Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ernest & Celestine, Generation War, The Lunchbox

Generation War
Ernest & Celestine

The Lunchbox

Between the insufferable works of Sylvain Chomet ("The Triplets of Belleville," "The Illusionist") and the (no pun intended) overbearing "Ernest & Celestine," I'm beginning to think I hate French animated features.

(My second choice in each shorts category won the Oscar, including France's "Mr. Hublot".) The story sounds promising - a hungry and out-of-work bear, Ernest, and a quick-thinking and broad-minded mouse, Celestine, defy their fearful brethren to become best friends - but the points about overcoming prejudice are simplistic and heavy-handed, and the movie never stops making noise. Even at 80 minutes, a mark that barely passes the straight-face test for charging admission, it's wearying to the point of exhaustion. And the animation is largely forgettable and in no way advances the craft.

A four-and-a-half-hour epic that originally aired on German television, the generically retitled "Generation War" presents World War II from the point of view of five "good Germans," friends who celebrate together in 1941 and vow to reunite in Berlin by Christmas: a pair of soldier brothers, a nurse, a barmaid and aspiring singer-actress, and her Jewish boyfriend. War movies are not, as Daniel might say, my very favorite genre, but the war scenes are the best in the film (which screens in two parts). Real time and money have been spent on these lifelike reenactments that carry the ring of truth. But the contortions required to bring the five leads into contact with one another prove too taxing, and when the survivors all walk into the same bar at the same time years later, sadder but wiser, I had to laugh.

Sweet and slight, the unassuming Indian import "The Lunchbox" mostly holds you in its gentle thrall with its story of a neglected Mumbai housewife (Nimrat Kaur) and the government claims clerk (Irfan Kahn) to whom her carefully packed (and unusually spiced) lunchbox, intended for her husband, is inadvertently rerouted. First-time director Ritesh Batra mostly sustains a tone of understated humor as the two realize the mistake but - for reasons both gustatory and otherwise - continue to exchange handwritten notes and emptied and refilled tins. Both leads shine, as does Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the keen tyro set to replace Kahn upon his impending retirement. "The Lunchbox" would have killed as a short; stretched to almost two hours, it's too thin. The gentleman two seats down slept through it.

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