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Sita Sings the Blues (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 15, 2012

Part autobiography, part mythology, part musical… an astonishingly original melding of elements that makes you wish there were more movies like this.  Nina Paley presents the dissolution of her marriage after her husband takes a job in India.  She weaves that into the Hindu tale of the Ramayana, in which Sita remains steadfast in her devotion to Rama despite his callous treatment of her.  And this is further enmeshed with the songs of 1920’s blues singer Annette Hanshaw in musical sequences illustrating the story of Sita.  Paley demonstrates how we sublimate our suffering through our cultural touchstones, how art and legend give voice to our universal struggles.  The fact that there aren’t exact parallels between the narrative threads of the Paley’s real life, Sita’s mythical adventures and Hanshaw’s torch songs is irrelevant… the pain is the same.  And in the process, Paley also demonstrates how we can use our pain to create more art and legend.

It’s also a glorious testament to the craft of animation, especially computer animation.  This isn’t a tech demo featuring 50 gigabillion pixel objects moving through meticulously rendered three-dimensional spaces.  Paley utilizes the technology as a tool for creating wildly different styles, each pleasant and/or charming and/or dazzling in its own way.  The eye-popping color and clean geometry of the Hanshaw segments.  The storybook renditions of the Ramayana.  The shadow puppet collage of the Indians trying to recall the story (all ad-libbed and consistently hilarious… Paley hit the jackpot with these three wonderful people).  The crude simplicity of the autobiographical portions, which look something like the “Squigglevision” of “Dr. Katz” with clip art and photographs thrown in the mix.  The psychedelic bombast of the Bollywood-esque scene after Paley gets dumped.  All wonderfully crafted and popping with personality.  It’s a film that looks amazing in stills, but screenshots still don’t do it justice.  In motion, it’s a joy.

I can’t rightfully call the film flawless.  The intermission is not only overlong but not even that clever… 30 seconds of that would have been plenty.  Paley’s voice acting is pretty blah, and a couple of the gags fall flat.  But it’s easy to overlook a few blemishes in light of the big picture.  Very funny and delightful, aesthetically breathtaking, conceptually unique as hell, and emotionally satisfying.  Possibly my favorite animated film.  And all the more noteworthy for being essentially a one-woman production.  Rating: Masterpiece

IMDb
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