We have all experienced that unpleasant situation described brilliantly by Zerocalcare in Tear Along the Edges: who has never spent hours scrolling through films on streaming platforms and finding nothing to watch despite having “all the audiovisual material in the world” at their disposal and thinking ” Is it possible that they are all crap films”? Of course, maybe we’ve already seen some of the good stuff, we’re late to some of it and we’re keeping some of it for the right time – if it arrives. We want to avoid, however, ending up in 20th century Polish science fiction in the original language, going to bed frustrated with our conscience in the form of an Armadillo that forces us to question ourselves by saying: “Come on, if out of eight thousand films you don’t like it well not even one, maybe it’s you who’s not doing well.” Precisely for this reason the following weekly column was born, broadcast every Monday and aimed both at those who have never seen the film in question and at those who have already seen it and want to know more: in fact, in the first short part we recommend a film; in the second, however, we will review it, analyze it or focus on a particular aspect. And this week we chose The Darjeeling Train.
PART ONE: So why see The Darjeeling Train? Here’s the spoiler-free answer
Available on Disney+ (for rental on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV), The train to Darjeeling centers on the three Whitman brothers: Francis, Peter and Jack. Their father died about a year ago and they haven’t seen or spoken to each other since. Francis, then, also following an almost lethal motorcycle accident, decides to reunite with his two brothers to make a spiritual journey to India in search of themselves, aboard a train which, as the final destination and without the knowledge of Peter and Jack, has a remote region on the slopes of the Himalayas; where they should find their mother, who has retired to a Christian convent. Through the various stages of a tragicomic journey and in an attempt to recover harmony between them, the Whitmans will clash with the usual and frustrating family dynamics, with their paranoia and the desire to let go of some oppressive burdens.
Wes Anderson gives us another comedy of his, with his unmistakable style and poetics, magnificently inserting the elements that most distinguish him: a bit of surrealism, a great cinematic connection with the short film that precedes the film on Disney+, the varied soundtrack that enthralls and the very high attention to the staging, the use of colors and the mimicry of its performers. Thanks also to a first-rate cast – for example the three brothers are Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman; the mother is Anjelica Huston and there is a cameo by Bill Murray – creates a film that is as entertaining as it is challenging. It’s very dynamic, above all thanks to the fluid and smooth assembly; However, at the same time, he manages to delicately address various important themes such as family relationships, travel, the search for the self, mourning, the diversity of a non-Western world.
Intimate and esoteric, The train to Darjeeling it won’t be a mainstream film and that’s okay. However, he knows how to make the viewer laugh and excite; above all, he knows how to make us feel good. Why watching it is a balm to our soul and we would all like to get on that train. Only to then go down and read our review of this little but great gem.
PART TWO: The review (with spoilers) of The Darjeeling Train
It’s a race to inaugurate The train to Darjeelingin which Wes Anderson takes us into the life of a dysfunctional family and, in particular, into the relationship of three brothers who haven’t spoken or seen each other for a year. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, they are immature, temperamental, and the antithesis of each other: Francis is the mind, the communicator, the one who conceived the trip and who directs all the operations; Peter is a loner and a rebel, incapable of taking on responsibilities (in fact, he leaves his house a month before his son is born and undertakes this journey with his brothers); Jack is the disappointed, unsatisfied, irresponsible and heartbroken intellectual, who has returned from a Parisian stay in the luxurious Hotel Chevalier (which is also the title of the short film that preceded the film, in which Jack’s ex-girlfriend is played by Natalie Portman).
The Whitmans are nuanced, controversial characters, full of chiaroscuro and ideal for the stories told by Anderson. They share similar problems, which however each of them solves in a different way and the director shows us this by having fun and entertaining, through dialogues and scenes where revelations are intertwined, misunderstandings are created and secrets emerge. Apparently they are calm, almost anesthetized by life, but then, on that train, what they hide behind their masks really emerges. There is, in fact, a drama in their existence: Francis had a fatal accident, Peter and Jack are not capable of facing the responsibilities of life with maturity.
So that journey, initially, represents an escape from a life that they don’t want and don’t understand. But it will be on that train that they will finally be reborn.
The goal seemed to be the reunion with that extravagant mother (played with the class that distinguishes her by Anjelica Huston) who chose the monastic life after the death of her husband. In reality, what really matters in the film on Disney+ is not the end, but a path that leads the brothers to unexplored paths and unexpected conclusions. And it is precisely in the dynamics of this trio that gives the work real emotions and genuine atmospheres.
Then emerges that heartbreaking inability to communicate that the Whitman family has in common, be it the three brothers, that eccentric mother, the relationships they establish during the trip or the wounds that open again during the funeral. Francis, Peter and Jack experience abandonment more than once, one of Anderson’s recurring themes, the founding nucleus of the three brothers and whose consequences will carry them within them forever. The choice to set the work in India then exacerbates the incommunicability, abandonment and estrangement of the characters, because they find themselves in a world that is foreign to them, without points of reference and which, in fact, will lead them to question themselves and ask themselves:
“I wonder if the three of us would have been friends in real life. Not like brothers, like normal people“.
It is no coincidence that the train becomes the fourth protagonist and takes on a metaphorical value: after a long time and thanks to an intimately introspective journey, the three brothers travel along the same tracks both physically (they are those of the train they are on) and psychologically, thus rediscovering their lost harmony. In this way, the purposes and messages of the road movie undertake different plots and narrative devices, original but equally engaging. AND It is precisely the subplots that allow us to fully experience that frenetic raceto then stop for a moment and make us rethink the themes and stimuli of a film that leaves us with a lot of food for thought, thanks to a simple story but capable of delving deeply into the relationships of a family.
You reach such a level of connection with The train to Darjeeling also thanks to the cast in a state of grace. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman immerse themselves perfectly in grotesque characters, bordering on caricature, with that excellently cold comedy and their melancholic faces, allowing us to appreciate them in different roles than those they usually play. Despite the excellent supporting actors, it is they who carry the entire work on their shoulders, making it light and profound at the same time. There is an interesting aspect to the castingthat is, Anderson tends to select actors with whom he has already worked: Jason Schwartzman was in Rushmore, Owen Wilson is omnipresent and we also often find Anjelica Huston and Bill Murray (here in a lightning-fast, sudden but significant cameo). It’s not just about working together with your favorite performers. It almost seems that his choices derive from the importance of emotional bonds; this is why he selects actors who, having already worked together, can best develop one of the founding themes of his cinema.
No review of a Wes Anderson film would be complete enough to talk about the staging.
First of all, the colors are more vivid than ever The train to Darjeeling and has always been the underlying theme of his works. In particular, it is the color contrasts that stand out the most, like that Indian village full of colors which, however, is the scene of one of the most dramatic moments of our lives: the funeral of a loved one. Although, in scenes like this, it almost seems that the colors are attenuated for a moment, as a form of respect, without however losing their strength but accentuating their distinctive feature in Anderson’s cinema even more. The details, then, are fundamental, in particular the protagonists’ suitcases, full of perfectly ordered objects that contrast with the disorder of the three brothers’ lives, symbols of the very essence of the journey. They are the perfectly symmetrical shots that allow us to observe all the details of the staging, in which each frame is imbued with meanings so dense that they endow photography with its own semiotic and communicative value. From the same shots, from the dollies, from the editing and from the music, the search for a certain cinematic classicism emerges. Thinking of the music, symbolically represented by Jack’s iPod, the songs are taken from the films of the Indian director Satyajit Ray and from Merchant/Ivory. And the old style touch is visible in the shots that took place on a real train, a bit like Orient Express.
The wise use of slow motion, then, it serves to show us the details, but also to immerse us in the scene, thus making us reflect and think. As if Anderson were telling us that, in those moments, the film itself is not so important as what we get from it and what we think of what we see in it. The train to Darjeeling. In the end, the excellent screenplay is able to make every moment and subplot relevant in the best possible way. This rigor in aesthetics and in the technical sector, however, does not create a world without emotions. Far from it. Delicacy permeates the entire work, sadness colors it, while the characters wait for something to happen. Anderson does not judge them, but observes them with tenderness, gently accompanies them towards the rediscovery of themselves and others in the nation of spirituality par excellence. And the narrative gets lost every now and then, but because it is life that, when it encounters something unexpected (like a car breakdown or children who have fallen into a river), deviates from its path and gets lost, going after that event unexpected.
Here the train to Darjeeling is light only in appearance, it breaks through into the grotesque and irony, but the kind that brings to light our doubts and our neuroses, giving us a tragicomic portrait of a humanity whose objective always remains the achieving happiness. Poetic in every part, it interweaves stories and characters following the rhythm of existence, in which the end has never been important when the personal journey of each of us. Which takes us off course, which isn’t as linear as it should be. But that’s life and, after all, isn’t that the beauty of it?
Last week’s film: The Others