Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cannes Postmortem--The Experiential Paper

"We become these human jukeboxes spitting out these anecdotes to dine out on like we're doing right now. Well I will not turn [it] into an anecdote, it was an experience. How do we hold onto the experience?"
-Ouisa Kittredge, John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation

Faculty of the UGA Cannes Abroad Program,

Sitting in class, I have heard countless anecdotes about how a film has touched one of my peers. The particular motion picture has resonated inside of them; a character haunts their psyche; a line of dialogue stays on their minds; they were moved. I wish I too could join these fine few who broke the fourth wall and became part of the plot they now cherish. However, the words of man I barely know--a stranger really--has robbed me of that ability, leaving me to question everything I thought I knew about the film industry.

“Frankie and Alice should be a good film. You know, Halle Berry wouldn’t show her tits for it though? Yep, costs over half a million dollars for her to flash us a peek.”

While I am no Cornelia Vanderbilt, I was greatly sickened by this remark. My stomach turned not because of the crudeness of his comment but rather my disgust was caused by the lack of respect he had for the art form. Halle Berry is an Academy Award-winning actress; her performance in Monster’s Ball alone should make those of the industry fall on their knees in praise, but yet this man was acting as if she was a piece of cattle up for auction. I have no doubt this was printed across my forehead, for when he read my face, he instantly apologized. It did not matter; the damage was done.

In retrospect, this should have not come as such of a shock to me. As an avid classic cinema follower, the Hollywood studio system is well known to me. I understand that even since its creation, the motion picture business is first and foremost a business. Nonetheless, I allowed this notion to be shadowed by the bright performances by the actresses of that era--Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Ingrid Bergman to name a few. I was entranced by these women, they way they commanded the screen, and brought to life some of my favorite friends like Margo Channing and Mildred Pierce. Thoughts about the cost of a given film never crossed my mind; the money did not matter; the quality of the film was my top priority.

Then why was his remark still boiling in me a week later? Could what appears as merely an accidental remark, actually be a sign of divine intervention? I think, well I hope, that someone sent this slime ball of masculinity to question my dedication to film. He was the perfection replication of my fears about Hollywood and the kind of fungi that feed off of great artists only to churn high revenues. I knew that I would never be comfortable in an industry where the projects where based on what exactly would sell to the widest audience. Even when I continued my screening of films at the festival, I kept reminding myself that these artistic ventures I see before me would never reach the regal megaplexes of America.

And so here I sit once again in uncertainty about my future. You would think it would by over by now; I’ve dealt with the college application process, but the application for life is a little more challenging. The horrors of Hollywood have been unveiled, and thanks to this experience, I have seen that there are a few like me who hold the quality of the film as their top priority. It’s only a matter of finding them; but that search can last decades. Perhaps, this is my cue to return to my realm--the theatre. I do not know. I just do not know. Whatever the future has in store, I know that every time I turn on the television or walk into a theatre, my mind will always jump to the price and this notion of monetary value will forever change my viewing experience.

Jordan Overstreet

Friday, July 16, 2010

Film Review: "I Am Love"

"I Am Love"
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Producer(s): The Works International
Screenplay: Luca Guadagnino and Barbara Alberti
Main players: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabberiellini, Alba Rohrwacher, Pippo Delbono, and Marisa Berenson

With the divorce rate at fifty percent, the odds these days for a successful loving relationship are realistically slim to none. Perhaps Billy Wilder was right and the seven-year itch does exist, making monogamous relationships a thing of the past. Could Joseph Smith have stumbled upon the secret to a successful union? While the acquisition of long prairie skirts, a Gibson girl up-doo, and sister-wives remain taboos in my mind, could it really take more than two to tango? Katie Roiphe investigates if three really can be a company in a recent Harper’s Bazaar article entitled, “Liberated in Love: Can Open Marriage Work.” In her analysis, Roiphe exposes actress Tilda Swinton as practitioner of open marriage. This revelation about Luca Guadagnino’s leading lady in his recent Italian drama, “I Am Love,” brings an interesting contrast to the sheltered and very domesticated housewife Swinton portrays.

Layered with traditional opening credits, “I Am Love” begins with a tour of Milan in winter. The industrial capital of Italy is unrecognizable; it looks more like an Eastern European country or even a city in Russia. The presentation of the title credits and the traditional lettering invite the audience to return to an older era of women’s films starring the likes of Ingrid Bergman or Deborah Kerr, which used the romance of an extra-marital affair as a means for sending the leading lady on a voyage of self-discovery. Guadagnino introduces us to his protagonist, Emma Recchi (Swinton), a middle-aged woman of Russian decent who has married into the prominent Italian business family, the Reechis. When we first meet Emma, her servants surround her in her kitchen, evoking an image of Italian domesticity that implies Emma’s struggle to emulate the ideal Italian wife. She speaks perfect Italian, hosts the family dinner soirees, and never graces the screen in anything but a Chanel shift dress with a coordinating quilted tote in hand. As a mother of two grown children, Edo and Betta Reechi (Flavio Parenti and Alba Rohrwacher), Emma’s only outlet for expressing her Russian heritage is through the art of cooking (she is known for her of a traditional Russian fish soup which becomes the indicator of her deceit). Edo develops a strong friendship with a chef, Antonio Biscaglia (Edo Gabberiellini), and the two decide to open a restaurant. When Emma encounters Antonio for the first time, there is a flirtation; however, once Emma tastes Antonio’s cuisine, an intense--almost lightning striking--attraction exists between the two. This attraction is further bolstered when Emma’s immediate family flees to London (Betta to study and them men on urgent business) leaving her to travel alone to the Italian Riviera where she unexpectedly runs into Antonio during a shopping excursion. This chance meeting leads Antonio to extend an invitation to Emma to return with him to his home. Once inside, Emma strips off her clothing, freeing herself from her responsibilities as their two intensities unite; this transgression of her marital bond has serious consequences.

Swinton, despite being an Englishwoman, is very much at home in this Italian drama. The language rolls off her tongue with ease and her seven years of dedication to Guadagnino’s project has paid off. With recent credits including Michael Clayton and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Swinton continues to deliver with her various presentations of femininity. Her “Emma” reminds me of a Virginia Woolf heroine trapped in her daily domestic routine; furthermore, Swinton’s performance taps into the Wollstonecraftian school of thought regarding the rights of woman. When Swinton’s long strawberry locks are cut by her lover, we attribute this change in her appearance to signify her awakening and development of her own persona independent of her husband, Tancredi Reechi (Pippo Delbono). Swinton’s performance will surely be remembered come Oscar time. Unfortunately, I cannot see the same fate for the rest of the cast, all of which do their best despite the shortcomings of Guadagnino’s script.

However, the most compelling supporting performance comes from Alba Rohrwacher who plays Emma’s lesbian daughter, Betta. After an affair with a female professor at art school in London, Betta returns home with a pixie haircut and a new sexual preference. When she shares her self-awakening with her mother, Emma responds warmly and supports Betta’s transformation. The physical similarities between Rohrwacher and Swinton are unreal. It is almost as if Betta is the version of Emma that she could have become if she had not given up her identity to fit the Italian mold for women. There is an understanding between the two women, and when Emma ultimately leaves the family, Betta is the only one who can understand her mother’s flight.

What the film lacks in dialogue, it makes up in its presentation. Directorially speaking, Guadagnino soars as her presents love through the five senses. We see love through the dream sequences Emma experiences; we taste love as Emma devours Antonio’s entrees; we smell love when Antonio inhales Emma’s perfume; we feel love as Antonio and Emma passionately embrace; yet, the most profound sense Guadagnino allows the audience to experience is the sounds of love we hear through John Addams magnificent score.

“I Am Love” has recently been picked up by Sony Pictures Classic and is set to open in the United States in June. Despite the Italian language, I am sure Swinton will pack the art house cinema, allowing audience members to explore their own marriages and understand the dynamic that exists.

Film Review: "Of Gods and Men"

“Of Gods and Men”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Xavier Beauvois
Producer(s): Armada Films, France 3 Cinema, Why Not Prods.
Screenplay: Xavier Beauvois and Etienne Comar
Main players: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach, Jacques Herlin, Loïc Pichon, Xavier Maly, and Jean-Marie Frin

Napping in the afternoon is a habit I broke back in my youth before I hit double digits. I leave the insides of eyelids for the over seventy crowd to date. This was before I saw an encore screening of Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men” last Sunday at the Cannes Film Festival. Based on true events, the film seeks to explain the 1996 mysterious execution of seven French Catholic monks by a radical Muslim group in remote Algeria. You would imagine with a logline like that, focusing on the story would be a simple task; however, “Of Gods and Men” is visual Ambien.

“Of Gods and Men” follows the lives of nine monks whom run a monastery in a small, rural area of Algeria. The ensemble cast of aging French actors is headed by Lambert Wilson, who was recently seen in “The Princess of Montpensier” earlier this week. The first large portion of the film attempts to introduce the audience to the daily life in the monastery; thus, we see the monks eat; we see the monks pray; we see the monks farm; we see the monks help the villagers by treating them medically and clothing them; we see the monks sell honey at the local market; but most importantly, we see that the monks have a understanding of the Koran. Through these actions, which are heavily drawn out and captured in such an unentertaining way, the audience learns the way of the world in the monastery. First off, I feel that this may be the appropriate time to note that I am not a deeply religious person. That being said, when I view a film I want to be excited or at least interested in the community that it project on screen; however, there is nothing sexy about watching what I consider to be the AARP sect of the French Catholics in Algeria. They sing, chant, and pray far more than they actually articulate speech. Granted, I realize that monks lead relatively quiet lives, but couldn’t Beauvois have lied just a little and made them more interesting? Normally I loathe using this term, but its necessary to be applied to this film. “Of Gods and Men” needed the Hollywood treatment badly.

Being an American citizen, the events surrounding the disappearance of these monks is foreign to me; I needed further background into the historical significance of the event; what exactly was going on in Algeria? Any introductory level history class will teach you that French-Algerian relations have been strained (to say the least) since the Algerian fight for their independence in the 1950’s. Beauvois provides the spectator will little background information surrounding the conflict. First off, Beauvois never tells the audience where exactly we are; all we see is images of a remote African or Middle Eastern township. I am not asking that Beauvois hand us a syllabus, I would like, however, him to consider for the importance of the historical context. Time and time again, we are asked to feel threatened by these radical Muslim sects through the use of violence; yet, it seems highly unlikely that the men of God would be the targets of their terror. The threat of death is not accentuated enough; I don’t believe that nine grown men would actually fear these radicals; thus, abandoning their monastery becomes a matter of pride. If nine grown men desert a village that has become dependent to the extent that the lives of the villagers hinge on the presence of the monks, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that they would leave. I mean, hello, the would look like such pansies if they aborted their mission, not to mention their flight would go against their vows.

As the film wore on, I kept being reminded of Michael Powell’s drama “Black Narcissus,” which follows the trials of a group British nuns, headed by Deborah Kerr, in imperial India. Underscored by the plight of British imperialism in the East, Powell’s film explores how these nuns cannot grapple the harsh elements and are tested by their feelings, especially Kerr, for the Henry Morton Stanley character down the mountain. Like Beauvois’ monks, Powell’s nuns cannot cohabitate with the wild, untamed environment that surrounds them, proving that the jungles of India are no place for God. What Powell’s film has that “Of Gods and Men” lacks is a sub-plot, which allows the spectator some glamour (perhaps the correct word is entertainment) during his story about nuns. I guess women religious figures are far more interesting to watch on screen than their male counterparts.

The most compelling moment of the film, the last supper that is shared by the monks, is completely overshadowed by Beauvois’ excessive uses of long shots. There were so many moments throughout the film during which Beauvois would allow the camera to sit on his subject for far to long. I kept hoping Samuel Goldwyn would rise from the orchestra and assert that his ass had started to hurt twenty minuets earlier and that Beauvois needed to cut at least forty-five minuets out of this dragging drama. Unfortunately, no Goldwyn appeared so I was left to try to keep my eyes open.

Also present in competition was Rachid Bouchareb’s “Outside of the Law,” which followed three Algerian brothers in Paris and their contribution to the fight for Algerian independence. During the screening an odd thing occurred. When the film illustrated the French gaining their independence from Germany, following the end of World War II, the audience lit up and cheered; however, when the film reached its end and captured Algeria’s independence from France, there was not the same bolster of applause. Algeria is still a sore subject apparently. While I am sure someone while lined pockets was the culprit for getting “Of Gods and Men” into the competition, I feel as though the film was used as a counter-argument for Bouchareb’s film. If this is the case, whatever France and Algeria have going on, I think its time they has a dialogue. I highly recommend making a more convincing argument that will keep even the laziest diplomats from falling asleep.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Film Review: "Love Ranch"

“Love Ranch”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Taylor Hackford
Producer(s): E1 Entertainment International
Screenplay: Mark Jacobsen
Main players: Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci, and Sergio Peris-Mencheta

Helen Mirren, brothel Madam.
Not the two words you would usually associate with the Oscar-award winning Dame of the British realm, yet Mirren makes the leap from Queen Elizabeth II to Nevada brothel owner, Grace Bontempo, in Taylor Hackford’s recent film “Love Ranch,” which made its market premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last week. With a colorful supporting cast including Gina Gershon and Taryn Manning, the film follows Grace and Charlie Bontempo (Mirren and Pesci) as they run the first legal brothel, the Love Ranch, in 1976 Nevada. While perhaps an unlikely vehicle for Hackford, who’s last directorial venture was “Ray” in 2004, his partnership with Mirren could be the culprit for his sign on to the project. Like the Bontempos, Mirren and Hackford share a partnership that has lasted since 1986, a rare commodity in today’s marital climate. Nonetheless, it is Hackford’s direction of the film that makes what sounds like another installment of the sleazy Home Box Office (HBO) series, “Cathouse” (which captures the daily ups and downs of the Bunny Ranch in Nevada), actually plausible and dramatically entertaining. “Love Ranch” at its core is a coming of age story about an older woman, recently diagnosed with cancer, who must come to terms with her disease.

The film begins with Mirren, sporting a sleek red bob, confessing to the audience, “my mother always told me, if you are good at something, you will be successful.” (What an opening line!) As the titles role, we are transported to the Love Ranch’s 1976 New Year’s celebration. Our first glance of Mirren is from the neck down as she hobbles through the lounge with a cane in hand (very fitting for the environment.) Hackford pulls away to reveal Mirren looking vaguely similar to Tammy Faye Messner with her red hair piled on top of her head in a very 1970’s up-doo. Charlie is introduced to thunderous applause and Pesci, dressed in a purple leisure suit with matching cowboy hat and boots, takes the stage. Pesci, the great character actor of crime moguls, is up to his usual tricks in his role as Charlie. It as if he has aged to perfection and Jacobsen’s dialogue allows Pesci to open up like a good reserve wine. While it takes him several tries, Pesci finally manages to get “his better half,” Grace, on stage. Finally Mirren joins Pesci and we get a sense of their union.

The marriage between the two, while rough around the edges (Charlie is a known bed partner to many of the ladies of the Ranch), is based on a strong partnership, of which Grace is the engineer behind the operation whilst Charlie is the face of the brothel; yet after learning she has cancer, Grace’s disease threatens to undermine their partnership seeing as she cannot tell Charlie of her illness. As Pesci’s “Charlie” succeeds in the brothel business, he looks for other ways to spend his revenues and invests in an Argentinean boxer, Armando Bruza (Peris-Mencheta). Lacking the time to properly manage Bruza, Charlie leaves Grace in charge of the heavyweight and the two embark on an unlikely romance.

In his first major screen appearance, Sergio Peris-Mencheta triumphs as the fallen bowing hero. After succumbing to addictions of success, which consequently lead to the deaths of his wife and young son, Bruza hopes to use this opportunity from “Charlie Goodtimes” as he refers to Pesci, as a means to redeem himself from his past failures. Grace finds this endearing, and the two share a cute scene during which Bruza teaches Grace how to manage a fighter. Not getting the attention she needs from Charlie, Bruza steps in and, despite the vast age difference between the two, fills that void sexually. What began as a fling becomes a far more serious relationship after Bruza suffers a significant head injury during his first major fight. Grace drives Bruza, who is covered in sweat and blood, to the hospital only to learn that he has a metal plate in his head and cannot fight anymore. Grace, heartbroken, returns to the Ranch to find Charlie in a state of anger, citing her disappearance following the fight as the cause. To tired to argue, Grace retires to her room and is later awoken by Bruza, who fled the hospital after learning he needed brain surgery. Like Grace, Bruza is dying too, and they find solace in their encroaching deaths. Grace, knowing her death with destroy Charlie, decides to flee with Bruza, however Charlie becomes an obstacle they cannot cross.

“Love Ranch,” which opens in the States in July, is packed with strong performances across the board; however Mirren and Pesci are the reason to see this film. Mirren’s performance as Grace Bontempo is sure to be a hit with the over-forty crowd, and her romance with the younger, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, proves that while many attempts have been made to bury the term in pop culture, the cougar is alive an well. Long may she reign.

Film Review: "Another Year"

“Another Year”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Mike Leigh
Producer(s): Focus Features International
Screenplay: Mike Leigh
Main players: Jim Broadbent, Oliver Maltman, Lesley Manville, and Ruth Sheen

There is something sexy about watching the lives of others; it lies in the mystery of understanding who exactly these people are that you see in front of you; why do they act they way they do? When I read the description of Mike Leigh’s newest film venture, Another Year, I thought his study of a year in the life of a middle-class British couple, Gerri and Tom (Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent), would be the right entrée to feed the voyeur in my mind. Unfortunately, like too many of the official selection films at Cannes this May, Another Year was undercooked.

The film, written by Leigh, is divided into four segments: spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and begins in spring with a cameo by Imelda Staunton, a familiar face in Leigh’s films. Looking warn out, Staunton journeys to her physician for sleep aids. As Staunton’s doctor questions her about the cause of her sleep deprivation, Staunton suggests that all is not well in her marriage of twenty plus years. Leigh cuts to a shot of Tom working in his garden with Gerri as it begins to rain. They find shelter in a shed and as they eat their lunch in silence, the simplicity of their actions evokes a comfort. Leigh then cuts back to Staunton waiting on her prescription from her doctor. Before I realized that Tom and Gerri are married and the central characters of the film, I perceived this editing choice to imply that Staunton was the protagonist, meaning that she was married to Broadbent and it was his affair with Sheen which created the problems Staunton reveals to her physician. I was terribly disappointed to see Staunton vanish from the screen for her character had depth. Here was a woman on the edge of her sanity and I was interested in why her family exhausted her so. I wanted to know if she would succumb to her inner demons like her alcoholic husband. Very Tennessee Williams of me, I admit, but there was something to her character. As for the main fixtures of the film, Tom and Gerri, there is nothing sexy about them. Their relationship is painfully simple and is so beige and as the seasons wear on, watching them interact is about as fun as watching paint dry. I am not suggesting that Gerri needs to throw a glass egg at Tom, or that Tom go and screw of friend of Gerri’s. I would, however, like them to do something other than thwart the comedic genius that is Lesley Manville.

The grieving period for Staunton’s disappearance is short thanks to the arrival of Mary, a secretary in the hospital where Gerri is a therapist. Single, husbandless, and childless, Mary is well on the path to becoming an old maid. But unlike the staunch feminists commonly played by Katherine Hepburn throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, Mary is nothing short of a wild ass. Wearing low cut blouses and short skirts, Mary brings sexy back into this humdrum drama. When Mary and Gerri go out for drinks, the bottle of white wine shared between the two is disproportionally shared. Mary, well in her cups, notices an attractive older man sitting alone and attempts to grab his attention, but a younger blonde saunters in and greets him with a kiss. Its not that Mary wants to be alone, she just cannot seem to find her proper mate.

Summer ushers in Ken (Peter Wight), an overweight alcoholic smoking fiend, who seems to be battling demons of his own. An old friend of Tom’s, Ken appears to be tie that the couple just cannot cut. Mary and Ken share several minuets on screen, during which the nature of their relationship is instantly established when Ken greets a skittish Mary with a slobbery, wet kiss on the cheek. Ken is downright foul and no one wants to see him end up with Mary. Gerri and Tom’s son, Joe (Oliver Maltman) soon becomes the object of Mary’s affection. In his early thirties and single, Joe, like Mary, cannot seem to find the right mate and falls victim to many of Mary’s flirtatious advances. Envious of the simplicity of Gerri and Tom’s life, Mary sees Joe as a means to enter their world. However, during the autumn segment, Joe brings his lively lady friend, Katie (Karina Fernandez), to his parent’s home for dinner, Mary is crushed and her lack of manners towards Katie strains Mary’s friendship with Gerri. When Gerri closes her door to Mary, Sheen’s coldness comes off as mean and unnecessary. Moreover, it puts an end to the only compelling aspect of the film--Mary.

Winter is just depressing and sad. The wife of Tom’s brother dies and the funeral shenanigans feel like a large digression from the plot, but it’s the year of Gerri and Tom so boredom is to be expected. Mary’s arrival is unwelcomed by Gerri and her once cute quirks are now a nuisance. As Joe and Katie’s marriage takes center stage, there is no room for Mary--a pitiful ending to such a vibrant character.

The presentation of the film, in contrast, is well done. The seasons are beautiful well defined by cinematographer Dick Pope. As the story turns from the comedic to dramatic, the lighter spring yellows and pinks transition to the blues and grays of winter.

I still don’t know what Leigh was trying to say with Another Year. Was it a celebration of human relationships? Was it made to make us fear being alone? Or was it just another year? At best, Leigh explains that life takes on a cyclical nature, for it is obvious that Mary will be the next Staunton. Nevertheless, as a lover of dysfunctional families and dramas that explore these bonds, I was not satisfied. Where was the film’s heart? Passion? Nonexistent. I found myself wondering, if I was thirteen again and I stumbled upon Gerri and Tom in their kitchen, would I be inspired? Perhaps if Mary was sitting at the table, downing her sorrows in a large glass of white wine, my voyeuristic curiosity would be peaked. All I do know is that if Gladys Kravitz lived next-door to these people, I doubt very much that she would spend her time huddled by her window spying on their behavior.

Film Review: "Copie Conforme (Certified Copy)"

“Certified Copy”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Producer(s): MK2 Productions
Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami
Main players: Juliette Binoche and William Shimell

If Meryl Street is America’s greatest working actress, then Juliette Binoche is France’s. Binoche’s performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Copie Conforme” (Certified Copy), which premiered Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival, has secured her place on the podium for the title.

While a certain vagueness is required when re-telling the plot of the film so that each audience member has the ability to draw his or her own conclusions, “Certified Copy” the relationships between man and woman through a few hours that “She” (Binoche) and James Miller, a British writer, (William Shimell) spend in a Tuscan village. When we first met our leading man and lady, James is giving a lecture on his newest book entitled, Certified Copy, in which he argues that copy of an original creation can be just as valuable as the original (ie., a copy of the Mona Lisa can be just as beautiful as the original); moreover, it is only our knowledge that what we are viewing is a copy that changes our perception of the value of a given item. “She,” a single mother, can only listen to the lecture for a few minutes before her son’s hunger takes priority and she must depart; however, “She” leaves her number for James, hoping for a date with the writer. The following day, James and “She” embark on a journey to a neighboring town, where they are mistaken for a married couple in a coffee shop. This accident of mistaken identity spawns a game of “husband and wife,” leaving the spectator to decide if the relationship between James and “She” is real or merely a copy of a marriage.

Ms. Binoche has never been better. Kiarostami’s script allows Binoche to showcase her talent as the dialogue changes from English to French, and even to Italian; each change brings bouts of comedy, drama, and farce, allowing Binoche to showcase her range. In their car ride over to their destination, Binoche’s comedic drive is at an all time high as she shares an anecdote with James about her sister Marie, who is married to a simple man that stutters. “She” detests her sister’s husband noting that he can’t even say her name correctly (he calls her “M-M-M-M-Marie”); while “She” finds this cacophonous, she asserts that Marie finds his speech impediment harmonious; he sings Maries’ name. James, siding with Marie, reveres this simple man, yet “She” cannot understand his love for Marie--she finds it to be a copy. However, James asserts that this dissonance, “M-M-M-M-Marie,” is in fact an attribute of their unique relationship, thus making it real. Marie’s marriage will become “She’s” measuring stick for her relationship with James.

Once in the town, the two go into a coffee shop, during which James disappears to take a phone call and an aging waitress believes “She” and James to be a married couple. “She” does not correct this observation, and when James returns he too plays along with this idea. However, as the film wears on, this game of “husband and wife” teeters on the line between reality and fantasy. Like Edward Albee’s Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Ms. Binoche’s “She” is so dedicated to the game--this fifteen year marriage between herself and James--that she leads the audience to believe what they are seeing on screen is, in fact, a true marriage. However, Mr. Shimell’s “James” brings the audience back to reality. Shimell, who is originally trained in the operatic arts as a baritone, makes his first screen appearance in the film. Knowing this, his shortcomings in the role can be forgiven; he’s a newbie. Nonetheless, Shimell’s “James” is no George and is less dedicated to the “husband and wife” game than “She.” He does not remember to look at “She;” he has forgotten where they spent their wedding night. Because of this, Shimell’s “James” pulls the audience in the other direction and leads them to believe that what they are seeing on screen is, in fact, a copy that James and “She” have created of a marriage.

Nevertheless, I believe that what was presented on screen by Binoche and Shimell was actually just a copy. I base my assessment on Binoche’s final lines to Shimell, during which she calls him “J-J-J-J-James,” as if begging for a real commitment from him. Whether it is merely a game or the real deal, what exists between Binoche and Shimell is powerfully deep bond. There is definitely more to their relationship than what meets the eye. I encourage others to visit this film; allow it to provide the catalyst to analyze one’s own relationship; is it real or is it a certified copy?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Film Review: "Main Street"

“Main Street”
A film review by Jordan Overstreet

Director: John Doyle
Producer(s): Myriad Pictures
Screenplay: Horton Foote; based on the book, Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis
Main players: Orlando Bloom, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Colin Firth, and Amber Tamblyn

John Doyle’s Main Street, starring Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn, Orlando Bloom, Patricia Clarkson, and Amber Tamblyn, premiered last Thursday at the 63rd annual Festival de Cannes. Based on Sinclair Lewis’ novel of the same name, Main Street is a posthumous work from the late Horton Foote, who penned the screenplay after a weekend visit to Durham several years earlier, during which he found downtown to be completely empty. Foote, who is best known for To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies, A Trip to Bountiful, Orphans’ Home Cycle, The Young Man from Atlanta, and most recently Dividing the Estate, is very much in his element. The film, which marks Doyle’s first major motion picture venture, follows the intersecting lives of various members of the dying Durham community in upstate North Carolina. While home to the prestigious Duke University, a popular destination for many affluent Americans seeking higher education, Durham, as the film suggests, has not prospered in the influx of the nouveau riche; and this once vibrant empire of the North Carolina tobacco industry, has, like many small towns across the South, withered away. Thus, when Gus Leroy (Firth), rolls into town with his big plans to revive Durham, his arrival provides the catalyst for the film. While his plan for rebirth is just the medicine to heal the dying economy, it comes at a price, leaving many residents to question whether Leroy’s presence is merely an accident or divine intervention.

We first meet Georgiana Carr, the aging daughter of a tobacco millionaire, as she recants Durham’s “Golden Age” (that began as a result of Reconstruction and carried on through the 1940’s) to a prospective realtor. Through a low, wide-angle shot, Doyle captures Georgiana sitting on the porch of her spacious white estate, which is reminiscent of a modern-day version of Blanche Dubois’ Belle Rive, in downtown Durham. Like the wrinkled Georgiana, the house too shows signs of aging--chipped paint, cobwebs, etc--and as Doyle pulls away to reveal a small compact car made in the 1990’s, Georgiana’s world is seen as outmoded and she herself becomes a tangible symbol of decay. Ms. Burstyn, last seen as “Miss Addie” in Tennessee Williams’ The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, appears to be on a ‘wilting Southern heroine’ kick, in which she, sans make-up, portrays women on the brink of death. Much of her time was devoted to hurrying about her home in a fit of tears fueled by her fear of the outside world, but the blame for this lies on Doyle’s direction, not Ms. Burstyn. Georgiana’s motive throughout the film seems to be her desire not to fear her impending death, and Ms. Burstyn translates this well. Georgiana’s fear of dying is further bolstered by the arrival of Leroy.

Suspicious of an intruder lurking outside, Georgiana calls her niece, Willa (Clarkson) to the scene, and on her drive over, it is Willa who witnesses Leroy’s two Hispanic workers smoking outside of Georgiana’s downtown warehouse, once used for the storage of tobacco. A member an earlier generation of Durham youth who had left town to go on to bigger things, Willa has returned home following her divorce. Willa is a headstrong, forty something divorcee, who’s concern for Georgiana’s well being is a top priority. Ms. Clarkson far outshines her co-stars in this film. Her chemistry with Ms. Burstyn is top notch and the two play off of each other well. As Willa becomes Georgiana’s protectorate, the audience is introduced to Leroy’s line of business--hazardous waste management.

Entering town in the middle of the night (poor choice by Doyle seeing as a daylight appearance would have been a stronger choice dramatically speaking), are a fleet a white trucks carrying canisters of hazardous waste material (a phrase that becomes far over used throughout the film). Entering Georgiana’s warehouse in an electric blue button down and black suede cowboy boots is Gus Leroy. Mr. Firth, whose last motion picture appearance as the suicidal homosexual in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, attempts to prove yet again that he too possesses a chamelon-esque quality like that of Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, Mr. Firth cannot play a Texan. His slow drawl is forced and his chemistry with his leading lady is not up to par (there’s a first time for everything). Ms. Clarkson ultimately saves the day by bridging the age gap between Mr. Firth and herself. Nevertheless, the triangle of Georgiana, Willa, and Leroy remains the most compelling aspect of the film.

In Foote’s “B” plot line, he explores the newest generation to enter the Durham workforce through the characters of Harris Parker (Bloom), a police officer by day and a law-student by night, and Mary Saunders (Tamblyn), a sectary in a law firm who is dating her much older and very married boss. Harris remains in Durham to support his aging mother, while Mary appears to be stuck in her fear to move away from Harris, who is her high school sweetheart. Through this entrapment, Foote attempts to explain the loss of the Durham workforce--the kids are just moving away. However, Mr. Bloom and Miss Tamblyn find themselves, like their characters, trapped in Foote’s subplot. Foote has created an ensemble drama and has done a poor job of truly weaving his subplot into his main story. This beginners mistake is out of character for such a celebrated writer and would have been caught in another draft of the script, however, my guess is Foote’s health did not permit another re-working, leaving us stuck with this draft. Doyle does a noble effort attempting to cover-up any plot holes by trying to link these two stories together, however, his theatrical background in the West End fails to aid Doyle in being successful.

With such a well-rounded cast, a script from Horton Foote, and an acclaimed Broadway director on board, Main Street should have been a success, yet it is a total disappointment. The great climax of the film occurs when Leroy’s fleet of white trucks, carrying hazardous waste, are in an accident on the side of the highway. Expecting the worst, the audience is very much let down when we learn that the canisters did not, in fact, rupture. So many times throughout the film, Foote gives us reasons to not trust Leroy, but we end up seeing his as a Christ-like figure that has come to save Durham from death and escort Georgiana to her final resting place. Perhaps if Doyle or Foote had factored in the thoughts of the audience, a very different film would have been produced; one that would have held my attention. Despite this, Doyle is successful in his overall goal of suggesting that sometimes death is the only means for survival. I wonder if the death of Main Street at the box office will help it survive, Mr. Doyle?