Anne (Julie Christie) is fascinated by the culture of India and becomes completely entrenched in the joys of it (both big and small) while she explores the country and encounters its incredible people. She decides to delve into learning more about the relationship held between her aunt Olivia (Greta Scacchi) and a prince of India (Shashi Kapoor). The film unfolds while exploring both of these storylines and weaves a tale together of these women's experiences in the country: their romances, their heartache, and their unique experiences in each generation.
The film is classic style Merchant Ivory with the elegance in production that one comes to expect from their collaborations. The film is a laid back and breezy experience which has all the usual makings of a Ivory classic: fine performances from the ensemble cast, great production design, exquisite natural scenery, and romantic elegance.
Despite being filmed on a modest budget compared to some later Merchant Ivory films, Heat and Dust doesn't feel even remotely modest in its style and approach. Though the production faced a number of behind the scenes issues (including a loss of funding during filming which ultimately had to be raised after the completion of filming) the film doesn't even show a hint of it. The beautiful cinematography from Walter Lassally (The Bostonians, Indian Summer) helps to make the film's cinematic majesty shine.
The production design by Wilfred Shingleton (Great Expectations, The African Queen) is quite strong and does a terrific job of bringing the culture and beauty of India to the silver screen. It does an excellent job of complimenting the cinematography and enhancing the essence of the filmmaking. The costumes designed by Barbara Lane (Willow, Ellis Island) are also fitting for the characters and setting. The tone and evocative style of filmmaking is brought to life with grace with the score by composer Richard Robbins (The Remains of the Day, Howard's End).
The story itself is a bit less structured in comparison to other films by screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (A Room With a View, Howard's End). Based upon her novel, the adaptation feels as though it forgets to bring every aspect of the original book into translation for the film itself. Scenes almost feel interconnected by a nostalgic sense of memory and style rather than by narrative pacing.
This is certainly not to say this is without the writer's trademark style and sensitive wit. I found the story underwhelming in comparison to other Jhabvala scripts but this early screenplay still showcases a fine talent with greatness soon to come with later Merchant-Ivory collaborations. This effort is undeniably a turning point of these artists and Jhabvala contributed a great deal to the development of their craft as a collaborative team.
James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name, A Room With a View), who recently celebrated his first Oscar win (for his screenplay to Call Me By Your Name), directs the film with the same style Ivory later became renowned for perfecting: feature films which are elegant, stylish, and romantic dramas crafted with passion, originality, and class. Art in cinema.
Though Heat and Dust doesn't manage to match the same level of greatness achieved in some later productions made by Merchant-Ivory, the film does succeed as a compelling experience which is well worth seeing for the breathtaking imagery and originality on display. It's a film which should be seen and appreciated by fans of these extraordinary filmmakers.
Heat and Dust is presented on Blu-ray for the first time with a1080p high definition restoration which was mastered in 4K resolution. The film has a high bit-rate AVC encode. Presented in the original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, Heat and Dust has many visually stunning sequences that are richly brought to life by the cinematography. Despite a 4K restoration, however, the PQ is sometimes video-like (perhaps due to the low production budget) and it is not as smooth or as pleasant as later Ivory restorations (like The Remains of the Day). Nonetheless, fans will be pleased to have the film on home media in high definition and the pros outweigh the cons.
The film is presented on Blu-ray with a pleasant 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation. The film's audio does show some age and is perhaps not quite as crystal clear as modern films but considering the low-budget of the material this is a surprisingly clear, crisp, and pleasing effort in lossless high-definition sound.
Optional English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are included.
The release is jam-packed with an assortment of extras. Inside of the case is a booklet featuring an essay written on the film and notes by director James Ivory (and the booklet includes stills from the film as well).
Feature Length Audio Commentary on Heat and Dust
Introduction to Autobiography of a Princess (SD, 1 min.) is a brief introduction to this short film, an early effort by director James Ivory.
Autobiography of a Princess (HD, 58 min.) is a short feature film by director James Ivory. The film feels as much like a stage play as a film can with limited sets and visual movement. This is in part due to the small budget. The play revolves around two lead characters as they discuss a myriad of topics (as they bounce ideas off one another until the end).
Autobiography of a Princess is a impressive early effort from this promising filmmaker. The transfer is notable for being in high-definition. Though the short was not restored (and there is some noticeable wear to the film print), it's still an impressive looking effort well worth a watch for fans.
Conversation with the Filmmakers: Interview with producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and composer Richard Robbins (SD, 18 min.) features all three artists discussing working together onthe production of Heat and Dust. In discussing the film, each discuss the roles of the directing, producing, and writing on the filmmaking.
Gretta Scacci and Nikolas Grace remember Heat and Dust (HD, 42 min.) is an insightful and engaging interview conducted about the behind the scenes production of Heat and Dust. The interview was conducted by Claire Monk, PHD, in Soho, London in 2017. The discussion focuses primarily on the film's development, casting, production problems, and budgeting.
Merchant Ivory's Royal India: A new conversation between James Ivory and Chris Terrio (HD, 33 min.) is an interesting conversation about the making of Heat and Dust as well as other Ivory productions. It features James Ivory discussing his legacy as a film director with screenwriter Terrio (Argo).
New question and answer with actor Madhur Jaffrey (HD, 22 min.) is a discussion with the actor after a special presentation of Autobiography of a Princess. Jaffrey discusses working with Ivory and the process of making the short.
2017 Re-Release Trailer
Heat and Dust is a beautifully made production which showcases early promise for some of the later collaborations between the trio of Merchant-Ivory- Jhabvala. The Blu-ray release has an amazing assortment of in-depth extras which will enhance one's appreciation of the film.