SITA SINGS THE BLUES (Nina Paley, 2008)

Enmeshing in a postmodernist form shards of the earliest Sanskrit epic poem, Valmiki’s The Ramayana, whose story takes place, now, some 7,000 years ago, Sita Sings the Blues is a complicated film that nevertheless feigns an air of the primitive. In truth, it bombards the viewer with aural and visual overloads that keep it busy-busy. Nina Paley’s animated film gave me a nasty headache.
     Much has been made of the fact that Paley made her film at her home computer. Alas, that’s precisely what it looks like she did. Her film lacks all savvy, all elegance. The credits boast that hers is a near one-woman show; but Paley disfigures her source material with her self-indulgent autobiographical framework detailing her abandonment by her husband in San Francisco for a new love and a new life in India. Unconvincingly, Paley presses a connection between her own fidelity and that of Sita in The Ramayana, whose “purity” is no longer trusted by Lord Rama after her abduction by the evil king of Lanka, Ravana. Rumors circling around the rescued Hindu goddess press Rama’s hand in a suspicious and punitive direction, with Paley herself pressing for Sita’s and, of course, the movie-Nina’s gender equality. Nina takes off for India to reclaim her absentee spouse; when she discovers his new life, she eventually shifts direction, stops moaning and bemoaning, becomes a student of the ancient literature involved, and ends up self-sufficiently alone, except for her cat, in Brooklyn.
     Paley would have done better, and would have emerged sympathetically, had she not made her impetus for making her film a part of the film’s narrative.
     Even the punctuation of Sita’s singing early twentieth-century blues songs is monkeyed with. For some bewildering reason, instead of hearing the delicate, beauteous songs sung with great voice, we are given thin, monotonous renditions. This all but kills the delightful incongruity of having an ancient goddess singing songs that represent modernity, which is enjoined, ironically, to a forlorn femininity over time.

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