Thursday, June 2, 2011

Today and Tomorrow

"I'm doomed to want things that aren't things," Ofelia Hunt writes in Today and Tomorrow.

There are plety of things that aren't things in the book. Actually, there isn't anything that is something. There is only ever nothing. Lisbon, New Mexico, Bill Murray are like mantras that are not real that get said to placate reality.

Ofelia Hunt, if she existed, wrote something about metaphor and meaning. She hates them. Metaphors are fake things because they make everything more meaningful than it is. And meaning is meaningless unless it is a lie. And a lie is a metaphor for things that aren't true. And so on.

I felt more strongly about some parts of the novel than others. I wasn't sure about the thin man. And at certain points as it went along it felt more arbitrary than necessary. In her blog, Ofelia often says that she writes and rewrites. And usually that editing process is obvious with precise word choice. But in her novel, she seems to get away from that process. Just a rush of words, a waterfall of sentences. Sometimes.

I felt overwhelmed by it. I wanted to stuff it all inside my brain, but it wouldn't fit. I tried to make a flow chart, but everything flowed into everything else and then into nothing and then into a trash can.

A lot of other reviews like to give a little plot outline about the things that puport to happen in the novel. They are wrong. The trick of the book is to create something out of nothing and vice-versa.

Rendez Vous d'Anna

I've seen a couple of movies by Chantal Akerman. They are all like this. Long and mostly plotless. It's like she likes to push the bounds of cinema, taking it into new directions that are simultaneously banal and beautiful.

Her scenes are more like moving paintings. I kept on thinking of Rothko's subway and Lucien Freud.

She skips over the things other films concern themselves with, focusing on the interim.

There is one scene in which Anna lies in bed listening to the radio for a solid two minutes, which in film feels like forever.

There are a lot of trains and traveling, but also four major conversations.

The first is with a German she picks up and almost has sex with. He tells her about Communism in the 20's and then Nazism in the 30's and all of the aftermath that changed his country.

The second conversation is with her friend Ida who talks to her about the importance of having children.

And then she gets her turn to talk, to her mother about maybe being in love with a woman, or at least kissing her.

The fourth conversation is with her boyfriend or husband, Daniel. "We can't affect what happens. We're just carried along by the current," he says.

I really wished she had never gotten a chance to speak, because I wanted to use this quote from Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan: "I've been accused of [being a good listener] all my life. It's like someone who prays every night saying God's a good listener. Just because you're talking to us doesn't mean we're listening." Because basically all four conversations are actually monologues. They just talk and talk.

There are some interesting moments to watch that feel like they are orchestrated to complement the characterization. Like the automatic doors that open and close. Or when she's walking in the train and she seems to get smaller and smaller going through smaller and smaller doors like Alice in Wonderland. Or how there are so many shots of the backs of people's heads. Silhouettes back-lit by lights the car is driving towards.

(Painting credits: George Tooker - Subway, Mark Rothko - Entrance to Subway, Lucien Freud - Girl in a Blanket, Rene Magritte - Not to Be Reproduced, Edward Hopper - Morning Sun)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Un Amour de Femme

Jeanne (Helene Fillieres) and David (Anthony Delon) are a happy couple with a son until a chance encounter with a dancer at a party introduces the potential for something more.
Although it is clear that Jeanne is immediately struck by the free-spirited Marie (Raffaela Anderson), their mutual seduction of each other takes more time because if Jeanne’s relationship with her family and the stigma of homosexuality.
“I always order what I don’t like,” Jeanne says about her food which is an obviously thin metaphor for her life choices. She must decide what is best for her and her family: To pursue her own happiness and love or to sacrifice herself to a twisted and broken construct.
The film evokes these complex emotions without relying too heavily on direct discourse. It focuses on the way people look at each other, their body language. Dance is just one of the languages of this nonverbal communication.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Le Cercle Rouge

The red circle, according to Buddha and the film's epigram, is where everyone who is destined to meet each other will finally meet. In the film, we are introduced to various men at certain arcs of their trajectory towards that circle.

The day before his release from prison, Corey (Alain Delon) is given a tip by a guard on a job once he's out. Corey goes to Rico, his old partner who has repaid his loyalty by stealing his woman. In return, Corey helps himself to the money in Rico's safe. Which obligates Rico to send some thugs after him. One thing always leads to another.

Meanwhile, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), the perpetrator of some unknown crime, escapes from custody and hides in the trunk of Corey's car. Corey provides Vogel's freedom and Vogel returns the favor by killing Rico's thugs. They win each other's trust the only way criminals can, by further implicating themselves in crime. It is a single-direction trip that can only gain momentum.

Inspector Matthei (André Bourvil) is the Spencer Tracy look-alike who was supposed to be guarding Vogel when he escaped. He is the Lt. Philip Gerard to Vogel's Fugitive. He is a good guy, but he has to prove himself to the head of Internal Affairs who asserts, "No one is innocent. All men are guilty."

To round out the team implementing the plan leaked to Corey in jail, Vogel recommends Jansen (Yves Montand), an alcoholic ex-cop with demons and issues of his own to work out.

And last there is Santi (François Périer) who is sort of the bridge between crime and punishment, as it were. He's the bar owner/ mob tie that is Matthei's best link to finding Vogel. Like all of the men, he operates by a code, honor among thieves, and won't rat them out. Unless, of course, he does.

Director Jean-Pierre Melville (Bob le Flambeur, Le Samourai) is very good at taking each man at an exact moment somewhere in the middle of their stories and very subtly exposing their entire history.

Coming towards the end of his career, Le Cercle Rouge is supposed to be a culmination of everything Melville has learned from his experiences making crime films. It's his own private red circle, so to speak.

In terms of pacing and mood, it is much more akin to The Asphalt Jungle than The Italian Job. It is not focused on action, but slowly and evocativley building real characters. They may be guilty but they are not amoral. It is each person's sense of duty or honor which propel them to their ineluctable end.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger

An older couple going through their 3/4-life crises turn to spiritual and physical respites. She turns to a psychic and he marries a girl half his age. But the spirituality is occultic hocum and the girl ends up sleeping with men her own age.

Meanwhile, one generation down, they are having their own 2/5-life crises. But this time they both dabble in the hopes of love outside of marriage with the addition of literature and art. He struggles to make good on the promise of his first successful novel and she wants to open her own gallery. But neither one succeed.

It's like there are no solutions.

"Sometimes the illusion works better than the medicine," the narrator says at the end of the movie. But in the end, the illusions fail as well. The writer thought that by being with the girl next door and stealing a dead man's novel, he could have it all. But he ends up looking back across the way at his own wife, and the dead man turns out not to be dead. The artist thinks that all she has to do is express her desire for her boss and borrow money from her mother, but her boss doesn't reciprocate her feelings and her mother doesn't loan her the money.

It was all an illusion: eternal youth, spirits or stars guiding the future, the notion of romantic love, the ability to express oneself through art. And how much good did any of it do them?

It's kind of a cynical message, given the bulk of Woody Allen's work.

Whatever Works

"You gotta take what little pleasure you can find in this chamber of horrors," Larry David says for Woody Allen at the beginning of the movie.

The solution to the silence of god and the terror of death is love, or sex, whichever you can manage.

The problem with this movie is the jokes. They're just not funny. They are either throw-away quips that are only funny on paper, like when Larry gets a panic attack and Evan Rachel Wood turns on the television to calm him.
"I saw the abyss," Larry says.
"Don't worry, we'll watch something else."
Whereas the other jokes get hit repeatedly on the head with a dead fish.

This isn't my favorite movie of Woody Allen's. Usually when he returns to older material it is during a period of stagnation. But he'd just been putting out some really mature and worthwhile movies. So it's suprising this vehicle originally written for Zero Mostel flopped so badly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky has normal values, Cristina pursues the alternative lifestyle and Barcelona is the place that offers the opportunity to remain exactly the same.

"[Cristina's] contempt for normal values is boring and cliche," Vicky's husband says. But it is he who is boring, talking trivially over the beautiful Spanish guitar.

It's ironic that Woody Allen uses a narrator who just sounds like he is saying: "Blah blah blah." I mean, why was it necessary for him to narrate that they walked around taking photographs, when it is clearly depicted by the scene? The use of narration was over-bearing and might have been the things keeping me from truly enjoying the film.

It's ambivalent what the moral is supposed to be. I'm tempted to say "whatever works" because it's a line from not just this movie but a couple of Woody Allen's others. But what is working in this movie? Does it mean whatever is working in this particular moment? Ignoring the inevitable ruin that is being driven towards? Because none of the relationships that arose were really working or could have worked for a prolonged period. And so everyone just goes back to status quo. Maybe that is what works. Some people live according to social structures, some pursue romantic passion and others are chronically dissatisfied no matter what they try.

"We are alive," Javier Bardem says, which seems to be the only common bond. Life is too short to worry about how other people choose to pursue happiness. It is too fraught with pain and the fear of death. This moment is the one in which we live. And yet most of us are too scared to be alive in that moment.