"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Unrestricted Love

My Afternoons with Margueritte is a lovely film about a an uneducated man and the three women in his life:  his bus-driving girlfriend, his abusive mother, and a well-read older woman - much older.  It's no Harold and Maude though.  I think it's better.

It's not at all contrived that someone who couldn't manage in school could suddenly pick up on nuances of literature and connect them to life.  I've seen struggles with literacy prevent kids from having a useful education, and it's curious that we focus so much on the written word when we're moving beyond that in real life such that people can get all their news from YouTube.  But that's not really what the film's about.

It's about love and connections and kindness unrestricted by artificial social constructs that create boundaries around who we should spend our time with.*  It's another reminder to fight the pigeonholing that sticks us in roles that just don't work for us.  But, unlike The Graduate, the characters here actually get somewhere with their personal rebellion.

It's also about education and arrogance.  Germain is well-loved because he is kind and funny and wise.  Some reviewers find his relationship with Annette, his lovely young girlfriend, unbelievable, but I think that just reveals an attitude of rigid and arrogant conformity to social expectations.  They get what they need from one another, and they clearly have a bond in the film.  In fact, it's the whole point.  Similarities in age, education, and/or aesthetics are not what really connect us - that's all just superficial crap.  We connect when we have a profound respect and admiration for another's ideas or actions.  This is different than being impressed by them, as the characters do don't anything spectacular, but how many of us do.

And it's about rising above your beginnings.  We don't need to be taught love from our parents; it's in us already if we're brave enough to share it.

Okay, it's sentimental, but it works.


- - - - -
*Grammar point:  This bothers me a bit.  I know it should say, "with whom we should spend our time," but that feels awkward and pretentious.  Nobody talks like that.  Personally, I think it's time written language cleans out its closet of some archaic rules that only affect marks on student essays and little else in the world.  I'm taking the first step by largely ignoring them.

The Graduate

I think I first saw this classic when I was about 8 when it first premiered on television.  I'm almost as baffled by parts of it today.  Some call it a screwball comedy, but I think it's mainly just sad (except for Mr. Robinson's speech near the end - that was funny).

Benjamin is home from college and is quickly seduced by Mrs. Robinson, but soon becomes obsessed with her daughter Elaine.  Spoilers below, but it doesn't matter.  The charm of the film is in the way it's carried out more than the plot line.  (And the trailer tells all anyway - I hate that!)

It's curious that Benjamin and Elaine are both involved with university life, but Vietnam isn't mentioned.  There's not a sign of protest on the Berkeley campus except for Benjamin being questioned about being a possible agitator.  Maybe Nichols wanted to give the film a timeless feel, but it's pretty stuck in the 60s anyway.

Benjamin's character is relatable to a point.  He's adrift, held fast by inertia, and unable to choose a direction in life just yet.  He's going to procrastinate as long as possible as all his options look stale and boring. He's awkward and annoyingly adolescent - rudely talking loudly in a library, refusing to care about his affect on others, badgering Elaine with questions and proprosals.  He's having an angsty middle-class rebellion against very little. I understand the draw to Mrs. Robinson for a 20-year-old virgin, but it's curious why he'd fall so hard for Elaine.  She's the beautiful Katherine Ross, of course, but after just one date in which he watches her cry a bit in a strip club, they commiserate about their station in life over burgers, and he later spills it about her mom, he becomes totally obsessed with her and stalks her.  She becomes his goal in life.  Forbidden fruit, or she's just the best option he's got?  To a 20-year-old, she sure beats plastics.  It's funny that he announces his impending marriage to her while still unemployed and living at home.  He's young enough to not have thought that part through, but it's odd that his parents don't question how they'll live.

While Ben passively floats through life, Mrs. Robinson actively works to escape her futile existence. She also doesn't want to be the living dead - managing through life by rote.  She breaks free from the monotony of her situation with an affair.  There's one scene I find absolutely heartbreaking.  She tells Ben she knows nothing about art, but when he asked what she took in college, she says, "Art."  In that one brief conversation, she subtly makes it clear how much she's given up over the years, how much she's let go of her passions.  She forbids Ben to date Elaine, I think, because she has tainted Ben with this shameless experience, and she doesn't want it touching her daughter.  She doesn't want the sins of the mother laid upon the daughter, but, try as she might, she's impotent to stop it.

But Elaine is a conundrum for me.  When Ben tries to catch up to her bus at Berkeley, we can feel her discomfort when she catches sight of him and as he talks to her.  But after she rages at him a bit, she suddenly soften and feels - what? - suddenly she wants him to stick around.  Is she flattered by his obsessiveness? Or does she just feel trapped or bored with her prep-school boyfriend?  She's also avoiding the boring trap of the bourgeois life, so maybe she attaches to him to get a taste of rebellion.

Then he just proceeds to wear her down - it's the only move he's got:

Ben: "We can get a blood test today."
Elaine:  "Benjamin, I haven't even said I'd marry you yet....I just don't think it would work."
Ben:  "Tomorrow, then.  We'll get the blood test tomorrow."

Just like Tom in 500 Days of Summer, he can't seem to hear what she's saying.  Or he just doesn't care. Or he hangs on to the hope that his persistence will win in the end.  And, for Ben, it does.

He rescues her from a forced marriage - after it's over - but, as they sit on the bus together, it's clear they postponed the inevitable call to action with a little drama of their own, but now they still have to decide what to do with their lives.  It's a thrill to do something anti-conformist, but they didn't solve anything.  They're still stuck.

Creating a comedy or a tragedy is dependent on the ending.  Stop on a high note, and it's a comedy.  Stop a little later when it takes a downturn, and it's a tragedy.  For that, why some call this a comedy - much less a screwball comedy - is beyond me.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

500 Days of Summer

I watched this for the second time and like it much better, but I still don't love it.  I do love the fanciful bits of filming:  the dance number with cartoon birds, the buildings turning into drawings and being erased, the numbers with different levels of darkness in the sky, and the beginning caveat in print.  I like the out-of-orderness of it that makes it more realistic as a memory.  The story is original and compelling.  So what's the problem?

Tom and Summer meet.  She says lets keep it casual.  He falls in love and is tormented when she dumps her.  The first time I saw it, I couldn't stand it because of Tom's annoying neediness - that he didn't listen to her words when she said she didn't want a relationship, that he thought little things were signs that she was falling for him, regardless what she told him, and that he can't cope without her.  It's just too frustrating to watch him.

After a second viewing, I'm no more sympathetic to him, but I like how he's explained.  He's a product of too many cliched romantic movies, and he's taken his cues from fantasy instead of seeing what's right in front of him.  His blind date spells it out for him, but he still can't see it.  And by the end, he still won't learn.  He's a romantic, and I think we're supposed to admire his tenacity and hopefulness, but the ending was still annoying to me.  It's believable, for sure, but it's bad enough watching it unfold in real life.  Many of us make the same mistakes over and over like we're on auto-pilot.  It's painfully tedious.

But there are some lovely little touches throughout the movie and some entertaining supporting characters that make it worth a watch.

ETA - I like it more now that I know JGL felt the same way about his character:


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Woody Allen Picks

On a challenge to name Woody Allen's top ten after watching his newest, I've arranged all his movies that I've seen in the order from most loved to most hated, from absolute brilliance to difficult to watch.

1. What's Up, Tiger Lily? 1966   
2. Hannah and Her Sisters 1986 
3. Midnight in Paris  2010 
4. Manhattan  1978
5. Annie Hall  1975
6. Play It Again, Sam  1971 
7. Manhattan Murder Mystery  1992
8. The Purple Rose of Cairo  1984 
9. Alice  1989 
10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona  2007

and to continue...
Crimes and Misdemeanors  1989 
Love and Death  1973 
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy  1981
Sleeper  1972
Casino Royale  1967
What's New Pussycat  1965
Cassandra's Dream  2006 
Husbands and Wives  1991
Bananas  1971 
Every Thing You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask  1972
Deconstructing Harry  1997
Mighty Aphrodite  1995
To Rome with Love  2011
Interiors  1977
Melinda and Melinda  2003
Match Point  2004
Whatever Works  2008
There are still many I have not yet seen - or not recently enough to remember clearly.  Some I'm sure I've seen, but I can't remember how well I liked them:
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger  2009
Scoop 2005
Anything Else  2002
Hollywood Ending  2001
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion  2000
Small Time Crooks  1999
Sweet and Lowdown  1998
Celebrity  1997
Everyone Says I Love You  1995
Bullets Over Broadway  1993
Shadows and Fog  1990
New York Stories  1989
Another Woman  1987
September  1987
Radio Days  1986
Broadway Danny Rose  1983
Zelig  1982
Stardust Memories 1979
Take the Money and Run  1967

(I didn't laboriously type out all the titles and dates; I just cut and paste them from IMDB.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Future

I love quirky.  And I love honest insecurity and authenticity and weird realism and absurdity.  So of course I loved Miranda July's  The Future.

A couple decide to take the first step towards commitment by adopting a cat, but it's sickly and can't come home for a month.  They see this month as their last bit of freedom and treat it as if it's their last month alive.

What would you do if you knew you only had a month to live?  They ditch the internet because they realize how much time it saps from any authentic experience.  And they both quit their jobs and explore what it is to be totally free.  But, of course, we're never really free if we're constrained by social obligation or expectations.

And it makes a bit of a mess of things if you really act like this month is your last.

It's curious how quickly morality goes out the window in this movie and in other films where the end is nigh.  If we're about to die, money doesn't matter, so stealing might take on a different nuance. (I'm thinking of all the looting in Last Night).  But why does harming others directly no longer matter as much?  To have total freedom, how important is it that it includes total freedom to have sex with anyone?  De Beauvoir and Sartre, proponents of freedom, kept things open to have no constraints on one another.  That can be tricky.  And I wonder if we just don't know what to do with freedom when we find it so we resign ourselves to sneaking base pleasures and feel like we're really pulled one over on the world.  But we're really just being dicks.

I love how they talk.  The couple gets each other, so we really want them to stay together.  What works is that they're each willing to play whatever game the other starts.  This reminded me of the rules of improv - something I read decades ago, but was recently made popular by Tina Fey:  always say "yes" to whatever your partner starts.  Their relationship is tender and heart-wrenching.

She decides to do a dance a day for thirty days and put each on YouTube.  She's told everyone.  But it's scary to begin.  It's anxiety-inducing as each day just slips away without a dance.  I'm in a similar freedomy place as my littlest just went off to camp for 21 days.  Can I write for 21 days straight?  Or will I get sucked into Facebook trivia and watching even more movies or puttering around the house and garden fixing every little thing for that triumphant feeling of accomplishment illusory in its intensity?   It's a lot of pressure to do something in this little corner of time I've got.  But can I actively and authentically take advantage of my little slice of freedom?  Can I accept the burden that comes with all this freedom?

We'll see.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Skin I Live In

I spent a week camping and reading John Irving's In One Person on the beach (carefully because it's a library book).  Then, after getting home and shaking the sand from all our things, I relaxed with a Netflix movie:  The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito), which was by chance of a similar subject matter.  I recommend skipping the book and going straight for the movie.  SPOILERS galore below - for both.

I don't read many novels, but I sometimes love John Irving.  I find he's hit and miss, able to entice me with Widow for One Year, Cider House Rules, Hotel New Hampshire, Garp, and Owen Meany, but repel me with pretty much everything else he writes.  Many of his books repeat similar events or circumstances, but this one feels more like a rehashing of the other books.  There's lots of wrestling in this one, bunch o' incest and awkward sex scenes, and yet another boarding school that becomes co-ed during the main character's meander through his long, detailed life.  The big spoiler:  pretty much everyone's gay, and they almost all die from AIDS.  We should all learn to accept one another for who we really are - and that can change over time.  I wasn't surprised about anything or anyone.  And worse, the dialogue is so heavy handed I started skimming it early on.  One character alludes to a situation, but then another spells it out for us in case we're completely daft.  And even worse than that, I didn't care about anyone.  At all.  Just get over yourselves already!

What the book does do, however, is make me want to re-read some Ibsen, Hardy, Tennessee Williams, and Shakespeare.  As the main family in the book is heavily involved in putting on plays at the local community theatre, Irving's characters explain each play to death as if the novel is a surreptitious means to educate the youth of today in quality literature.  That might work if any teenagers read it - and get more than halfway through.

The feelings and attitudes of the LGBTQ scene are old hat to me.  That a man might enjoy dressing as a woman yet he isn't gay, the reality of bi-sexuality, and the necessity of transgendered acceptance as their revealed identity are not at all revelatory at this point in our culture evolution - but maybe that's just because I live in Canada where we've had legal gay marriage nationally for seven years.  That a ton of people in the US died of AIDS in the 80s has been explored in better books that leave you dripping with tears.  As someone who grew up with severe speech impediments, that entire sub-plot rang false (and boring).  There was just nothing new or captivating in the book,...which brings me to the film.

Like many Almodovar films, this is weird.  It's truly original.  It's sometimes disturbing and harsh, but the actions of the characters all make sense.  It centres around a plastic surgeon whose wife was severely burned in a fiery car accident with her lover (his brother of course), so he focuses his brilliance on inventing a new kind of skin that's impervious to burns.  But the genetic manipulation necessary to create it is illegal to try with humans.  Luckily, our mad scientist, Robert, depraved to begin with, is going through a crisis: Even though his wife was saved, she kills herself when she sees her hideous reflection.  Then his daughter, on meds after watching her mom jump out a window, is sort of raped at a party.  When his daughter kills herself too, he goes after the rapist.  He traps him for six years, and in that time, he turns the guy, Vincent, into a woman, Vera, complete with his daughter's face and this new crazy skin he's been dying to try on a human being.  Of course Robert falls in love with Vera - a living embodiment of his own daughter.  Creepy!

We don't know until the end if Vera is succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome or is very cleverly trying to gain her freedom as she slowly accepts wearing dresses and as she seems to fall in love with Robert.  The film is thought-provoking as it explores how our outer layer affects everything else.  To what extent does a suddenly disfigured face affect our identity?  Can I still be me if I look totally different?  People will react to me differently.  Even just aging has changed the way people react to me, and in turn, how I interact with people.  I lost the power that comes with being a cute female a couple of decades ago.  And further, to what extent could I be myself if I woke up to find a mad scientist had changed me into a guy.  Would I walk and talk differently?  Would I use different words and phrases?  And, if I did, would I be acting like a guy, or would I be being a guy?  Do I act like a woman now?

There's a brief scene in which Vera sees a picture of her old self, Vincent, and she kisses the photo tenderly.  We often just have to accept what we are today even when it's not what we want to be.  Two hours or 425 pages - take your pick.

ETA - Okay, my coincidence is a three-parter.  First the book, then the film, then, in today's Globe & Mail, an article on facial transplants:  "You don't get a face transplant to look in the mirror.  You get a face transplant so the social mirror of other people can see you normally."  It's the social reflection, not self-perception that matters most.

I wonder about that.