CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 25. . . .March 5, 2010.
Heaven on Earth.
Deepa Mehta (Writer & Director). David Hamilton (Producer). Ravi Chopra, David Hamilton, Silva Basmajian, Deepa Mehta & Sanjay Bhuttiani (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
106 min., DVD, $99.95.
Order number: 153C 0109 235.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Frank Loreto.
Anyone familiar with the works of Deepa Mehta (Water, Earth, Fire and many others) would know that she pulls no punches. So it is no surprise that after watching Heaven on Earth, the viewer feels as if he or she, too, has gone through the ordeals of the main character.
This film is about Chand who comes to Canada to marry Rocky. The marriage has been prearranged, and the two meet the night before their wedding. The story begins at Chandís engagement party where all ages of women gather to sing and dance in celebration of what is to come. There is great jubilation. Before Chand had left for Canada, her mother had told her that the family she will be marrying into is known by her uncle, and, therefore, it should be okay. Initially, things seem fine.
Greeted at the airport by her soon-to-be in-laws, Chand is nervous and shy, nothing like the joking, self-confident person she was at home. Her new family is very welcoming, but the fact that Rocky barely acknowledges her is the first indication that things will not go well.
At home, when Rocky offers to get his brother-in-law a drink, his mother points out that Chand is here now. She should get the drinks. Clearly, the mother is in charge of the household which includes her husband, Rockyís sisterís family and now Chand.
On the coupleís wedding night at Niagara Falls, Rockyís mother appears at the hotel room door. She had a vision that something bad had happened to her son. Rocky tells Chand that the mother will share the bed with her while he and his brother-in-law will sleep in the car. Chand suggests that they simply get another room. Rockyís response is to slap her across the face, and he makes it clear that her suggestions are not welcome. The mother-in-law does not intervene, nor is she shocked at Rockyís reaction.
The marriage goes downhill from here. Chand is given a job at a laundry and learns that her pay cheque will go directly to Rocky. She is prohibited from calling her own mother and becomes increasingly isolated. The mother-in-law sees her as a disappointment, and Rocky becomes more angry and unhappy. Any attempts to get closer to her husband are rebuffed, and Chand withdraws into her own world as the abuse continues.
While Mehta prefaces the film with a disclaimer that domestic violence can be found in all cultures and society levels, Heaven on Earth seems particularly unfair to the Sikh community. The characters in the film are rather one-dimensional. Rockyís disposition is never made clear, and so his character is not at all developed. The father-in-law intervenes on Chandís behalf in his own way, but he seems to have little power compared to his wife. The grandson, for no reason given, flushes the old manís teeth down the toilet, an action which conveys the father-in-lawís toothlessness in the family dynamic. Despite all the people in the house, no one comes to Chandís assistance, and Rockyís treatment of her seems to be acceptable.
On a different level, Heaven on Earth presents the difficulties experienced by new immigrants to Canada. In order to make ends meet, the family rents out the house during the day. Rockyís parents sit in a mall so that tenants who work a night shift have a place to sleep. The parents point out that their children should not be dependent on them at this stage in their lives. The grandson is angered to hear that another family member will be coming to Canada and will live in the house as well.
There is much in this film that is worth watching, and the main issue of domestic abuse is clear. However, it is recommended with caution. Anyone unfamiliar of the richness of the Sikh culture could misunderstand and assume Chandís story is typical. Mehtaís disclaimer comes at the beginning of the film and is then followed by a number of previews for other movies. That disclaimer could easily be overlooked.
For that reason, preparatory work must be done before the film is shown to any class. Presented properly, Heaven on Earth would be valuable in Law, Womenís Studies, Ethics, Parenting and in classes dealing with immigration--but only at a senior level. Because of the violence, this film is ...
Recommended with reservations.
Frank Loreto is a teacher-librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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