Friday 15 November 2019

A good slice of a handsome Pi

Film of the week: The Life of Pi. Director: Ang Lee Stars: Surak Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Scripts for a possible film adaptation of Yann Martel's The Life of Pi have been knocking around since the early 2000s.

Ang Lee was the fourth director to consider taking the project on, and must have thought long and hard before doing so.

This is because The Life of Pi's ethereal appeal could easily have been lost during the long and messy transition from page to screen, and in many senses Lee has succeeded in doing it justice.

He's certainly created a breathtakingly handsome film.

A struggling Canadian novelist (Rafe Spall) seeks out an Indian man called Pi Patel (Ifran Khan) who tells him his remarkable story.

Born in the idyllic coastal city of Pondicherry in the mid-1950s, Pi was raised in a zoo his parents ran, and developed a passionate interest in religion, not just in Hinduism but also Catholicism and the Muslim doctrines.

But his growing faith is severely tested when his parents decide to leave India for a new and more promising life in America.

Not entirely rationally in my opinion, they bring with them their menagerie of beasts, which they've arranged to sell to a zoo.

But midway through their boat trip they hit a ferocious storm and all on board are lost, apart from Pi.

When he comes to on a storm-tossed lifeboat, he has for company an orangutan, a brutal hyena, a wounded zebra and a very large Bengal tiger.

Nature has a way of neatly resolving these awkward scenarios, and soon it's just Pi and the tiger, glowering at each other from opposite ends of the boat.

In order to survive they must reach an accommodation, which Pi manages using resourcefulness, imagination and wit.

For me, this film is at its best and wittiest early on, when describing Pi's childhood.

Once that boat sinks, the film's landscape both shrinks and grows, becoming an elemental battle in the middle of the wide and pitiless Pacific.

The animals, and especially that tiger, are brilliantly digitally created, and as Pi struggles to survive we're treated to a succession of staggeringly beautiful images.

How much it all means though, is exceedingly debatable, and I'm not sure if it's aimed at adults or children or has tumbled between two stools.

Make no mistake about it, The Life of Pi is very nice to look at, but is about as substantial as an ice cream wafer, and vanishes quickly from the mind like a half-remembered rainstorm.

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