As a prince, Rama was exiled from his father's kingdom. Naturally, Sita accompanied him into exile. There she was kidnapped by the king of Lanka and taken there. With the aid of Hanuman, Rama locates Sita, kills thousands of demons along the way, and eventually rescues Sita. Although Sita remained virtuous during her captivity, the reunion of Rama and Sita is not the "happily ever after" conclusion one might expect. Sita's story is frequently embellished by musical interludes: Annette Hanshaw songs from the late 1920s.
The film doesn't just retell the Ramayana. In a secondary plot, the modern-day Nina tells a story of her own (closely based on the film-maker's own experiences). Her husband got a job that took him to India, leaving her behind in San Francisco. When his job was extended, she sublet their apartment to friends (also entrusted with care of her cat) and moved to India to join him. Parallel to Sita's story, their reunion also lacked a "happily ever after" outcome.
A third element of the story is commentary on the Ramayana by three of Nina's Indian friends. Each of the three has a different interpretation of aspects of the ancient text that are strange to people in the modern world.
The parallels between the ancient epic, the 1920s jazz songs, and the modern story are clear. Each strengthens the telling of the other two. The commentary shows that the Ramayana is complicated not just to a cultural outsiders like Nina (the character or the film-maker) or non-Indians in the film's audience. It also shows that – like religious and philosophical texts from many cultures – even people who have the Ramayana as a part of their native culture debate its interpretation.
The retelling of the ancient story is exciting, emotionally engaging, and educational. The commentaries are humorous and educational. The modern story is engaging and sad, but told with humor. Overall, the writing is excellent.
The animation combines artistic styles. The ancient story is animated with bold, colorful, stylized figures, with simple movement that fits both the epic and musical scenes. The commentaries feature figures that are stylized like the ancient characters, but kept in shadows to set them apart from the story they discuss. The modern story is simple line drawings. The animation is visually excellent.
The music is wonderful, and very well-chosen to accompany the visual side of the story.
All of the elements of the film are first-class work, and the film as a whole is even better than the sum of its parts. It is outstanding. I'm buying it on DVD as soon as I can, but I'm glad I got to see it on the big screen first.
Given that the Oscars have an animation award with three nomination spots, it seems easy to call the three nominees: Sita Sings the Blues and the year's two big-budget animated films, Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda. On the other hand, Persepolis got stiffed by the Oscars, so it's possible that Sita could get stiffed too.
Rating: This film doesn't appear to have a US rating, but it will probably get a "PG-13" or "PG" if it seeks a rating. There's no sex or nudity, and the violence is very stylized. I'd guess "PG-13", because US ratings are likely to be stupid about a story that's drawn from a religion other than Christianity or Judaism.
Screening: Monday, 6:45 pm, Seattle Center (Uptown).
Audience: About 99% full, 515 seats (posted capacity).
Personal appearances: I understand that the director appeared at one or more of the screenings, but unfortunately she didn't make it to the screening we attended. Bummer!
Note (June 16): Although I wrote a mini-review the night after seeing the movie, I only expanded it into a full review tonight. I initially rated it excellent, but in retrospect I've raised my rating to outstanding.
Snacks: Travel mugs of tea from home.
- An in-person announcement by a SIFF volunteer.
- Several SIFF self-promotion clips.
SIFF Statistics: 19 films seen (19 features). Three events (the opening preview, the opening night party, dinner with Sir Ben Kingsley).