Opening at the Alliance Cinema, 927 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-531-8504.
Earth, an Indian Gone with the Wind, is set against the backdrop of India in 1947, when the British moved out shortly after dividing their colony into India and Pakistan. The movie examines the ensuing violent turmoil through the eyes of seven-year-old Lenny-Baby (Maia Sethna, making an impressive acting debut), the daughter of an affluent Parsee couple. As the nation is divided along religious lines, the Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians previously united against the British turn against each other in an effort to seize land for themselves and expel any dissenters (a brief early reference to the A-bomb reminds us that the situation is still far from settled more than 50 years later). Lenny-Baby's family, like the rest of the Parsee minority, struggles to remain neutral even as their land is declared part of the new state of Pakistan and their friends turn on one another. It's quite a challenge to take on such a sweeping historical event, and director Deepa Mehta wisely keeps most of the story on a human level, occasionally giving us enough of a glance at the big picture (a city on fire, a train filled with slaughtered Muslims) to allow us to imagine the rest, which we hear through anecdotes and gather via its effect on Lenny-Baby and her family's everyday life. In one particularly powerful scene, Lenny-Baby forces a playmate to help her rend a stuffed doll, limb from limb, something she had seen done to a dissenter in the streets the previous night. When her nanny tries (and fails) to mend the torn doll, the faithful servant can only break down and cry, realizing it's not just people who can't be sewn back together, but divided nations as well. Based on the semiautobiographical novel Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidhwa, Earth marks the second installment of director Mehta's "Elements" trilogy, following 1996's Fire (Yes, the next one will be called Water). In Hindi and English, with English subtitles.