Ponniyin Selvan: Part I

Ponniyin Selvan: Part I ★★★★

for me the story was secondary - i haven't read the book and in general when you add royalty and war strategies etc to anything i have a lot of trouble staying engaged - but whatever character development gaps were in the script, and whatever details i might not have figured out, were more than made up for with the level of depth in the performances. i can't even point to a side character that was less than memorable and vivid. vikram gets the most backstory and weighty acting moments, and his screen presence is so intense that a song and monologue are thrilling enough to be a pre-interval cliffhanger. also really loved karthi's charming goofball warrior, trisha and aishwarya are radiant and it's always such a joy and a relief to see some powerful, intelligent, complicated women in these stories...i think expanding on aishwarya's character in particular is what i'm looking forward to most in part 2. but what makes this such an incredible experience is the score and the cinematography - ratnam/rahman are, like always, a visceral combination that is overwhelming on a big screen, every note is perfect, and ratnam's elegant way of using modern and frankly kinda crazy camerawork to capture these sensual natural images and color palette is unlike what anyone else can do - plenty of wide shots and sweeping aerial views never let you forget the massive scale, and keep it within the realm of a traditional realistic history epic, but then they're cut together with a closeup of a hand or a discarded flag in the sea or a character's face straight on or a tracking shot that starts on the floor and the effect is just overwhelming, magical. reminded me more than anything of once upon a time in china, filled with little flashes of tenderness and beauty and ridiculous camera angles that are totally unnatural but capture feeling more than a realistic static shot would. as an adaptation this isn't perfect, and the action and adventure parts were very good but not great, and i imagine/hope the second chapter will be better - but i also can't remember the last time i left the theater thinking ok now that's a REAL FILM

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