Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Movies: The Pool

I can't really believe that the Chris Smith responsible for American Movie is the same Chris Smith responsible for The Pool, and "Chris Smith" is a common enough name that someone at IMDB could have messed up, but the director's presence at a number of screenings proves that he, indeed, is responsible for this elegiac, touching, O'Henry-goes-to-India story of friendship and selflessness.

The story is one of two friends in Goa, a younger one without a family, and an older one living far away from his. The two each work menial jobs, one in a restaurant, the other in a hotel, where they scrub the same floor all day that they sleep on at night. The older boy becomes enchanted by the swimming pool on a tropical estate, and in order to get closer to it (and to the pretty girl he sees sitting by it), he approaches the man who constantly work in the garden. The man gives him work, and, gardening together, they become something like friends. When we discover that the man doesn't swim in the pool because his son drowned there, we see how this new boy begins to fill that gap in his life. The man tells the boy stories to teach him lessons, and quizzes him with arithmetic. He decides to pay for him to go to school, in Bombay. . . the boy would of course have to leave his young friend behind. Meanwhile, the boy and his young friend have become friends with the girl, forming another kind of makeshift family, eating together, going boating and exploring an abandoned fort.

The heartwarming part comes at the end, when the man and his daughter leave for Bombay. The boy has decided to stay home and go to the school there; the man has agreed to pay for it. But in the final scene, we see the boy watching all the kids in uniform going to school, and he is still wearing his work clothes. Then, we see his younger friend walk up, in uniform. They banter a bit, and the older boy reminds the younger that, when roll is taken, to use the older boy's name. And our hearts are warmed, I suppose.

But are they? I have to be the naysayer here and argue that, while this is a very generous gesture on the older boy's part, it is not only deceitful of the older man, who trusted him and singled him out for his ability (I'm less concerned about this), but also a poor choice, strategically speaking. The younger boy has more time; if the older boy went to school for a few years, he could achieve enough to get a decent-paying job and then pay for the younger boy to go to school as well. Two educated people is better than one. Of course I'm missing the point, but The Gift of the Magi always infuriated me.

All that aside, watching this movie, so steeped in India, made me miss that odd place, so beautiful and hideous, so tempting and impossible. If the movie had been made anywhere else—in France or Singapore or Ghana (it could have been anywhere)—it would have done nothing for me. But at least I could take pleasure in watching the kids buy samosas from a street vendor, and wobble their heads a bit when they spoke, and do their scrubbing while in a deep squat, in ancient filthy sandals. I kind of miss these things.

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