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Lion – #TIFF16 review

Technology is our constant companion we can’t imagine being without. A decade ago, there was no way anyone could appreciate how connected a person in the middle of the Sahara could be to someone at the North Pole. Although the capability of a (then) new online source called Google Earth is pivotal to this story, it is the authentic, emotionally stirring performances of Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman that makes Lion this years ‘The King’s Speech’. I’m calling this as the sleeper of the Fall season of Oscar releases, and it deserves your attention.

The fact that this adaptation is from a book based on true story is remarkable enough. The dramatic translation from a book to film is complete, with a beautiful performance by Nicole Kidman. She is one half of a determined Australian couple who adopts two children from India. Kidman is the picture of domestic determination, accepting the challenge that comes with raising two young boys who are not blank slates.  Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Kidman. She’s one of those actors who I see her acting. Until this character, where for the first time in my opinion, she disappears into the role. She is more the beating heart of this story than the pained Son she raised, who is wrestling with his love of a family where he was reborn, and an unrelenting desire to rediscover his origins.

Dev Patel is Saroo, who wrestles with haunting memories of a life left behind when he was five years old. Prior to this, his existence in Northern India was precarious, with a Mother, Brother and young Sister living  hand to mouth on the meager existence of hard labour in the rock quarries as well as selling what they managed to steal. Sunny Pawar plays Patel as a child. He is a revelation and one to watch. This is the first feature length film directed by Garth Davis, and I like his technique. Saroo’s home life is compact, and close with a loving family exposed to the elements and random perils of a world without guardrails. Calcutta transforms from a crushing crowd of indifferent masses, to deserted, dimly lit and ominously silent. Mostly because of the performance by Pawar, you really get a dreadful feeling when Saroo is separated from his brother, and unwittingly transported hundreds of miles away from home after getting trapped on a train. The sequence of events leading to his eventual adoption are gutwrenching and fortuitous at the same time. Patel’s adult Saroo is a brooding mess, conflicted with privilege, and wandering in uncertainty about the message he will send to one mother if he does not look for the other and vice versa.

The thing that really works with Lion, is the pace. It lingers long enough to make us fall in love with Saroo and his childhood. Plunges us into dark fear for Saroo’s safety, wondering if he was better off as a street orphan than being the source of curiosity for a friendly woman, who may not be as nice as she seemed at first. Then, just in time, transports us to the relative western excess of his new home, joining a couple who exude unconditional love, making the transition into a man who needs to go back to move forward.

This is a perfect movie for audiences around the world. The actors, both known and new, have global appeal. Thematically, I don’t know who can’t relate to the universal yearning to heal open wounds with the sutures only a family thread can close. A satisfying ending solidifies this as one of my #bestofthefest.

Put Lion on your list of must see films for 2016.

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