Writer-director Deepa Mehta, whose last film was 1997’s sexually charged Fire, can make even a bloody massacre look voluptuous. In Earth — like Fire, a study of individuals pressured by societal demands — Mehta establishes the pampered world of 8-year-old Lenny (Maia Sethna), doted-on daughter of wealthy Parsees who manage to maintain a neutral, cultured home in Lahore even as the 1947 partition of India is forcing neighbors to take sides in a brewing religious battle. Lenny is cared for by a beautiful Hindu nanny (Fire‘s exquisite Nandita Das), whose two most ardent suitors, Muslims both, react very differently to the escalating violence: One, after witnessing family members hideously butchered, moves from tolerance to militancy; the other offers to sacrifice identity as an act of love. Throughout, Lenny’s young eyes, wide with naivete, represent those of the audience, dismayed by the depth and ferocity of divisiveness.
Adapting Bapsi Sidhwa’s autobiographical novel, Cracking India, Mehta saturates Earth with rich textures and colors. Even blood, spilled so freely, has a distinctive intensity of red in this beautiful and harrowing film.