Tuesday, November 4, 2008


So, as I've said, I've had occasion to see quite a few films in the last week so I'll do a quick write up for each one.

At the Dylan Thomas Centre last Monday I saw The Edge of Love, the Dylan Thomas movie that premiered at the DTC this summer. My friend Jo has kept tabs on the film since they were filming it in Swansea and the Gower—well, she’s kind of the PR-person, jill-of-all-trades at the DTC—so it’s no surprise she was there, promoting the film on its DVD release. Matthew Rhys’ parents were there as well. As historical fact the film deviates in some undeniable ways, and one remarkable deviation from fact in the court room scene makes Dylan into a villain, for no real purpose that I can find. However, Rhys does a great job as Dylan—the dynamic dualism of his silly, playful, boyish nature and the towering-voiced Welsh poet. I was rather impressed with Keira Knightley’s Welsh accent. She was Vera Phillips, a childhood sweetheart of Dylan’s who, back in his life in 1940 during the Blitz, complicates things with his wife Cat (Sienna Miller). Vera in fact marries William Killick who goes off to fight in Greece while Vera, Dylan, and Cat enjoy a rather bohemian existence in houses on the Gower (complete with all kinds of adultery and affairs, an abortion, drunkenness, etc, etc). Those who know me won’t be surprised that I thought Cillian Murphy was the stand-out as Killick, but I have to concede that all the actors were really good, even Sienna Miller who you know I’m not a fan of. War-time London and Wales were equally well-evoked. I thought it was quite enjoyable.

Adi had me over at his house on Thursday and we watched two films. I’ve been meaning to see Persepolis for ages, and I still have yet to get the graphic memoir upon which the film is based. I had heard that it was unmissable, and I’d be curious to see the original French-language version. The animation style is (mostly) black-and-white, and while it’s quite simplistic it’s very effective. The studio in France that animated it used the old-fashioned hand-drawn method, with outstanding results. The story is of Marjane Satrapi who grows up to see the fall of the Shah in Iran, fights the confining regime thereafter by wearing Michael Jackson badges and “punk” shoes, before leaving the country to study in Vienna. In Vienna she struggles with fitting in and remaining true to her identity. She has several heartbreaking encounters with men before she finds herself on the streets and collapses from pneumonia. Back in Iran she marries, divorces, and returns again to Europe, uncertain where she belongs. From that perspective I can identify. Despite the death, torture, imprisonment, loneliness, and despair inherent in such a memoir, it is incredibly funny in places due to Marjane’s frankness, guided by the example of her beloved grandmother. Everyone should see this film.

Then we watched Blue from the Colors Trilogy. Obviously being a Francophile I’d heard of these films but had never sat down to watch them. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with Blue. Perhaps I’m just too dumb to get films like that, but I found it slow-moving, baffling, and rather pointless. In a featurette included on the DVD, Krzysztof Kieslowski explained how much work it took to set up a five-second shot of a sugar cube absorbing hot coffee, and more importantly, that we were supposed to understand that Juliette Binoche’s character Julie was so absorbed in her own world from the amount of concentration she put into this five-second activity. If there had been guidance for every moment in the film like this, perhaps I would have seen it in another way. I sympathized with Julie’s losing her husband and daughter in a car accident, the truth of their relationships painstakingly revealed as the film went on, but I couldn’t understand why she didn’t work, why the rats were included, why she went to the sex shop in Pigalle, etc, etc. The music, as the dead husband was a composer, was perhaps the most moving part of the film.

On Saturday night I watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by myself since no one was interested in watching it with me. I picked it up at the library because I was looking for Nosferatu but they had this instead—and I’d just heard a radio adaptation of the film (more on that later) and was curious about the source material. I do tend to like silent horror films (Phantom of the Opera in 1925 is perhaps the best version), though I confess because I was sitting next to the radiator in the dark with jack-o-lanterns providing the only light, I did start to nod off! It seems to me the epitome of German Expressionist cinema—the sets were moody and nightmarish, like a Munch painting, designed by Walter Reimann, Hermann Warm, and Walter Roehrig. Though the whole thing seemed very stage-bound (like 1960s Doctor Who), it was rather a remarkably frightening achievement for 1919. Dr Caligari has terrifyingly demon-like face, and his somnambulist (Cesare who’s been asleep for 23 years!) is fascinatingly androgynous. The twist at the end is great, very Poe-like, though I have to wonder what kind of a draw a sleeping person is really going to have for a fair audience! The connection to the Dr. Caligari of 1703 reminded me of the Pied Piper as presented in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode about clowns.

And now for something entirely different . . . my friend Martha recommended the Australian film Candy to me, and since I’m sort of (and sheepishly) going through Heath Ledger’s back catalogue I picked it up when I saw it in the library. I’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s character suffer from drug withdrawal in Basketball Diaries, but that certainly didn’t make me immune to Abbie Cornish and Ledger as junkies desperately trying to keep clean when she’s found to be pregnant (and the resulting miscarriage is grotesque and heartbreaking). On the one hand, I find the junkie lifestyle baffling. How can you let yourself get to the point where the only work you can do to make money is prostitute yourself (which they both end up doing) and still pretend everything is okay? Fortunately I’ve never been a position where I’ve had drug dependence so certainly a little empathy is in order—though the relationship of the two lovers is presented, too, like an addiction. I really loved Geoffrey Rush’s character (has anyone ever played as many diverse roles as Geoffrey Rush?) so between the three of them you basically have the luminaries of the Australian acting community (I guess you’d have to add Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, and Hugh Jackman to make it a real all-star act). Since all I really know about Australia comes from films, it’s another shading added to my perception of the place. You don’t know if the main characters are going to be all right by the time the film ends—having passed through heaven, earth, and hell—but you hope life isn’t going to get any worse for them.

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