Film Essay

22/11/02 Film Essay # , ,

Frida (2002)

Frida (2002)
Director: Julie Taymor
Writers: Clancy Sigal (screenplay), Diane Lake (screenplay), Gregory Nava (screenplay), Anna Thomas (screenplay), Hayden Herrera (book)
Stars: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush

 

“If you have ever stood in front of a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, wishing you knew the real woman who lived that neverending pain, those wild choices and odd triumph of becoming one of the few women painters ever to become a household word, you’re in for a treat withFrida. Filmmaker, Julie Taymor, peels Frida straight from her canvas, giving us the gift of her vivacious, courageous spirit in full living color.”

In the film’s opening scenes, Frida Kahlo is being carried from her cobalt blue, red-trimmed house in a small wooden bed onto the back end of an open truck. Frieda smiles through excruciating pain as the cobble-stoned road jostles her fragile body. Where is she going? She turns her head and – with a little film magic – enters the blossoming body of a teenage girl racing through a hallway without encumbrance.

Exuberantly full of life and gathering boys as she runs, a young Frida laughingly exposes Diego Rivera in an illicit sexual moment with one of his nude models. Only moments later, Frida herself tumbles half-dressed from a scramble in a closet with a young boyfriend. And, before we can blink an eye, Frida’s vagina is pierced by a steel rod in the infamous bus accident that turned her voluptuous body into one that would never know another pain free day.

Frida captures Frida’s quixotic heroism, inspiring us all to embrace that belief in the triumph of spirit that we often find elusive. Life, for Frida, was far more than any materialistic, corporeal existence. She spun her art from somewhere deep within that broken, crumbling body that gave out too soon. Her vibrant sexuality sustained her in the darkest moments of despair and disillusionment, bringing her great joy, infusing her with stature and rescuing her more than once with an adventure that lifted her beyond the ordinary. She was a woman who left few stones unturned. We’ve known the details – the open marriage with Diego, the fling with Josephine Baker and the affair with Leon Trotsky – but until this film, we had no picture of her charisma, the allure of her astonishing vitality. Lying flat on her back, she painted. Second fiddle to a genius, she flourished. Humiliated, she took charge. Seemingly, to the end, she was like the three-year-old who says unabashedly and without reservation, “I’m adorable”.

“So, where are you going?” this portrait of Frida asks. It’s not a question of destination. It’s a matter of choice. It’s a matter of the choices we make, every day. It’s the path of the Uroboros (the rippling circle of life symbolized by a snake biting its tail), making new beginnings from old endings. Where was Frida going in the flatbed of that truck? You can answer that question for yourself after you see the film.

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14/11/02 Film Essay # , , ,

Secretary (2002)

Secretary (2002)
Director: Steven Shainberg
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Stars: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies

 

“Don’t underestimate the submissive one, the one who serves and cares for another. The Secretary dramatizes the healing power of the one who gives in, choosing to yield quietly to even the most absurd demands of one who would be dominant – – and then glides past the deadly monster of despair, indifference and alienation to a fresh beginning.”

Not everyone wants to know. Sometimes the pain of living is so deep, so buried beneath the skin that people are driven to take desperate measures that are hard to fathom. We’re a sophisticated society. We know hurt lies beneath anger. We know abuse begets abuse. And we know addiction defends poorly against emotional pain. So when we see a young woman cutting, piercing and carving the smooth skin reminiscent of childhood, the inner thigh so close to the source of pleasure, we ask. What suffering could drive her so mad as to reach for its source with the point of a knife? What other relief might she seek than slicing openings in the soft underbelly parts of her body? The Secretary suggests at least one answer; one path to healing a wound sealed by scars covering an unspeakable pain.

It’s true. Queasy, mixed feelings of vulnerability, fear and repulsion intensify a viewer’s voyeuristic fascination while watching a young woman puncture her flesh, yield to being spanked and crawl around on the floor in the Secretary. She does it so willingly, following her own desire more than the demands of her boss. It’s as if a taboo story has been thrown into thelight, giving us a rare peek into the complicated meaning of a sado-masochistic dynamic between two people in a relationship. Caring and pain are interwoven. In the Secretary, submission lies close to arousal. Giving in, giving up and giving over snuggle up close to a spunky spirit within this young woman that has not forgotten what it feels like to love – – not the other, but her own true self.

Secretary tells the tale of a woman and a man who dare to bring their pain to the surface, scrape through the scar tissue of old wounds and, surprisingly – – to them and audience alike – – find tendrils of love growing between them. The interpersonal seesaw of dominance and submission is surely familiar to anyone who’s been in an intimate relationship – – and, it usually isn’t very funny. But the exaggerated sado-masochistic dynamics in an allegorical story such as the Secretary where each partner gains as they lose, loses as they gain begs the ludicrous, inviting the kind of laughter where, as an audience, we are all laughing at ourselves. And when it’s over, I would venture to say that it will not be whether you believe it’s true that two people who dare to give up control find happiness. It’s about whether you’re willing to ponder the possibility.

Mythically speaking, Lee Holloway (wide-eyed Maggie Gyllenhaal) begins a personal quest when she takes the job of secretary to lawyer, Mr. E. Edward Grey (no one plays repressed sexuality as well as James Spader). It’s a classic hero’s journey into the vulnerable core of one’s being, but usually taken by a male. In this case, a female protagonist enters an inner symbolic realm of extreme trials and humiliating ordeals that will test her feminine mettle, take her to her nadir and return her – transformed – to the ordinary world. Like a true hero, if she’s successful, she will learn to be true to herself, receive a blessing and find her place in society.

Lee suffers a modern hero’s beginning, the deep pain of abandonment felt as a child in a dysfunctional family. She’s destined for happiness only if she can thwart society’s master plan to sacrifice her as throw away child. As a young woman just emerging from a mental hospital, Ms. Holloway responds to a want ad for a secretary. When she arrives for her interview, she finds a permanent “Secretary Wanted” sign outside the law office – – – like a motel advertising available rooms. Single bulbs circle the sign, lighting up on command from a switch inside as if beckoning to the next innocent traveler, “Enter here.” And in she goes, stepping from a disturbed adolescence into the labyrinthine offices of a very strange lawyer, Mr. E. Edward Grey.

As Lee arrives for her job interview, it’s appropriately raining, soaking the barely put together Lee Holloway into a pathetic sight for the waiting, distracted and wolfish Mr. E. Edward Grey. But she’s covered in a blue rain cape – – not red, so we don’t confuse the familiar fairy tale where a girl must be rescued with a woman’s quest for transformation. This journey will require both secretary and boss to be victims of animalistic appetite, both to be rescuers of each other’s most vulnerable selves.

The myth of Theseus lays the groundwork for Lee Holloway’s quest. Theseus willingly entered the deadly labyrinth of King Minos to which he had been sacrificed as a victim of circumstance — he was the only son of a king but born outside his father’s royal marriage. To claim his crown, he had to triumph over the Minotaur (half bull & half man) that symbolized the bestiality that a young prince out of favor must conquer to become the next king. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for young women to step into the role of a Theseus type hero hoping to heal the dualistic, judgmental monster of indifference and alienation that wreaks havoc in her world.

We may fear for Ms. Holloway’s life as she seeks a way out of fear and despair in the dark cave of masochistic compliance but we are riveted – – and strangely optimistic. There’s a gleam in her eye, a soft rhythm to her step. Amazing. She seems to know what she’s doing. She possesses what Theseus had to be given. Ariadne who was the princess daughter of the rigid patriarch, King Minos, gave Theseus a ball of string to unravel as he entered the labyrinth, to follow for a safe return. Lee Holloway holds her string of sensitive instincts and feelings to accompany her in – – and out. There she goes, hanging by a thread, moving steadfastly into the beastly emotions that develop between herself and Mr. E. Edward Grey.

As Lee makes her way through an outer office strewn with papers and files, a morose ex-secretary exits the premises. Presumably, a fallen victim to the Minotaur. Lee proceeds cautiously down the hall into the inner sanctum of Mr. E. Edward Grey. Could a modern Minotaur be defined any better than by his abundant cache of red marker pens ready to slash errors into perfection or a display of exotic orchids kept flawless by his hypodermic injections? In either case, it’s now clear neither he nor she can bear a soft touch. Only the point of a needle, a crisp red pen or a sewing scissors will do. She’s too bundled up in a cloud of sniffling compliance. He’s too equipped with snap judgements, well hidden behind a thick wall of protective condescension. Piercing appearances will be their only chance.

“Yes, Mr. Holloway, I really really want this boring job”, she says and steps further into the labyrinth.

We only get hints of what has driven Lee to carry a sewing kit with implements of torture ready at hand if emotional distress overwhelms her. She has been brought up in a family where pain is its middle name and relief has no name at all. And there’s even the implication that her only option out of the family is back in – – into a marriage with the boy next door, Peter (Jeremy Davis), who idealistically believes that playacting normal married people will solve all their problems. But what sticks Lee to her parents, what has kept her stuck to them – pain to pain – following their way, is a background not explored. But it is clear that addictive compliance to suffering is the home ground from which Lee must break away.

So, when Mr. Grey sneers at Lee’s pitiable presentation of herself, chastises her for sloppy performance and insists on mature behavior, he inadvertently fulfills a primitive, childlike need for caring and attention, setting Lee free to gleefully take control of herself. For the first time in her life, she is nobody’s daughter. She can FEEL because she is not bound to be numb for the sake of keeping peace for the sake of her parents. She is somebody – – a secretary. For the first time in her life, she refuses a ride from her mother and walks home alone! In her fantasies, she is lifted up into a woman of divine destiny serving a greater cause, becoming the sexual woman she is meant to be. She can choose, choose to descend into forbidden, bittersweet darkness of longing for love. She leaves behind being nice, agreeable and the apple of someone else’s eye. She follows her instincts, as politically incorrect as they may be, seeking excitement, delight and desire. Like Theseus, she holds on tight to a thin line of pleasure that got buried long ago. Not the point of a scissors but agonizing pangs of real feelings are breaking through as she searches for the core of the labyrinth where the deadly beast of ambivalence, division and stultification lives. As she goes deeper and deeper beneath surface appearances, Lee dares to sort bestial from beautiful.

Grey, of course, cringes while she sorts. He felt secure in his dominant status, sure that he could maintain control. He was expecting another quick death. Instead, softness invades him at the sight of her willing compliance. He feels her touching him, arousing him and driving him further toward his own vulnerability. This secretary is no ordinary young woman. She revels in her feelings and comes back for more. But he can’t stand to see her thriving on his brutish caring; he resists but he’s simultaneously intrigued. He’s even jealous of her boyfriend. If he can’t control her, he can’t control his feelings. But Lee won’t be quashed. She makes deliberate errors, inviting the slash of his pen and his demand to perfect herself. When errors no longer bring him to her, she resorts to a pointed non-verbal message that does the job. She pastes a dead worm in a letter and conveys to him that he is a man unworthy of her silence. His impeccable image tainted by a reflection he can’t ignore, Mr. E. Edward Grey rises to the challenge. He must make her wrong and, with his great red pen, circles the worm relentlessly and loses control. She has stolen his heart. As a last ditch effort to keep head and heart apart, he orders her to leave. But she refuses.

That’s it. Lee Holloway just refuses. In an allegory, the tables are often turned and, luckily for Mr. E. Edward Grey, he is powerless to turn his rules against her. She eludes him, and luckily for her, she does it in his office where friends and neighbors as well as her ex-boyfriend can find her so she doesn’t die of starvation. This isn’t Romeo and Juliet. When the monster at the center of this labyrinth is killed, Lee and Edward come out together. I can tell you that much.

In truth, Secretary is a date movie – fun, sexy and redemptive of romance. This modernized myth of man and woman sorting bestial from beautiful in the Secretary contains a secret, unexpected resolution. We know love is buggy. For the ‘piece de re-sis-tance’, the right ending for a nasty tale, you will have to see the film.

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11/09/02 Film Essay # , , ,

Vendredi Soir (Friday Night) (2002)

Vendredi Soir (Friday Night) (2002)
Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Claire Denis (screenplay), Emmanuèle Bernheim (novel)
Stars: Valérie Lemercier, Vincent Lindon, Hélène de Saint-Père

 

“Obscure but worth it. Seriously beautiful, incredibly sexy; a global gift of love from the French. Every woman – of any age – can use a Sir Gallahad to step forward on a cold and wet Friday Night, throw his coat across her jammed up state of mind and free her spirit so she can run with a smile into the next phase of her life.”

As the camera pans across rooftops of apartments in downtown Paris, it could be any large city. Millions of people entering a busy weekend – coming home from work, getting together for dinner or, as in the case of the young woman in Friday Night, packing up an apartment to move in with her lover. Laure has obviously spent the day sorting through her belongings, deciding what to keep and what to throw out. Two older women in her building peruse her trash, commenting on the pretty, girly things she’s discarding. Laure’s tired, straining to get finished. Finally, seeming a bit rushed, she jumps in the shower, changes clothes, and rushes to her car to make dinner at a friend’s house. The movers are due early the next morning.

As Laure quickly fluffs her wet hair in the heater of her car, a stranger taps on the window and asks for a ride. She refuses, locking her doors. His attempt adds to her distress. As she drives out of her building, she remembers there’s a transit strike, stops to phone her lover and let him know that she’ll still be there the next day. But she speaks with no enthusiasm. In a way that may be particularly French, Laure’s emotional state is reflected in an event affecting the whole city. Paris is at a standstill. Public transportation workers have gone on strike and everyone, like Laure, is stranded in a state of in-between.

Laure’s car moves at a snail’s pace in bumper to bumper traffic. Pedestrians are stranded, walking miles in wet freezing cold streets. Ah, we get it. Laure is leaving her single life, leaving her “I” to become a “We” – and she feels every bit as stuck, caught if you will, in a traffic jam of emotional distress. She feels the sacrifice of leaving her old life – her own choices and her idiosyncrasies – all mixed up with the anticipation of sharing, caring and building a life with a partner. There’s loss as well as gain. There’s anxiety about embracing the new, leaving the familiar and the free. Those cute lampshades she put out for the trash symbolize the loss of the frivolous, the sacrifice of a lightness of being.

Sitting in her car, out of control — going, going, going but slowly, slowly, slowly — Friday Night cinematically surrounds Laure in a dreamlike state of beauty. Exhausted, she literally struggles to keep her eyes open. She turns on the radio, listening to an announcer encourage drivers to take pity on people stranded in the cold by the strike and give them a ride. This time, when another stranger taps on her window, she lets him in. The brief introduction of first names only – “Laure, Jean” – belies her fear, second thoughts and more than a little distrust. Picking up a stranger is out of character for her. Jean, on the other hand, exudes a certain ease, confidence of character although he explains nothing, gives no reassurance and, seemingly, is heading nowhere in particular. He’s glad to be out of the cold, even though he’s going slower in her car than he would have on foot. This could be a dream.

As time passes, Laure feels challenged by the stranger’s presence. In one moment, Laure does in fact fall asleep. Then, she jolts awake, fearing what the stranger may have done. But she finds everything exactly the same. A critical point occurs when Laure has to leave her car to telephone her friends to tell them that the traffic is hopeless and she won’t make it for dinner. After the phone call, she panics. She can’t find her car, feeling certain Jean’s driven off and stolen it. She runs in the cold without her coat, looking for the car and talking to herself. In fact, she’s running in the wrong direction. Jean comes after her, gets her back safely into the warmth of the car. Now he’s at the wheel. He backs up with wild abandon – presumably on the other side of the street but actually into an open lane that could not possibly exist but – to our great relief – extricates them from the jam. But he’s defeated by her relentless distrust and calls it a night. He parks the car on a side street, walking away and leaving her on her own.

As Laure stands alone in the empty street, she faces a choice. Lampshade or packing boxes. On a whim, Laure follows Jean into a diner where he is on the verge of picking up another young woman. Instead, without a word spoken, their eyes meet and they understand each other. If he is not with her, he will be with someone else. If she doesn’t go with him, she will not get out of her jam. They are destined to cross through this Friday Night together.

The rest of Friday Night treats viewers to some of the most beautiful lovemaking to be found on an American movie screen today, yesterday and tomorrow. And, amazingly speaking, the first time they don’t even take off their clothes. ‘How many times’ blurs into endless pleasure. Possessiveness, control and concern melt into the moment. They’ve taken a room in a hotel, price reduced to accommodate people caught by the strike. But it’s off the beaten path and almost vacant. As Laure walks down the hall to the bathroom in the middle of the night wrapped in Jean’s coat and socks, she feels herself separate and lovely, exploring the delicious sensations of being alone within a man’s essence. Both worlds of experience exist simultaneously. We imagine her discovering a sense of herself as an individual that cannot be taken away from her. He sleeps while she wanders. He’s there when she returns. She slips back into bed. The morning has been decided. Her crisis resolved, we see the first smile on her face since we met her the night before.

Have I – somehow – left you with even an inkling of the stunning beauty with which Friday Night is filmed? If not, imagine standing on a cold, wet street in Paris – while simultaneously warm and comfy in your movie seat – watching cigarette smoke curling up and out of an ever so slightly open car window into the blurry glow of old-fashioned streetlights. This goes on and on…one incredibly beautiful shot after beautiful shot. Friday Night may be slow but when it’s over, you too will have a smile on your face. Very French. Viva la globalization of love.

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16/08/02 Film Essay # , , ,

Blue Crush (2002)

Blue Crush (2002)
Director: John Stockwell
Writers: John Stockwell, Lizzy Weiss
Stars: Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis

 

Do you remember the thrill you felt when Holly Hunter rose from the ocean depths in The Piano after she slipped her foot out of her boot and let her beloved piano sink to its watery grave? We heard Ada’s new voice – full of feeling – declare, “My will chooses life” as she gasped for breath and our hearts leapt forward. We shared the exhilaration of her narrow escape from a silence bred by judgement that women should be seen and not heard, cared for but not cared about and live happily ever after as caged birds who never sing.

In Blue Crush, Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) breaks through that same membrane of a clutching oceanic despair that her life isn’t worth living. But she does it as a modern girl, not one from a past century. This girl deliberately takes on the crushing waves that have nearly silenced her. And she does it time and time again until she conquers the fear – “girls don’t score”.

Yes, Blue Crush is a summer teen movie and, I cannot tell a lie, I was there simply to see the big waves on the big screen. So, when Anne Marie’s story kept tracking, revealing the powerful inside story of a young feminine hero who has already come of age and is now struggling to make it in the world against many, many odds, I was surprised. And I felt personally touched by this ordinary young woman – sexy, well-meaning and delightful – go for it. We don’t have enough movies where girls get the real challenge of spirit, following what Joseph Campbell popularized as their ‘bliss’ on the road less traveled. And while the traditional hero gets the girl as part of his package of winning and succeeding, the feminine hero meets the guy along the way and must risk losing him to achieve her goal. This movie captures that conflict and much more.

Anne Marie is back on her surfboard in the major Pipe Masters competition after an accident three years previous at this same location in Oahu. A treacherous reef lurks beneath the huge waves like Hades in the dark recesses of the earth, waiting to claim the fragile bodies that dare the awesome pipe waves it creates when they fall from their boards. Anne Marie’s fall nearly took her life. But she has returned to try again.

Anne Marie’s critical re-entry to competition is complicated when she meets a guy with real relationship possibility. Matt (Matthew Davis) may be a pro quarterback on vacation but he comes across as a stand-up guy who truly likes her. Matt presents Anne Marie with what all women know as ‘the heroic choice’ just five days before her day in the pipe. It’s not the man per se, not relationship vs. career per se; it’s the mythic moment when a woman becomes her own person. Like Ada in The Piano who knew Baines couldn’t solve her problem, Matt can’t give Anne Marie the solution to facing an age old fear that a girl can’t actualize her talents and step into society on her own two feet. There are many ways a girl can stay tucked into safety, fit into an old vision of woman as childlike and needy of a man to make her whole. Do you know that they actually say, “she’s laying her line” when a surfer enters the pipe? Could surfing the pipe be any more symbolic of a girl meeting the challenge of following her own path?

In Blue Crush, Anne Marie’s mother has left her daughters to go to Las Vegas with a man while Marie is surfing the same spot where she almost lost her life. Only from the mythic perspective that a girl faces her crossover moment to womanhood on her own, without a mother or parent present, can this be believed. And Anne Marie is not completely on her own, like the orphaned knight of many fairy tales. Since this is a feminine hero’s journey, she is not only tossed to the winds of chance and danger but she has a younger sister to look out for!

Fortunately, she has friends who share her dream, wanting her to succeed not just for herself but for women everywhere. One friend is a coach (Sanoe Lake), the other a personal cheerleader (Michelle Rodriquez). They both want to see her picture on the cover of magazines as ‘Teen Girl of the Year’. Her thirteen-year old sister, Penny (Mika Booren) is a brain, a good kid and lucky to have Anne Marie set an example of willful determination before her. When Anne Marie signs in, a friend is right behind her shoring up her confidence.

And Anne Marie is such a girl, not verging toward tomboy, rebel or toughie. She’s driven by feelings, guided by her desires, and wants to be liked for more than a cutie in a bikini. She takes a chance on Matt’s attraction to her, uses her feminine wiles to embarrass the celebrity football players who abuse privilege by leaving their hotel room utterly gross and then befriends them when they want to learn how to surf. She shies away when women who’ve won a place on the surfing circuit show up. She wants to earn their respect, not be the darling upstart. It’s impressive when one of these seasoned women breaks from singular ambition, reaches out to Anne Marie – a bit paralyzed before her run – and launches her down the face of the wave into the pipe. Somehow, we relax. Things are as they should be.

The challenges of a young feminine spirit will be met.

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08/02/02 Film Essay # , , ,

Amelie (2001)

Amelie (2001)
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writers: Jean-Pierre JeunetGuillaume Laurant
Stars: Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus

 

“Honey, take your honey. Amelie is a four star date movie.”

Amelie was already buzzing after its premier at the Telluride Film Festival. Now it’s sweeping up awards, gaining momentum and heading straight for an Oscar nomination. Everyone comes out of Amelie with a smile. Amelie is a “feel good” movie that makes every girl wish she’d started out as a wallflower and leaves every guy wishing he’d have the good fortune to have an Amelie fall in love with him. But Amelie also takes on some very hard questions of life and gives them a fresh spin.

For those of you wondering whether you are a prisoner of a dull or crazy childhood, Amelie sets you free. Whoever came together to put you on this earth, Amelie makes it clear that you were born to blossom. You are first and foremost a child of your imagination, free to make yourself up while eating raspberries off your fingers, skipping rocks across puddles and photographing cloud animals. Amelie’s very neurotic mother dies in a bizarre accident and you wonder – would it have been any better if her mother had lived? Probably not. Left alone to grow up with a reclusive father, not a bad man but one seriously out to lunch, you wonder – did he notice when she turned seventeen and walked out the door? Probably not. But you do.

Amelie may begin with the accident of birth – yes, a sperm literally swims across the screen to meet an egg, an awesome accident to be sure. But to be sure you don’t miss the point, Amelie’s life really begins with Princess Di’s car accident. Well, not really. That’s just the accident that causes the accident of finding a box hidden behind the tiles of her bathroom wall that sets Amelie off on a path of do-gooding that transforms her from a wallflower stuck inside her imagination into a young woman flying along on the back seat of a handsome young man’s motorbike. Amelie is a dream come true. She dreams herself from nobody to somebody.

Amelie celebrates the small, the silly and the insignificant. When you identify with this young woman who tends tables at The Twin Windmills Café wearing clothes so wildly colorful she’s part of her own technicolor background, you fall down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, you are as large as the girl on the screen. You give a man back a box he hid when he was a boy, feel the joy of his recovering long lost memories and you’re magical. You get bright ideas. You scheme to get people what they long for. You start a gossip chain that brings two lonely, nutty people together. You’re a matchmaker. You gaslight the grocer who ridicules his retarded helper, tricking him into believing that he’s losing his mind. He turns from mean to meek. You’re a savior. You befriend an old painter nicknamed The Glass Man with bones so brittle he has to pad his furniture. The video you send of a man with a peg leg dancing on his padded TV is a sight to behold. You even figure out a way to get your father out of the house and travel the world.

And then Amelie falls in love with a man after her own heart, a heart that (with a little help from special effects) visibly thumps and flashes in her chest when their eyes meet. He’s fishing torn photos out from under a photo booth in a train station. He puts people back together again after they’ve torn themselves apart. He collects these patched personas in a big notebook but he’s obsessed by a search for one man who regularly visits all the booths in all the train stations tearing himself up over and over again. Why would a man do such a thing? Is he a man afraid of death, seeking immortality in photographs? Is he trying to come into being, a ghost without an image until he sees himself? Amelie sets her mind to the quest. Who she finds will make you laugh.

But, now what? Amelie is a figment of her imagination and she’s fallen in love with a real man. He has a job. He has a hobby. He has a motorbike. He even has a name. Nino. But, does he have a girlfriend? Is he going to like her? Will he feel about her the same way she feels about him? Either she will have to cross the line, get out of her fantasy or lure him in. She does both. Just like a woman. She seeks him out. Then she retreats. She’s bold. She wears big black boots and photographs herself dressed up like Zorro. But she’s shy. She doesn’t confront. She draws blue arrows, slips him secret notes and gives him directions that bring him to her door. Then she doesn’t answer. If you didn’t love her so much by this time, you’d tear your hair out. Finally, The Glass Man socks it to her. Well, as much as an old man with brittle bones can. He sends her a video of himself saying, “It’s time for you to take a real risk. Of course, you can choose to live in a dream if you want to. You have a perfect right to mess up your own life.”

You know the end. All romantic comedies end the same way. First, one fantasy accidentally bumps into another. Then they get together. And then, since no two fantasies are ever the same, only the photo booth knows what will develop.

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14/12/01 Film Essay # , , ,

Vanilla Sky (2001)

Vanilla Sky (2001)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Writers: Cameron Crowe (screenplay), Alejandro Amenábar (film “Abre Los Ojos”), Mateo Gil (film “Abre Los Ojos”)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz

 

“Forget the critics, VANILLA SKY is a wake up call you don’t want to miss.”

It’s no secret. Tom Cruise lives in a dream world. So when Tom wakes up in a chic Central Park apartment, plucks a stray grey from his fine head of hair and roars downtown in a Ferrari to find the streets of Manhattan completely empty, we know we’re in for a wild ride. Just how wild is a surprise I won’t give away but trust me, you’re going to feel like that guy sitting in front of a TV getting your hair blown back by the force of possibility.

In Vanilla Sky, we never get far from Tom being Tom; he’s an icon of American life, living the American dream —— in life and in the

movies. When Tom keeps getting asked the question, “What makes you happy?” Vanilla Sky pushes a commonplace question onto a mythic plane. Tom embodies the “puer eternus” archetype, the eternal golden boy who never grows up, always on the lookout for the perfect woman. However, the character in this film is getting older, turning a critical thirty-three —— and even though Tom’s surely forty, he looks thirty, doesn’t he? With Tom in the lead, Vanilla Sky has no trouble conjuring up a confrontation with immortality worthy of a god. Heir to the American dream of happy endings and having it all, Tom as David Aames explores a brand new solution for beating the odds that goes beyond meeting the perfect woman.

David Aames burns bright as a familiar stereotype of the spoiled rich kid. In spite of his charm, good looks and his father’s billion dollar publishing empire, he hasn’t found love. David’s father and mother perished simultaneously in a car accident, leaving him at twenty-three with only a corporate board of old fogies to oversee his fun-loving approach to running the company. He treats the whole publishing world as a joke, preferring to play tennis or romp in the sack than attend board meetings. His current girlfriend, Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz) tops the charts as the quintessentially beautiful, blue-eyed blonde. And, though clearly one of long list, she’s seemingly a good match for David’s cavalier attitude about love. She plays his game. We don’t have to reach far for this fantasy. Julie epitomizes a guy’s dream girl, one who makes love like she’s in love —— with no strings attached. We’ve seen that male fantasy hit the dust in other movies but not quite like it does in this one. Even Fatal Attraction might stand aside.

At his birthday bash, David does what David does. He’s single, unattached and looking for love so he doesn’t invite Julie to the party. But she shows up anyway for a little tete-a-tete in the bedroom. Then David’s best friend walks in with an exotic cutie from the other side of the tracks. David meets her eyes across a crowded room and old-fashioned love is in the air. Sofia (Penelope Cruz) has two jobs and a dream of her own. She wants to be a dancer. David’s fascination with Sofia is not lost on Julie. Dressed like a siren in a red dress, Julie’s eyes bore into David’s back as he lights Sofia’s fire. David ignores Julie and takes Sofia home, spending an exquisite night with her doing everything but making love. David deftly avoids sex, which we learn when we discover that all of our viewing of David from the moment he woke up in a dream that morning is a flashback.

David is on trial for murder, incarcerated and wearing an eerie latex mask. He’s answering questions posed by a court-appointed psychologist to determine his sanity. Our perspective shifts. We’re no longer spectators. We’re inside David’s experience. David explains to Dr. McCabe (Kurt Russell) that he was savoring an exquisite edge of tension while he spent the night with Sophia. Even as he ran his thumb along the big question, “is she the one?” he was drawing out the sensual pleasure of the moment. He’s seen the end of love too often, preferring the intensity of anticipation to culmination. As he saunters out of Sofia’s warehouse loft the next morning, Julie drives up. She has an invitation for him. Would he like to hop in the sack with her one more time, satisfy that urge that she knows he’s been building up all night —— one last freebie for old time’s sake before he moves on?

David gives us several delicious moments of deliberation as testosterone struggles with good sense. Men lashed themselves to the mast for a good reason when the sirens sang. But, stereotypes reign. David, in spite of his millions, believes his true power lies in his charm. He can’t resist Julie’s ‘too good to believe’ offer. Imagine, she wants him even though he’s moving on to another woman. Imagine, she’s not judging him. And Julie, in spite of her brains and beauty, can’t stand a smalltime ‘moth’ woman getting her man. She’s played the game; she deserves the prize. She plies all her wiles to draw David into the car with her.

He makes the choice, takes the ride. But then Julie snaps. She gives him a brief peek in what lies beneath the surface when a woman gives her all to a man. She tells him she loves him. But caught up in an egoistic storm of jealousy, her love takes a turn as old as the hills. Julie would rather die than live without him. And, sadly, she does. She drives them off a bridge at eighty miles an hour into a wall of tragedy. David survives, but his face is disfigured, his body broken, his spirit crushed. It’s tough enough to see anyone disfigured but when the victim is an icon of male youth and beauty, a contagion of deep grief invades the heart. Even knowing it’s just a movie didn’t prevent my longing for a restoration of the joy that had just disappeared with that face. Later, Sofia, speaking from a soft voice of wisdom, will say to him, “I wish you hadn’t gone with her.”

David’s down. And we’re only a third into the story.

If you had a billion dollars, would you go to the moon? What makes you happy? How do you get across the line from youth to the long life that lies ahead after you sprout grey hairs, can’t charm the pants off the most beautiful woman in the room and realize money buys everything but love? When we lose the illusion of immortality, we discover an awesome crosshatching of past, present and future realities in our minds that film can allude to even if not capture entirely.

Vanilla Sky crosshatches David’s moment of decision facing that mythic question, “what makes you happy?” with the real, the surreal and just plain vanilla fantasy. We see the good, the bad and the ugly. We respond to visual tricks showing how we make life up out of images that stir our emotions. I myself have walked New York streets feeling the pleasure of a cold morning moment, imagining myself holding Bob Dylan’s arm. I’ve danced at parties feeling Coltrane’s magical presence in the room. I’ve felt childhood needs override good sense. And I’ve dreamt nightmares that woke me up. David tells the psychologist he’ll think he’s crazy if he tells him what happened. Yet, in movies, we accept slipping from one reality to another as perfectly normal. Vanilla Sky offers its fair share of realities.

Sofia’s softly spoken oracle speaks volumes, “Every passing moment is another moment to start over again.” I think Vanilla Sky has something like this in mind when it likens the sky above New York to the sky that Monet painted one day many days ago. It’s a sky full of dreams —— if we open our eyes.

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19/09/01 Film Essay # , , ,

No Man’s Land (2001)

No Man’s Land (2001)
Director: Danis Tanovic
Writer: Danis Tanovic
Stars: Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic

 

“NO MAN’S LAND tells you everything you never wanted to know about war, making you shake your fist at the sky and shout ‘there’s got to be a better way’.”

No Man’s Land may be subtitled but it is by no means foreign in the conventional sense of the word. Bosnian writer-director Denis Tanovic’s winner of the Golden Globe for best foreign film and favored nominee for an Oscar asks a question close to the bone. “Why war?” What’s war got to do with the problems we face coming together as a world of neighbors?

I’m hoping, of all the films you have an opportunity to see this Oscar season, that you will seek out No Man’s Land. There is no other film so relevant to the challenges of getting along in today’s world. Clearly, foreign no longer means distant. No Man’s Land may take place halfway around the world in the fields of Bosnia but its enemies are neighbors. They know each other. The two men caught in the film’s ‘no man’s land’ —— a trench between enemy lines —— speak each other’s language!

That’s funny. Oddly, No Man’s Land is funny. It may be the funniest, real war film you’ve ever seen. But beware, humor has a way of opening us up, taking us deeper and deeper into the true emotional core of something we don’t like to look at too closely. From the film’s opening scenes of a Bosnian relief squad lost in a fog following a guide who doesn’t know where he’s going, we chuckle along with the soldiers at the absurdity of it all. As day dawns, we’re amused for a moment to find the Bosnians still lost, blinded this time by the sun, scratching their heads wondering where they are. Then we find them —— in the crosshairs of Serbian guns. Blam, swivel and find. Blam, aim and fire. We are stunned to see single shots kill Bosnians like rabbits in the grass. Background the humor, horror leaves us shaking our heads in despair, holding back tears of wonder and frustration.

Then we drop in behind Serbian and Bosnian front line troops complying with a certified cease-fire. The gift of No Man’s Land is its ability to open our hearts to a simple fact. Nice, normal, ordinary human beings kill and get killed in wars. We experience more amusement as we observe neither side wanting to deal with the murders that just took place due to bad luck and bad rules. Serbian soldiers hang back not wanting to risk their own lives checking out whether the Bosnians they’ve shot are dead. The Bosnian soldiers decide to simply wait to see if “anything changes…see if the dead walk” as they put it. It’s a cease-fire after all. See what I mean, funny in an odd sort of way. Neighbors killing each other without any real desire to do so.

Through a set of circumstances best left discovered by seeing the film, a Bosnian and Serb end up together in a trench dividing the two front lines with a third Bosnian lying atop a spring-loaded helicopter mine. All three are wounded. This ‘No Man’s Land’ incident gives rise to a drama that —— if it weren’t so tragic —— would have you laughing in the aisles. Perhaps the last film to broach this level of absurdity in war was Catch 22. No one knows what to do. No one wants to rock the boat. No one wants to act. In order to wave white rags of truce, Serb and Bosnian strip to their skivvies to avoid being identified by either side and shot. Ironically, both sides react with heavy fire and bombing!

To whom can these men appeal, we might wonder? Both sides want these men to disappear because they represent a violation of the cease-fire. In peacetime, no one wants to be accused of pulling a gun. In frustration, a French UN peacekeeper acts against orders from headquarters to sit tight, moving in to offer help. But when he arrives at the trench, he finds a situation virtually unsolvable by ordinary means. The global press moves in, waves a flag of its own and leaves the true issue untouched. Our only hope lies with the two men who speak the same language. We long for the intimacy that has developed between the two men to prevail, rising above the madness of rules, regulations and contrived enmities. For heaven’s sake, they’ve shared the same girlfriend before the war. But oddly, now, help is straining their relationship to the breaking point.

One man holds out hope that the other will form an alliance with him, see that they are in this together. He believes there’s a solution in sticking together in spite of their differences. Two men against the world. But the other feels sure that there is no way out. Only personal survival counts. He takes no side, trying to hide inside the shadow of authority. They betray each other, each in their own turn desperately taking matters into their own hands and making matters worse. Although it would be easy, even just, to assign blame for what happens to a lack of trust, that’s fundamental to war. The culprit in No Man’s Land is the fact of ‘no man’s land’ as an area beyond will, force or logic. If ever there were a time to shake one’s fist at the skies and cry…or cry out, this is it.

As I sat waiting for the next film to show after “No Man’s Land” at the Telluride Film Festival, a man approached from my left looking for his seat to my right. At the same time, a man a few seats to my right decided to go for popcorn. They met just at my knees. Each looked the other in the eye with clear intent that they had the right of way. Pulling my knees in as far as possible didn’t help. But all of a sudden, we started to laugh. We recognized where we were. We were caught in ‘no man’s land’. The popcorn man backed up, taking his seat so the other could pass. Unfortunately, there’s no backing up in “No Man’s Land”. Only forward motion was considered acceptable, resulting in something worse than no motion at all.

When knowing —— even caring about “the other” —— fails to prevent stupidity, defensiveness and denial of responsibility, we must all give thought to what it really, really means to be at war and also, how intimate war is. What’s left behind in “No Man’s Land” when the credits roll and the lights go up leaves a brain twister that doesn’t go away easily. “What would I have done?” or better yet, What could I have done?”

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08/06/01 Film Essay # , , , ,

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso CuarónCarlos Cuarón
Stars: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Daniel Giménez Cacho

 

“Y Tu Mama Tambien throws propriety to the wind. A young Latina woman not only bolts from her role as dutiful wife but takes a swipe at patriarchy as she initiates two young men into a realization of masculinity far beyond macho.”

Well you might ask. What happens when a young, married Latina woman steps away from the yoke of traditional female forbearance of a cheating husband to joyride with two rowdy adolescent males celebrating their last summer of freedom before going off to college? And what accounts for her choice?

As the threesome drive out of Mexico City into the countryside toward a faraway beach, a bricklayer knocked off his bike by an automobile delays traffic. It will be three days before anyone identifies the corpse. It will be three days before we know who Luisa is.

And the true identities of Tenoch and Julio (the suavely naïve Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal), two young men who run into their cousin’s young but older wife, Luisa (a lithe swift talking Maribel Verdu), at a wedding will also not be known for several days. Luisa, driving with determination but without intention to an unknown destination, will accidentally initiate them into sexual complexities they could have lived a lifetime without knowing – and will, no doubt, take a lifetime to unravel.

Tenoch and Julio are best friends. Tenoch comes from a wealthy family of privilege while Julio hopes his brains will give him a ticket to better things. They essentially ignore being from different sides of the track, swearing a blood brother friendship — charlostras. They have a manifesto of loyalty to one another. Julio and Tenoch take pride in their quickie sex lives with steady high school girlfriends who have gone off to Europe for the summer. They compete with each other in masturbating contests in broad daylight on parallel diving boards and share grandiose fantasies of sexual conquests. While attending a wedding together, they get the bright idea of hustling the lovely Luisa, their cousin’s wife who is a few years older. They invite her to take a ride with them to the beach, enticing her with descriptions of a hidden cove called Boca del Cielo that only they know about. They are, of course, making the whole thing up. They have no idea where a hidden cove at an isolated beach might be. At first she just laughs them off. But then, seemingly devastated by a phone call from her husband admitting that he’s having an affair, Luisa calls Julio and says yes, she’ll go. Taken off guard by what they view as a stroke of unexpected good luck, they scramble quickly to borrow a car and figure out what direction to go. Luisa dumps stuff in a bag and they’re off.

On the way, midst much jocular conversation, Luisa again surprises them. She seduces Tenoch. Then, when Julio becomes jealous, she has sex with him as well — casually, in a matter of fact manner, in the back of the car while Tenoch is driving. She exposes how easily each can be seduced, foregoing any pact they’ve made with each other. This completely turns the tables from fun to fury, bringing out the fierce but suppressed side of the competition between them. Luisa asks, point blank, wasn’t this what they both wanted? Wasn’t she just making a fantasy come true? Perhaps. But, her willingness to fulfill the fantasy guts the game between them and, for the first time, they face reality. Confessions flow. Tenoch has slept with Julio’s girlfriend and vice versa – more than once. Whatever fabric of control they created between them is gone. Their ‘charlostra’ contract looks silly; they’ve broken every rule. Now, without the restraint of a pact, their relationship really heats up. Emotions run strong. They physically fight and verbally attack one another. Luisa decides it’s time for her to make some rules and, if they want her to stay with them on the trip, she’ll be the boss.

As the threesome move closer to the beach, illusion and reality begin to merge. They enter another world when their car breaks down and they are thrown on the mercy of people poorer than poor who generously help them. Luisa finds and is given a doll by an old woman that has her name on it. By a fluke, at the end of a road picked more by desperation than decision, they wake up to a curve of sand by the sea beyond their wildest fantasy. Held quiet by beauty without agenda, they’re very far outside the familiar. And the guys are following Luisa’s rules, requiring them to shut up and do what she says. She’s established a different kind of order where truth reigns and secret cravings emerge. Somewhere along the line, Tenoch and Julio realize that things are turning out a lot different than they imagined. Then, an odd little man shows up in a boat, taking them to a restaurant he runs with his wife under a tent where they eat, dance, get drunk and let their emotions run free into the night.

Luisa begins to make love to Tenoch and Julio simultaneously. And then, stepping away from them as mysteriously as she stepped away from her husband, she leaves them. Caught in the heat of passion, Julio and Tenoch continue having sex with each other, finally venting the pent up attraction they’ve felt for one another that’s been submerged beneath a heavy legacy of egoistic competition between men. The next morning Luisa says goodbye to boys who have become men. Tenoch and Julio are left with a reality that has no words. What Luisa has released in them is more startling than revelations about their desire for sex with the same woman, transforming their beliefs about male identity. She pulls back a veil of truth, showing their notions of heterosexuality to be as flimsy as their pact.

On this trip to fantasy land, Luisa blossoms into a woman she could not have known as the good wife. She breaks away from a programmed passivity and deference, awakening two young men to a world of feelings for one another they didn’t know existed and would’ve never known if they had not crossed her path. In a moment of celebration, they may all drink ‘to the clitoris’ but Luisa’s daring comes from another source. She’s close to a destiny that goes beyond the destiny of her sex.

Remember Y Tu’s metaphor — the accidental collision with death as its end where the true identity of the corpse will not to be known until sometime in the future? Y Tu Mama Tambien taps into the ancient Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne showing what happens to men who insist on possessing the essence of female sexuality. They find themselves in an embrace with their own true nature. Tenoch and Julio return to ordinary life, having lost not only their innocence but their illusions of control. Luisa stays behind – as she says, ‘like the surf on the sea’ — on a pristine beach about to be taken over by developers.

On a trip half real and half fantasy, Tenoch, Julio and Luisa make their way through the Mexican countryside to the beach, encountering extreme poverty, military domination and social uncertainty. They see their culture undergoing change, losing an innocence of isolation that may, indeed, require a different kind of man in roles of leadership, married to its women and fathering its children. But will Tenoch and Julio integrate Luisa’s lesson of men loving men — or will tradition be too strong?

None of them will meet again. Well, technically, that’s not true. We see Tenoch and Julio say a last goodbye in a diner where we learn of Luisa’s fate – one she knew all along while we waited in the dark for a few hours to discover who she was.

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25/05/01 Film Essay # , , ,

Memento (2000)

Memento (2000)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writers: Christopher NolanJonathan Nolan (short story)
Stars: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

 

Memento rides Oscar momentum so, hurry, catch it up on the big screen. See if you can figure out who killed Lenny’s life —— oops, I meant wife.”

By the end of Memento, I felt like I was inside Lenny Shelby (brilliantly played by the stunning Guy Pearson), an insurance agent who can’t form new memories after his wife dies in a bizarre accident. I wasn’t sure who had done what to whom or if what I’d seen had happened at all. But if you were to ask me what I’d seen as we walked out of the theatre, I’d give you a good story and believe it myself. In spite of my certainty that I couldn’t know anything for sure, I’d act as if I did. And soon you would join me figuring out whether we were in or out of sync with reality, both of us driven by a mysterious force to make sense out of what we’re talking about.

Lenny Shelby, believes that if he can – somehow – find out who murdered his wife. Then he can – somehow – kill him. And then he can – somehow – restore his peace of mind. Find the killer and kill him. That’s the simple story of Memento. Before his wife died, Lenny had a life – a routine, love and confidence. Now he has motel rooms, friends he doesn’t recognize and an identity he can’t be sure of. If he can just find the man who murdered his wife, he believes he can get back what he’s lost, his true reality. Lenny is desperate, crazily searching for a sense of himself that once seemed god given, natural and forever.

At its core, however, Memento opens up into a larger story, yielding a rare peek into a quest usually hidden from view, buried deep in the unconscious. It’s as if Lenny meets the Sphinx, a fabulous being of several heads, various animals and the snapping tail of a dragon. The Sphinx is said to watch over an ultimate meaning that must remain forever beyond the understanding of man. Lenny searches for the secret of sanity in a world of shifting images, messages and recollections. Perhaps his true quest is for an answer to an ancient riddle – “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it fall, does it make a noise?” Lenny may say “the world doesn’t just disappear when you close your eyes” but for him, events disappear minutes after they’ve occurred. And then what evidence can he possibly use to prove an event ever happened? Testimony from someone who was there? Did the murder of his wife actually happen —— and did it happen the way he thinks it did? The tree fell but did it make a noise if he can’t remember what happened?

Across Lenny’s chest, there’s an indelible tattoo of a fact he doesn’t want to forget —— “John G raped and murdered my wife”. But he —— and we —— can only read the message when he looks in the mirror, at a possibly soulless, two-dimensional reflection of himself. Hope and rage drive Lenny to compulsively track his wife’s killer, never doubting that he’s progressing toward recovery of his loss. If the killer can be stopped, he can get his life back. He believes killing the killer is the key to recovering his ability to make new memories and his sanity. I found myself dropping logic and entering Lenny’s frustration at not being able to remember events, his handwriting the sole clue that he once believed what he’d written. As Lenny moves through collapsing reflections captured quickly by a Polaroid camera, only his burning desire to find his wife’s killer holds him together.

Lenny justifies his drive for revenge in an intense speech to Teddy (Joe Pantoliana) —— a sinister, ever-confounding friendly cop who plays as good a demon of confusion as you’re ever going to see outside your own mind. “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”, Lenny argues. Cultural as well as ephemeral, time is critical to sanity. But feeling time is an invention of a mind plagued by its loss. It may be romantic to think of living continually in the moment, never besieged by an emotional invasion from the past. But being in the moment takes on new meaning when memory fails, disconnecting past from present and present from future, leaving its owner stranded in between. Without the ability to form new memories, Lenny’s like a naked man in a dream, exposed and defenseless. It’s a frightening realization. One who can’t keep track of what’s happening can be easily led down dangerous paths.

The extent of Lenny’s vulnerability becomes wrenchingly apparent when he can’t discern that Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss), the flawed beauty behind a bar who invites him home has just served him a pint of beer that she, a stranger and he himself has spit in. And Natalie doesn’t stop at teasing. She tricks and exploits him, becoming a vehicle for propelling him deeper into the spiraling whorl of reflections that he believes is his salvation. Mementonow asks a harder question of the Sphinx than the first one —— “if a man were there when the tree fell but doesn’t remember the noise the tree made when it fell, what’s going to happen to him?” In other words, what happens when the psyche can’t, won’t or doesn’t —— for any reason whatsoever —— keep up with the bombardment of information most of us find common to everyday modern living?

I believe Memento may be visionary, bringing to light a palpable fear barely speakable, perhaps only askable to ourselves in the morning mirror when the answer lies buried beneath a need to get on with the day. This isn’t about Alzheimers; Lenny is a young man. This is about a loss of memory from an unknown source, not far from something we all experience from time to time. Lenny struggles to keep track of what’s required and what’s needed to navigate practicalities as well as achieve his goal. He’s lost “it“, whatever “it” is that makes it possible to keep up a pretense of sanity. We all fake recognition of name, a person or an object when we feel on the spot. As long as we can remember what’s expected, we’re in the game. Our recognition of protocol provides protection, a thin line but still solid. However, danger lurks nearby; will we soon mistake the ad showing a hamburger for the real thing and try to eat the menu? Layering the murder of Lenny’s wife with an obliteration of short term memory, Memento poses yet another a pressing question of modern times, “of what do we become capable and of what do we become victim without the ability to form new memories?”

Certainly Memento qualifies as a complex murder mystery. I’m still trying to figure it out. Christopher Nolan who won numerous awards from his screenplay cleverly structures the film to keep multiple possibilities vying for truth right up to the end. Track Lenny’s system. Don’t miss the tricky turns. And you will also tap into the profundity of the questions raised byMemento, asked of the Sphinx —— the one who lies behind the doors of perception. Lenny’s plight rouses alarm for what happens when memory loses its race with time. It’s as if a silent killer lies in the psyche, capable of wiping out a security once taken for granted. Lenny himself may be the one he seeks. That is, the one suffering may be the one guilty. Diving into the fearsome depths of death by memory loss throws Memento into a chasm of human mystery far beyond Lenny’s drive for revenge.

Restore your own memory after watching Memento; watch it again. The murder, like Guy Pearson’s fine physique, acts like a pair of broad shoulders from which a tailored suit hangs in perfection, taking you – not just Lenny – on a trip across a threshold from which you will return, changed and thoughtful. Memento is nothing if not a gift of effect —— engaging us directly in our primary need to track events in order to feel safe.

 

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13/04/01 Film Essay # , , ,

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Director: Sharon Maguire
Writers: Helen Fielding (screenplay), Andrew Davies (screenplay), Richard Curtis (screenplay), Helen Fielding (novel)
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant

 

“Worried about your weight and feeling sorry for yourself? Put all the bad stuff in your diary and take all the good stuff to the office!”

Bridget Jones’s Diary surprised me. The media pitched Bridget as a plump thirty-two year old feeling sorry for herself because she isn’t married. And then – like wow, somehow – she captures the eye of her playboy boss as well as the heart of London’s most eligible, just divorced bachelor. This pushed a few too many “dream on, honey” buttons for me. When I rented the video, I fully expected to fast forward through Ms. Jones’s antics, amusing myself with yet another predictable romantic comedy where mishap overcomes mismatch and ends happily ever after.

But, as I said, I was surprised.

I think you’ll agree that Bridget Jones (girl next door, Renee Zellweger) falls in that category of normal weight that turns into overweight when summer requires a bathing suit. You’re looking at magazine models and thinking “maybe I’ll go for the one-piece with see-through mesh at the waist instead of a bikini”. Even in a “fat girl” designer wardrobe, Bridget doesn’t seem particularly overweight on the big screen until the skinnie-minnie ad agent from New York shows up. Then the camera lines them up in direct competition across the handsome shoulders of Daniel Cleaver, Bridget’s bad-boy boss and lover (an ever charming, Hugh Grant) while he pits one against the other. Bridget didn’t have any trouble attracting this guy when she wore her mini-skirt to the office, nor a moment’s problem arousing him to perform his sexiest tricks in the sack. And he comes back for more. Apparently at any weight, a mini-skirt is a powerful thing while skin deep beauty –– even at the thinnest of weight –– barely lasts through the night.Bridget Jones’s Diary makes the weight issue a non-issue.

Then, even more surprising perhaps, Bridget Jones’s Diary reveals the truth about a subtle but growing pressure for young women to fit into the career girl image. Bridget, a “girly” girl –– one who is sweet, sensual, caring and delightful but also a bit scattered, politically inept, not especially ambitious nor particularly intellectual –– struggles to feel okay about herself. The problem is that while many women have learned the tricks of getting validated in the public world, that validation still depends on male-dominated values. You gotta perform. Or you gotta be married. Or, preferably you gotta be both. Just being yourself to the max is a fantasy of fulfillment perpetrated by the media without a very close look at how “the max” –– at the minimum –– means fitting into a tight skirt, getting a glam job and being articulate at critical moments.

We may worry a little about what’s going to happen to Bridget after the movie ends. They’ve puffed up her image as a fledgling journalist who wins national acclaim for a first interview, arranged by you know who –– London’s most eligible. But he’s the same guy scripted to make a big point about liking her for who she is, not the professional she could be. So for now, we can love her good-hearted spirit, wacky friends and willingness to go out on a limb to chase a feeling that doesn’t quite fit into a real sentence. I’d like girls to feel okay about staying “girly” as they grow into women if that’s what “being one’s self to the max” means to them. Loving and living would be a lot more in sync, and a lot more fun. I believe Bridget Jones’s Diary makes this point.

And, making another point that was made best by Mae West, Bridget Jones’s Diary puts forth the London lawyer, Mark Darcy (Jane Austin era, Colin Firth), as a man “better looked over than overlooked”. Another stereotype goes center stage for scrutiny. Women often believe they have to choose between adventurous and stable when choosing a mate. But I believe Darcy, “the boring guy with a wild passion under his overcoat waiting for a snowy day” makes a statement for men not women. Mark’s been dumped by his wife, wears tacky gift attire to family Christmas parties and can’t muster a facial expression past a longing puppy. This hardly seems like a man to give Hugh Grant a run for his money. However, Mark proves to be a wolf under grandma’s clothes as well as a stand-up guy, making grand romantic gestures just when they’re needed.

Who thought this guy up? Whoever! Open the closet, guys!

Mark proves there really isn’t anything about being quiet, high-powered, ambitious and well-mannered that disqualifies a man from cooking up a frightfully good evening of fun, fighting with his fists as well as his head and being a great kisser. And you gotta love that new diary thing. Here’s a man who seems to trust that a woman putting all that bad stuff in a diary makes for a lot of good stuff in real life. Maybe we’re headed for a sequel –– and maybe Bridget will fulfill my dream as Mark’s beloved, staying pure of heart and surprising us with soups of many colors.

P.S. Dare I mention Bridget’s mum? She wakes her husband out of the dark ages when men took their wives for ninnies, freshening up her marriage with –– as I said, dare I mention it –– an outrageous fling to match a Hugh Grant escapade any day.

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