Manuel Betancourt

Life of Pi, or How Lee’s Poetic Fable is a Beauty

February 22, 2013 · in Film, Oscars

Life of Pi
Directed by: Ang Lee
Written by: David Magee
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan & Rafe Spall.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Original Song (“Pi’s Lullaby”), Best Original Score (Mychael Danna), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay (David Magee), Best Director (Ang Lee) & Best Picture.

Having directed a broody Hulk blockbuster, a literary costume drama, a lustful period piece, a dazzlingly choreographed martial arts epic and a tender cowboy love story, Ang Lee has never met a cinematic challenge he hasn’t tackled. That’s not to say all of those have been home runs, but if anyone was going to tackle the heady challenge of bringing Yann Martel’s spiritual tale of a boy stranded at sea with a tiger, you need not have looked further than Lee. The result is a visual wonder — not only do Lee and his DP (Claudio Miranda) give you enough tableau-ready shots that take your breath away in their gorgeous simplicity, but they manage to find a kinetic energy to several sequences that nicely break away from what could very well have been a static and dull series of shots of a boy in the middle of the ocean. The film opens with an old man telling a young writer about his improbable story of survival: after his father decides to sell his zoo and move to Canada, a shipwreck leaves (Pi, short for Piscine) stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger, an orangutan, a zebra and a hyena. What follows is Pi’s fantastical journey. If you’re already groaning at the setup, then clearly Lee’s seafaring film is not for you, especially as the last scene in the film will offer a more grounded, if much less satisfying, version of what you’ve witnessed.

The framing device, here deployed much less successfully than in the book drags the narrative and character momentum that Lee brings to the set pieces aboard the lifeboat, yanking us out of the action in order to offer some platitude about survival via voice-over or a Sorkin-type walk-and-talk somewhere in Canada. Nevertheless, Lee’s film is visually stunning and a technical marvel (the tiger Richard Parker alone is enough to warrant a viewing) that makes what otherwise be an insufferable spiritual parable into a compelling film. B/B+