Sita Sings the Blues, a Charm Offensive
In 2002, Nina Paley's husband moved from San Francisco to India for a six-month contract, an upheaval that ended with him dumping her via e-mail. Paley, an animator with a long résumé of short films, took solace in the sweet-voiced jazz stylings of Annette Hanshaw, and the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic telling the stories of several Hindu gods. These two post-breakup fixations also provided the inspiration for her first feature, an accomplished charm offensive called Sita Sings the Blues. Using digital, hand-drawn, and collage animation, Paley traces the love story between Hindu gods Sita and Rama, creating a witty symbiosis between her images and the ingenious narration provided by a chummy peanut gallery of three Indian voices. This main story is divided by musical numbers set to illustrative Hanshaw tunes ("What Wouldn't I Do For That Man" marks Sita's kidnapping, "Mean to Me" her unceremonious dumping) and brief windows on Paley's breakup and its aftermath. The parallels Paley attempts to draw between her situation and Sita's are actually the weakest part of the film, and the novelty of the musical numbers eventually dims, but Paley's beguiling, consistently inventive visuals and sly yet melancholy tone are about as warm and winning as heartbreak-fueled empowerment gets.
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