First Friday Films | Take One

First Friday Films | Take One
Subtitles & Split-screens

In August I indulged an a-typical lull in my schedule with a veritable film fest. I work in higher-ed and while the rest of the world was vacationing just prior to the new academic year, I was squinting at subtitles and split screens in the cool A/C of my living room.

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

When this Italian film premiered at Cannes in 1960, the audience absolutely hated it. They heckled the screen, walked out, you'd have thought it was stand-up at the Apollo. After the screening, a number of critics banded together and published a letter in the festival bulletin endorsing the film. Although it was entertaining to read the back story of L'Avventura's premiere, it seems fairly typical. Critics tend to praise what the public hates and vice versa. I have to side with the critics on this one. I thought the film was well-paced, lush, and gorgeous (and not just because Monica Vitti is ridiculously beautiful).

The word "avventura" appears only once in the screenplay and in spoken Italian it can either mean "adventure" or "fling." The basic plot follows a cadre of bourgeois 20-30 somethings drifting aimlessly (think Fitzgerald's Paris 40 years earlier) until a girl from their boating party suddenly goes missing. The boyfriend of the missing girl soon makes advances on the missing girlfriend's best friend, who eventually responds in kind.

Antonioni, in a statement at Cannes, said that we are all "burdened with a heavy baggage of emotional traits which cannot exactly be called old and outmoded, but rather unsuited and inadequate. They condition us without offering us any help, they create problems without suggesting any possible solutions." He doesn't justify, rationalize, or psychoanalyze the boyfriend's actions, or the best friend's reactions, for that matter (though the Cannes audience clearly did). In his opinion, it is what it is. (What is the Italian equivalent of c'est la vie?). His point is that the social mores that would either endorse or condemn the "avventura" are irrelevant.

Antonioni continued, "Every day, every emotional encounter gives rise to a new avventura. For even though we know that the ancient codes of morality are decrepit and no longer tenable, we persist [...] afraid of the moral unknown. Starting out from this point of fear and frustration, [we] can only end in a stalemate." Which is exactly how the film ends. At first it doesn't feel like a satisfying ending. It's one of those endings where you stare at the blank screen thinking, "What?! Seriously?" But when you understand that it's not intended to satifsy, and that it actually intends to alienate you, you realize how genius the film is.

Time Out
Director: Laurent Cantent

Throughout the entire film I thought of both Sloan Wilson's "Man in a Grey Flannel Suit" and John Updike's "Rabbit, Run." The common theme being the plight of bored suburban men. Culturally we are conditioned to focus more attention on the kept housewife popping Prozac and crawling out of her skin. Rarely do we consider, or allow, how difficult and tedious marriage, kids, and a 9-5 can be for men.

This is a French film, begging the assumption that the marriage malaise is trans-cultural. The man in this film goes so far as to construct an elaborate but fake career, travel itineraries, investment deals, an entire second life outside his marriage and kids. The crescendo of the film is when his wife, children, and friends intersect with his patchwork of lies.

It was a very slow-moving and quiet film, and yet it was creepy enough to hold my attention. I kept waiting for the grand climax when the story would unravel in a burst of fireworks and drama; but it's not a slap-you-across-the-face American film and so it remained esoterically French through and through. I liked it and thought it served as interesting social commentary, but I wouldn't watch it a second time.

Conversations with Other Women
Director: Hans Canosa
Writer: Gabrielle Zevin

This film debuted at Telluride in 2005 and proceeded to travel the international festival circuit, making its first theatrical debut in France in June of last year. It can now be found at a Redbox near you.

Aaron Eckhart (yum) and Helena Bonham Carter (perfection) play "man" and "woman," respectively. It seems at first a simple tale of a wedding hook-up via a bride's maid's one-night stand with the bride's brother. Only it's not that simple (it never is) and as the story unravels, the movie throws serious punches and surprises. As soon as it ended, even before the credits rolled, I went right back to the opening menu and started it a second time. I loved it even more than the first go-round.

I mention the writer and the director because both are insanely brilliant and are names-to-know. The script is fresh and honest and witty and sexy. It's one of those scripts where you blush half way through the film and think, "I don't know the writer, do I? How does he know that about me? Was that out loud?" Brilliant. Canosa and Zevin worked in perfect tandem to create this work of art. I don't throw that term around lightly because it's become so irrelevant, but this film is truly Art.

The entire film is hand-held and still cams. The entire film is split screen the entire time. Brilliant. Their thematic concept was that every love story has two sides (at least) and so one side of the screen is the woman's perspective and one side is the man's perspective. For instance, when the man is leaning in to flirt with the woman at the bar, his perspective is of a lock of her hair curling and falling over her ear, and that's what you see on one side of the screen. Her perspective is the top of the bar and her fingernails as she looks down while he whispers to her, and that's what you see on the other side of the screen. All the while the conversation is rolling and there are long continuous shots. Brilliant. The continuous shots are no "Russian Ark" or anything of that magnitude, but it is truly incredible film making. Can you imagine the editing?! That's what kept going through my mind.

The sex scene. Ohmigosh. Can we talk about the sex scene? How fascinating to watch a sex scene in split screen from two completely different perspectives and then revel in the poignancy of the moments when both sides of the screen show the exact same image. It rarely happened, but that's what makes it even more beautiful. It was a sweet moment when Helena bounces quickly into Aaron's frame and kisses him, but is quickly back in her own screen. You have to see it to understand. Drop what you're doing and get to a Redbox as quickly as you can. Like now.

Sancharram (The Journey)
Written, Directed, and Produced: Ligy J. Pullappally

I love Indian flims. From eccentric Bollywood to Deepa Metha's profound masterpieces, Indian films always manage to enchant me. The tag line for this film whispers: "In a land steeped in tradition...a secret love." Turns out the secret is lesbian love between teenage school friends Kiran and Delilah.

I watched the previews (a great way to discover other independent films, btw) and soon realized I'd stumbled into a "Wolfe" film. Surprise. Wolfe, I learned, is a movie studio that caters exclusively to gay/lesbian themes. I suppose, if you think about it, it's fair to say that nearly every commercial Hollywood studio caters to heterosexual themes.

"Sancharram" falls perfectly in line with the iconic elements of Indian drama: colorful, sensual, lyrical, spiritual, haunting. The small, highly traditional village where Kiran and Deliliah live would never welcome their relationship and Delilah is already promised to a man her parent's arranged for her. The film aches and drips with all the passion of thwarted love, add to that the passion of thwarted teenage love. Yet you soon forget that these girls are 15ish and age is wholly unimportant. It's a mature story, a captivating story, and a very strong feminist piece. The underlying theme of empowerment and living authentically leaves you feeling hopeful and happy. Magical.

Director: John Carney

See it. See it. Then see it again. If the fantastic music isn't enough for you (a side project of Glen Hansard, Irish band The Frames, with Marketa Irglova) or if for some reason you don't enjoy tender, funny, honest, bittersweet love stories, then I have two final words for you. Glen. Hansard. Enough said.

A day in the life

Our morning in Pleasant Grove