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Sita Sings the Blues

by on July 18, 2009
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Sita mainA dazzling mash of cultures, colors and styles, “Sita Sings the Blues” is an animated film the likes of which you’ve likely never seen.

Filmmaker Nina Paley deftly maneuvers between an autobiographical narrative and a legendary story about the Indian woman Sita, married to the powerful, handsome prince Rama.

One day, the story goes, Sita saw a beautiful golden deer, and asked Rama to capture it for her. He sets off to find it, and while he’s gone an evil 10-headed king kidnaps Sita and tries to force her to become his wife.

Sita never gives in, pining for her prince to rescue her. He does, of course, slays the villain and takes her home.

In the meantime, in modern day, a San Fransiscan couple are in the midst of young urban bliss when he is hired to work in India. She stays behind at first, missing her man, then joins him, but he suddenly seems distant.

Paley’s style of animation is that she isn’t married to one or another. For the modern scene she uses a simplistic, almost “Peanuts” style.  For sequences involving Sita, she employs a dazzlingly colorful style that emphasizes style and color over motion and action. It emphasizes the legend aspect of the story, and is a wonderful contrast between arcs.

The dialog is light, with most of Sita’s audio story being told by a group of storyteller narrators who at times argue over and change details on the fly (and this is a legend after all. What would it be without some variations?). The “modern” sequences have long stretches of no (or little) dialog, reflecting the relationship’s lack of communication.

As a parent, “Sita” deals with adult themes, but isn’t particularly inappropriate for children. In fact, my 4-year-old son ambled into the room while I was watching it and sat down and was entranced by the story. At one point he asked why a woman’s heart broke, and I found myself struggling to provide a reasonable answer.

“Sita” is a marvelous film on all levels, combining a mixture of genres, jumbling them, and producing a work that breaks free of conventions of pretty much all of the categories, creating a wholly unique and immenently watchable film that succeds in doing everything a good film can do: it entertains, it makes you think, provides a feast for the eyes, but is still in a way restrained.

Rating: 5 Yaps out of 5