenting alternatively with contemporary films
and with adaptations of English literature.
Heat and Dust is, in a sense, the culmination of those two decades'
worth of filmmaking experience. Based
on the 1975 award-winning novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Heat and Dust is simultaneously a film about contemporary-day India
and about the idealized golden years of British India.
juxtaposes these two stories together. The
modern tale follows the voyage of Anne (Julie Christie), a young woman drawn to
the allure of India and the mystery of an ages-old scandal that once involved
her distant relative, Olivia (Greta Scacchi).
Suitably, the second tale is Olivia's story, revealing the circumstances
surrounding her seduction by British India.
Both stories possess a common link in the self-discovery that transforms
each English woman in the exotic landscapes of India.
and Ivory have explored this premise before of a woman traveling abroad to India
to discover love and passion (in their 1970 film Bombay Talkie). However,
Heat and Dust is a superior film, not
only boasting beautiful photography and evocative native music but also some of
the finest performances in any Merchant Ivory film up to that time.
In fact, Heat and Dust would
foreshadow the stylizations that would make the Merchant Ivory production team
an international success just two years later for A
Room with a View.
introduces Greta Scacchi to the silver screen in her debut film role as Olivia
Rivers. Olivia is the stunningly
beautiful young wife of Douglas Rivers, a British junior officer stationed in
India. She is a newlywed, having
just arrived weeks prior on her first journey beyond the borders of England.
Olivia is vibrant, blooming with curiosity and wonderment, and for her,
India represents a dream of the exotic, of the unexplored territory.
However, she feels stifled by the societal pressures to conform to
British norms here in India. As the
wife of a British officer, she is essentially confined to home, unable to roam
the streets unaccompanied or even wander casually about at home ("you
shouldn't let the servants see you like this," Douglas tells her at one
point when she steps out for a breath of morning air).
One day, when a local Indian prince extents an invitation to the Rivers
for a dinner engagement, Olivia is delighted at an opportunity for some
entertainment and socializing, but she is instructed by her husband to turn down
the offer, on the grounds that "it's very irregular."
As Douglas's superior has not been invited as well, it would not be
proper protocol for the Rivers to attend the prince's dinner alone.
pass the days away, Olivia has little else to do besides play on her piano.
As the oppressive heat of the Indian dry season extends its grasp over
the countryside, Olivia finds her energy dwindling: "I never knew days
could be so long." Olivia is a
woman filled with spirit, but the boredom of her life in India is slowing
draining her of vitality. When the
heat of the dry season grows progressively worse, Douglas even contemplates
sending Olivia off with the other mannered and dull British wives to cooler
environs temporarily, though she pleads, "I'll be bored.
I'll be hot, irritable, but please, don't send me away from you."
proper and unimaginative husband, in essence, does not recognize Olivia's needs
or desires. His inattentiveness
ultimately drives Olivia from him. As
Heat and Dust opens, we see Douglas
arriving home one day to find it quiet and empty. Olivia is gone. She
has left him. Douglas, abandoned,
sits alone on their bed, his only recourse remaining in his soft, unheard
nature of the inevitable scandal which ensued is the intrigue that, many years
later, brings Olivia's great-niece, Anne, to India. The modern tale opens with Anne wandering the shops and wares
of contemporary India. For a long
time, Anne has been entranced by the wondrous letters sent over the years from
Olivia to Anne's grandmother, Olivia's sister.
Those letters revealed numerous private anecdotes and tales of romance,
painting a seductive image of British India's yesteryears.
Anne has brought the letters with her to India in her desire to unravel
the mystery surrounding Olivia's disappearance.
In the process of tracing the path of her great-aunt's life, Anne
undergoes a passage of self-discovery herself, a transformation not so
dissimilar from that once experienced by Olivia.
and Dust is
not a suspense mystery film, so Olivia's fate is easily discernible.
In one of her husband's myriad duties as a British representative, the
Rivers attend a ceremonial ritual given by the powerful Nawab (Shashi Kapoor in
a solid performance), a local Indian prince.
Many other officers and ambassadors and their wives attend as well, but
the Nawab notices only Olivia's beauty. He
is immediately smitten. The Nawab
wishes to become more acquainted with Olivia, and her husband's frequent
absences afford the Nawab ample opportunities to invite Olivia for pleasant
outings - a picnic in the countryside, a visit to his palace, for instance.
Olivia even befriends Harry (Nickolas Grace), the Nawab's English court
companion, and Harry's presence in the Nawab's palace provides Olivia an excuse
to begin visiting the Nawab regularly.
true nature of the Nawab is one of subjectivity. Many of the British officers see him as a liability, a royal
who in his declining power and wealth does little to halt the recent wave of
countryside raids and robberies; he may even be partially to blame for these
raids. Olivia, however, does not
see this aspect of the Nawab's personality and instead sees a man of vast
romantic charm and chivalrous manners. Perhaps
both views of the Nawab are correct, or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in
between. Regardless, the Nawab
offers the friendship and companionship in this exotic land that Olivia lacks.
Harry, constantly homesick for England, succumbs to the Nawab's charisma and
stays on in his court. Harry is the
living link between the film's two storylines.
In the modern tale, it is an older Harry who recounts tales of the Nawab
and his stately court and of Olivia's captivating beauty to Anne.
It is Harry's stories which provide the final impetus that sends Anne on
her voyage to India.
with Olivia, Anne is likewise changed by her experiences in India.
She visits many of the former homes of the Nawab.
She traces the path of her great-aunt through India, from her first few
months in the heartlands of the Nawab's realm to her final, peaceful days in the
mountains. At one point, Anne
befriends a character who observes, "I know what you think; you think
you're Olivia, her reincarnation." Anne
eventually takes on an Indian lover, as did her great-aunt, although her
ultimate decision and her fate will be different than Olivia's.
and Dust is
a beautiful, lyrical film that paints a lush image of Royal India.
Jhabvala, for her screenplay, received Britain's National Film Critics
Award and a British Academy award. Heat
and Dust, in fact, helped to create a new wave of interest in the 1980's for
films about India (other notable films of this period included the Oscar-winning
Gandhi, David Lean's A
Passage to India, and the TV miniseries The
Jewel in the Crown). Most
importantly for Merchant Ivory, Heat and
Dust was a tremendous critical and commercial success, and its stylizations
anticipated those of the English adaptations which would soon garner even
greater international acclaim for Merchant and Ivory.
is a film that will captivate many viewers.
For fans of the Merchant Ivory period films, Heat and Dust is another jewel in the crown.
For moviegoers unfamiliar with the Merchant Ivory productions, this film
is an excellent starting point.
Madhur Jaffrey, quite good as the Begum, the Nawab's queen mother, was actually
Shashi Kapoor's age at the time of filming and had previously portrayed his
mistress for a role in an earlier film!
and Dust is
presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 transfer derived from the original 35mm
interpositive. Many instances of
dirt, debris, and scratches have been removed from the picture, although enough
still remains to remind us that this is not a new film.
The image is fairly sharp with vivid colors and clear details.
There are no significantly intrusive compression defects to speak of.
Overall, the picture quality of Heat
and Dust is fairly good.
and Dust is
presented in 2-channel Dolby stereo. The
audio quality is pleasing, and dialogue is always clear.
The ambivalent buzz of modern India is well represented in this
soundtrack. The period music also
provides a nostalgic evocation of an India of by-gone days.
The only odd thing about the soundtrack is a mildly persistent echo
effect with dialogue. However, this
echo effect vanishes upon switching from a five-speaker sound system to the TV's
ordinary sound system. That's
and Dust is
the fourth film in Home Vision's Merchant Ivory Collection.
This particular DVD contains the film's original trailer as well as a
feature-length commentary track provided by producer Ismail Merchant and two
actors from the film, Greta Scacchi and Nickolas Grace.
It is a relaxed and friendly commentary and certainly worth listening to.
with the filmmakers
is a continuing series of interviews with Ismail Merchant, James Ivory, and Ruth
Prawer Jhabvala, who wrote the screen adaptation for the film from her own
novel. There is a fond, easy-going
banter between these three talented filmmakers that belies the many years of
familiarity and collaborative efforts among them. This interview session also includes a few comments, filmed
separately, from the film's composer Richard Robbins.
highlight of the extra features, however, is the 57-minute short feature Autobiography
of a Princess. Screenwriter
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala offers a few words of introduction about this film, which
was created in 1975, coincidentally the same year her novel Heat
and Dust was published. Autobiography
of a Princess explores some of the same themes as Heat
and Dust, albeit from a different perspective.
This short film centers upon an afternoon tea party between an Indian
princess (Madhur Jaffrey again) and Cyril (James Mason), her father's former
English tutor. The tea party is an
annual ritual held at the princess's London apartment in which the two sit
together and reminisce over the golden past of Royal India.
Much as in the film My Dinner with Andre, this film unfolds essentially in real-time
while Cyril and the princess trade personal anecdotes or remembrances.
The princess also shows many old home movies which she has preserved over
the years, though one gets the impression that perhaps Cyril has seen these
films many times. Most importantly,
both characters discuss their own personal feelings about the Maharaja, the
princess's father. Each in his or
her own way loved the Maharaja, but while the princess embraces the past
nostalgically through rose-colored memories, Cyril recalls his years in India
with a greater sense of disappointment and disillusionment.
To this end, Autobiography of a
Princess is a penetrating and thought-provoking look at the contrasts
between the old India and the new.
inside the DVD case, there is a foldout that contains two articles by film
historian Robert Emmet Long. The
first article provides interesting history into Heat
and Dust's production, mentioning at one point how production on film was
nearly halted due to lack of funds before an enthusiastic endowment from the
Rothschild estate allowed the film to be completed. The second article discusses the short film Autobiography of a Princess, and Long makes a case here that James
Mason provides one of the finest performances of his career in this film.