Cotton Mary/C+,C+
Universal/2000/124/ANA 1.85

     Ismael Merchant, the producing partner of the Merchant/Ivory team, once again gets behind the camera for Cotton Mary, an old-fashioned, rather dour and unappealing drama of India in transition. Set in 1950's on India's Malabar Coast, Cotton Mary is a tale of transition in India's changing social order.

Mary leads the way. ŠUniversal

    When Lily Macintosh has a difficult time in child birth, nurse Cotton Mary ingratiates herself and positively leeches to her bedside. The child is born very fragile and Lily is not able to breast feed her. Mary takes charge, provides surreptitious breast feeding across the river, and before you know it she has left the hospital and installed herself as the nurse in Lily's household. Mary's sly and jealous nature comes tot he fore more and more. She disrupts the relationships of the house and feeds off Lily's fear.  In the meantime, Lily's husband shows less of an interest in the problems of their delicate child than the rustle of the local skirts. Mary's entry into the Macintosh household turns everything upside down.
     Director Ismael Merchant plays it pretty close to the vest as a director, eschewing any flashy style and letting the story stand by itself. Merchant does not make the most of his settings, nor does the cinematic style embellish the film. Very slow-paced filmmaking wears well when the material is stunning and fascinating. In the case of Cotton Mary, the main character, who dominates most of the screen time, is not some one you will enjoy spending time with.
     The elegant Greta Scacchi looks rather frumpy as Lily Macintosh, the young mother who comes under Mary's venomous spell. Madhur Jaffrey, who is credited as co-director on the film, plays Cotton Mary with grand enthusiasm. She is as obnoxious as can be and when she lets her malicious streak shine through, she's positively hateful.
     The DVD transfer is sort of like Scacchi in this role: plain, efficient, but not as exciting as you'd like. Merchant has filmed with a fairly grainy look and the overall image lacks the punch one might expect from the subject matter. Scenes are not sharp enough to make me happy. I almost felt like I was watching the movie in a second-tier art house. The Dolby Digital 2- Channel mix provides reasonable ambiance.



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