Comoara [2015)

It’s such a joy to return to Romania.

Not that I’ve ever been there.

Except in films.

But so you understand, no national cinema has moved me quite so much as the Romanian.

[With exception to the French.]

Iran is close.

But oh so far.

Because we don’t see Iranian movies.

Not real ones.

And on Netflix, we don’t see the history of history.

Just a recent interpretation.

And that is so often fool’s gold.

Netflix, like its dire counterpart Hulu, is heavy on Holocaust films.

This would be appropriate.

If the films were any good.

Because the Holocaust is the most important event of the past hundred years.

But the films aren’t any good.

By and large.

However, fear not:  this film does not try to take on what cannot be documented.

[see Histoire(s) du cinéma for the only good Holocaust film ever made]

No, we are after buried treasure.

Indeed, this film is listed as The Treasure on Netflix.

And I commend that streaming service for its ostensible dedication to quality foreign films.

[even if the same company has no concept of history]

If you look at the “classics” section of Netflix, you will find a paucity of titles.

This is problematic.

Last I checked Hulu (before I quit it), their “classics” section was just as bad (if not worse).

But Hulu had, for awhile, a distinct competitive advantage over Netflix (while it lasted).

The Criterion Collection.

Sure, it was not the collection in its entirety, but it was a treasure (pardon the extended metaphor) of classic films…many from countries other than the U.S. and U.K..

As I have reported previously, Hulu began to surreptitiously phase out its lost licensing (apparently) of the Criterion catalog.

Once I realized what had really happened, the damage was done.

I was out of there.

Nothing, I imagined, could be worse than the current laughable joint venture (and anemic selection) of Hulu.

And I was right.

Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

I had previously seen Netflix’ hopper.

Years ago.

It seemed very light on classic films.

And it still is.

But what Netflix lacks in historical perspective, it makes up for (marginally) with its plentiful “international” category.

And thus we come to this fine Romanian film: Comorara.

It may be incredibly naive for me to postulate thusly, but Romanian cinema is the future.

No national cinema rivals the French.

Yes, Germany has had its share of important films (especially in the silent era and soon thereafter).

But the French-language library of films which has been passed down through the “ages” is nonpareil.

Of that tradition, nothing comes even close (for me) to equaling Jean-Luc Godard’s output.

[though he was, and always will be, gloriously Swiss]

Thus, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

But there are others.

Especially those with whom Godard would have been nothing.

Jacques Becker.  Robert Bresson!  Marcel Carné.  Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Jean Cocteau.  Jean-Pierre Melville.  Jean Renoir!  Jean Rouch.  Jacques Tati.

And then there are those foreigners who worked in French (to varying extents) such as Luis Buñuel and Max Ophüls.

But the French cinema has given us other visionaries contemporaneous to Godard.

Alain Resnais.  Eric Rohmer.  François Truffaut.  These are just a few that come to mind.

And until Netflix (and even the Criterion Collection itself) gets beyond to utter genius of Abbas Kiarostami, we will know little of the Iranian cinema beyond its undisputed master.

[Indeed, Netflix has not even broached the true cinema of Iran by featuring Kiarostami…as far as I know.  It is solely the Criterion Collection which is to thank for exposing people to films like Taste of Cherry and Close-Up.]

But I must give Netflix their due.

They have made available the very fine Romanian film under review.

Yet, before we delve into that…I would like to delineate exactly what makes Romania different as far as being “the future” of cinema (in relation to, say, Iran…for instance).

The simple answer is that there are multiple genius (genius!) directors working in Romania.

They may not (certainly not) get the budgets they deserve, but their output is of the highest, most sublime quality.

And, sadly, Abbas Kiarostami is no longer among the living.

But it bears mentioning the auteurs of Romanian “new wave” cinema.

Cristi Puiu. Cătălin Mitulescu.  Cristian Mungiu.

And the director of Comoara:  Corneliu Porumboiu.

The Treasure must not have been an easy film to make.

Indeed, the very end of the film evinces a directorial sigh of relief (if I am interpreting it correctly).

Let me just say this:  nothing much happens in this film.

Indeed, this might be the type of film which illustrates the different way in which film critics view films (as opposed to most moviegoers).

Not to mince words, my guess is that most people (98%?) would find The Treasure boring.

But I loved it!

The defining characteristic of this film is tension.

But it is not the type of tension which strings us along in a film such as Rear Window.

No.

The tension here is far more mundane in comparison.

And yet, there is real inspiration at work in Porumboiu’s mise-en-scène here.

Toma Cuzin is our brooding “star”.

And he is very, very good.

But his “foil” is the Dudley-Moore-lookalike Adrian Purcărescu.

Cuzin is calm.  And yet, the dreamer…

One might even think “gullible”.

Purcărescu is frazzled.  Cynical.  Either a conman of a saint.  Hard to tell…

But the fellow who pulls it all together is Corneliu Cozmei.

He’s the man with the metal detectors.

Yes, two…

[this is a treasure hunt, after all!]

Cozmei is caught between the personalities of Cuzin and Purcărescu.

And yet he’s not just an innocent bystander (so to speak).

He may be the independent party in this whole treasure hunt, but he’s smack dab in the middle of a very tense situation.

Bogart fans will not be far off if they faintly recall the Sturm und Drang of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But most of all…it’s just good to be back in Romania.

To see a half-lit, grey day.

To see the funny looking cars.

To notice all the details of a culture I truly love.

-PD

#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

It’s the big, goofy, mesh-backed baseball cap.  The ones with the plastic snaps and infinitesimally small corresponding holes.  And then the squishy, peaked frontispiece:  “Make America great again” –or– (alternately) “Wal-Mart”.

That is the Donald’s costume…out on the campaign trail.  It’s bold.  Comedic.  A bit like George H.W. Bush “shopping” for groceries out among the common folk and being dumbfounded by this whole newfangled barcode scanner.

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

And so who did Rowan Atkinson think he was with Mr. Bean?

Well, that one’s a whole lot harder to pinpoint.

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

But then there’s all these other institutions which don’t quite translate outside of Britain…The Goon Show, Dudley Moore, The Goodies…

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

We want to think it’s all original.  And perhaps it is.

But influence is unavoidable.

And so with the third and final episode of 1990, Atkinson gave us The Curse of Mr. Bean.  [1991 would yield only one episode of the show.]

The curse…hmmm…certainly sounds like an allusion to Sellers’ Clouseau.

Whatever the case may be, Atkinson’s material is all tied together with a very cohesive theme this time:  fear.

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

Fear of public nudity or embarrassment (lost his trunks in the pool).

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

For instance, the Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear of Music (1979).

But for Bean, the horror was more of the Freddy Krueger type.

Indeed, by December 30, 1990 (this show’s airdate), there had already been five (yes, 5ive) A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Churned out of the dream factory like diabolical cotton candy, they appeared in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.  The series then would recommence in 1991.  Which begs the question, just what was Freddy Krueger up to in 1986?  Laying low?  Vacationing?  The Caribbean?

To wit, Bean is scared witless while on a date (yes, those things where aspiring romantics “go out”) with the absolutely adorable Matilda Ziegler.

For those of you (like me) who can’t live without pithy character names, Ziegler’s role (like my beloved Enid Coleslaw) is that of Irma Gobb.

And Bean, therefore, is the man-child…the everlasting Gobbstopper [sic].

[Which is to say, Ziegler’s character is a reoccurring one.]

Perhaps we need to look further back to find a precedent for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean…perhaps out of the world of comedy proper.  Perhaps to the Dadaists?  I can certainly imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a sort of human tampon à la Hugo Ball…with lobster claw hands.  Or maybe Bean with a lobster telephone courtesy of Dalí.  Certainly Bean would have a pet lobster to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with a ribbon for a leash like Gérard de Nerval.

But we perhaps perhaps perhaps need to look further.  To the wry humor of Marcel Duchamp.  To the childlike fancy and brilliance of a René Magritte or an Erik Satie.  Even, god forbid, the humor of a Mauricio Kagel.

Conductors don’t have heart attacks mid-concert?  Not according to Kagel’s Ludwig Van.

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

He’s never Anthony Braxton’s Quartet for Amplified Shovels.

No, Bean always remains funny.

And so, perhaps, nothing is more revolutionary than comedy.

This kind of comedy.

Absolutely scripted, miniaturist-perfect comedy worthy of Jacques Tati.

In that sense, we might say that Mr. Bean is like Peter Sellers having Charlie-Chaplin-like total control over a production.  At least that’s the way it seems.

Perhaps we would be criminally neglecting the director of these first three Bean episodes:  John Howard Davies.

But in such comedies, the thing really does speak for itself.

Rowan Atkinson fills every moment of screen time in these gems with his thoroughly inimitable charm.

 

-PD

Playtime [1967)

This took a lot of watching.  Rewatching.

Last night…so tired.

Watched half.  Then rewind.  Dozed off.  Watch same half again.

First time I saw this (years ago) was on the big screen.

It really makes a difference.

That janitor at the beginning.  His strange pause and crouch.  His peering left and right.  His broom and dustpan.

Very little sweeping.  Just clanking.

Yes.  Sounds.  Sounds.  Sounds.  (Zounds!)

The vinyl chairs which return to their shape after you sit and dent.  The strange sound.  The strange quality.

“Quality”

Tradition of quality.

It might lead you to ask:  what was Jacques Tati trying to say with this film?

Answering that is no easy task.

Sure, this seems like a simple, lightweight film.  In some ways it is.

It’s enjoyable.  It’s lighthearted.  And yet…

There is more than a smidgen of Modern Times here.  And Tati, with his pipe…  More than a pipe-full of Sartre.  Sartre with his publication Les Temps modernes.  Even Sartre apparently thought highly enough of Chaplin to work under an homage headline.

And so, Tati…lost in the supermarket.  Lost in the buildings from 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle.  Same year.  1967.  Paris.  In the banlieues.

And very few words.

As I said.

A movie of sounds.

Yes.

But images.

Reflections.

Illusions.

It appears.

Optical.

Illusion.

And its reflection.

Double.

Mirror image.

Flipped.

Paris.

It appears that the buttons have been switched.  Very nice, WordPress.  Now I am “publishing” every time I intend to merely “save” (and vice versa).

That is the theme of the film.

Thingamajigs.

No no no.  Take your time.  Uh uh uh…hold on.  [click click click click]  Ok, now rise.

We wait for the entire hallway to be traversed in an absurd observation of ritual.

And from above…the cubicles.

One needs must occupy higher ground to see the big picture.  All of these busy bees become lost in the fray.

Afraid.

True.

And so it is not farfetched to guess that Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were influenced in their masterpiece The Party (1968) by Tati’s Playtime (1967).

But with Tati there is even more.  An industrial ballet.  The poise of the service industry (and its opposite).  [Both]

A constant counterpoint like a comic Górecki.

Perhaps I have been hitting the wrong button all along.

Have I been saying these things out loud?

Yes, we wonder.

Technology.

We grew up in a different time.

The chairs were different.

The doors were different.

And since we are quiet and meek we spend an eternity in the antechamber.  In the darkened hallway.

How do we get out?

Yes, Paris…even then, perhaps?  A drugstore?  Yes.  Too depressing for anyone to look each other in the eyes.

The hum.  The constant hum.  Like Alphaville.  Like Oskar Sala’s Trautonium.  The Birds.  Bernard Herrmann as musical consultant.  But those noises.  Mixtur.

And several waiters will salt the troutonium…and grind pepper…and spread the sauce…and the couple has moved.

The main course has stayed behind.

Heated.  Reheated.  Set on fire.  Jubilee.

Turbot.

And lobster boy just cares about his hair.

Nerval.  Hugo Ball.

But that humming…like Metal Machine Music way ahead of time.  But creepier.  Like Raymond Scott’s music for babies crossed with Erik Satie’s musique d’ameublement.

Waiting waiting.  That’s a theme.  And all the illustrious portraits of CEOs past.

Is it a job interview?

And that’s Orly?  It seems more like a hospital.  Little hummingbird nuns and swaddled kids.

But we shall always live in Barbara Dennek’s dimples.  It sounds weird to say.

But it is luck.  Bad luck.  And then good luck.

And random error.  Entropy.

Chaos.

Can anyone here play the piano?

Yes.  Yes I can!

And some half-rate Edith Piaf gets up to sing her long-forgotten hit.

Except no one has forgotten it.  Once a hit, always a hit.

More or less.

The new religion.

The hum of neon.

All the desserts look sickly.  Even to the “chef.”  Must hide his mystère.  An apple with some sputtery whip?  An upside-down coffee mug?

Mmmm…

William S. Burroughs would doubtless have approved.  The man in the gray flannel suit (book).  But taken to theatrical limits.  Choreography of male primping.  Like Cary Grant on hallucinogens.  A surreal ritual.

Ritual.

This is sociology.

Anthropology.

Paris.  The modern man.

See him in his natural habitat.

See her shop.  See her sell.

See him work.  See him drink.

If you travel, you will see the tourist side.

On a trip.

With a group.

Activities planned.

Like a cruise.

And God forbid you become separated from the group.

Yes.

That is our little romance.

And Tati is meek enough to barely suggest to suggest (x2).

That M. Hulot might find love.

It would be a random day.

He would get pulled this way and that.

And winding up in some crazy, unplanned situation he would become sweet on dimples.

See him in his fishbowl.

Before there was Mr. Bean, there was Monsieur Hulot.

Before there was Forrest Gump.

Tell me…where are the “fancy goods”?  Perhaps silk.  Hermès.

Always caught at the turnstiles of life…

-PD

Johnny English Reborn [2011)

With film reviews, a critic either reviews the film or reviews themselves.  Selves?  Self.

Continuing…  There are two major modes of writing about art.

If I tell you that film was designated the seventh art by Ricciotto Canudo, am I telling you more about film or more about myself?

I would argue that I am trying to flaunt my intellect.

Every once in awhile my brain serves me well.  At other times I am painfully aware of my shortcomings.

And so, Johnny English…not exactly King Lear by Godard.

Nay…  ,,but a near piss-perfect spy spoof.

Piss-perfect?

Now there’s an odd turn of phrase.  Can’t say I’ve thought of that one in awhile.

Really, it makes little sense…unless…drug test?

Who knows…

It’s certainly not timoxeline barbebutenol.  No.  I’m assured by my ever faithful companion Wikipedia that that (2) is a fictional drug.

It does, however, share a molecular formula with two actual drugs:  amobarbital and pentobarbital (respectively).

C11H18N2O3

Yes…

Now<>  If I followed this particular tangent I would be indirectly commenting on the film at hand.

The ostensible “meaning” would be that this film is so devoid of substance that I had been reduced to concocting literary small talk in its absence.

But that is not the case.

And so in the great literary tradition of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, I shall forego the pharmacological flourish and focus on what’s really important.

Johnny English Reborn, while not a masterpiece in the Palme d’Or sense, smashes both the first two Austin Powers films (and indeed its own predecessor) to infinitesimal bits.

[If I allowed myself the indulgence of an aside involving quantum computing and its version of bits (qubits) I would really be showing my arse.]

Because I don’t know quantum computing from linear regressions.  [Figuratively speaking.]

And so I will be plain as day ->  I identify with this film

I know.  It’s sad in a certain way…

“The Great Pretender”…I sometimes think.  I think of Richard Manuel crooning that song with such pain in his heart.

Yes, Levon Helm was right:  the moments that Richard took the spotlight for ballads…those were the real highlights.

“Georgia On My Mind”…

A guy with a great big beard.  As weird and wistful as Brian Wilson in a giant sandbox.

Uhhh…yes.  Where were we?

Johnny English.

Reborn no less…

Indeed, a few things are different here.

First we must thank director Oliver Parker.

This film really holds together.

Lucky for him he had Rowan Atkinson in top form as the title character.

But there are two supporting players who deserve special mention.

The first is Daniel Kaluuya.

Mr. Kaluuya, himself of Ugandan ancestry, fills some very big shoes left vacant by his predecessor Ben Miller.

I really did Miller a disservice by failing to mention his fine performance in the first Johnny English film.

But Kaluuya takes a somewhat different tack.

I may be imagining things, but I get the feeling that Kaluuya was playing this role for all it’s worth (like an athlete or musician with a make-or-break chance).

Sure…films employ multiple takes.  Drop a line?  No problem.  Let’s take it again.

And yet, Kaluuya adds a gentle urgency to this farce by way of truly accomplished thespian abilities.

I certainly hope someone in the film world was paying attention as his filmography does not reflect an appreciation for his immense talents.

And finally, I must mention the redemption of Rosamund Pike (reborn, if you will).

I last left her on my site as a rather tragic villain figure in the actual Bond film Die Another Day.  Mercifully, she does not exit this film with a volume of Sun Tzu shishkababbed flush to bosom.  [What?]

Quite the contrary…for here she is the good guy (girl)…and her acting is as impeccable as her true beauty.

But poor Johnny…poor Rowan Atkinson.

I’ve hardly mentioned him at all.

Must I tell you again what a genius this fellow is?

Perhaps so.

I haven’t been effusive enough regarding a man whose talents are of the most rare kind.

True, born-to-yuck talents.  Born-to-ham.  I would only put him in a race with Roberto Benigni.

Those two.

They are of another era.

Like Peter Sellers.

Like Jacques Tati.

And, of course, back to the fondateur Charlie Chaplin.

The modern world does not embrace this visual sort of humor.

Every once in awhile it reappears.  Benigni wins Best Actor.

And then it’s gone again.

Atkinson, dear boy, if you’re out there on the brainwave wavelengths…

You’ve still got it, old chap!

-PD

Tout va bien [1972)

This might be the most important film ever made.

You can’t start like that.

This whole “internal monolog” gets boring…

Illiterate Joyce fanatic.

After fucking around for four years, Godard and Gorin (like Marx and Engels) finally got the funding needed to deal a deathblow to bourgeois capitalism.  Bourgeois?  Monopoly.  Monopoly?

I feel film review coming on…itching like a well-known wool blanket.

Jane Fonda is devastatingly good in this.

Yves Montand nails it.

Godard and Gorin fling a manifesto at the world.  Hollywood has failed miserably in mustering a riposte.

Over 40 years ago.

Who speaks for Hollywood?

And who speaks for not Hollywood?

A state of mind more than a place.

New forms for new content.

Not Hollywood.

You know Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis.

We get a hilarious choking performance from Vittorio Caprioli.

It’s not a thing to hide…the fact that one is marked for death.

But hidden it is.

A loudmouthed agitator who learned to unlearn.  Through books.

A conundrum.  No, there is no stopping being an intellectual.

If you don’t know the Dziga-Vertov Group’s work, you won’t realize that Tout va bien is actually reflective.

It is a perfect gentle art bomb.

No box office data.

Not what we meant anyway.

Must be a pain in the ass to parse these “reviews” on behalf of the control freaks.

A good psychologist would tell you to buy a mirror.  Buy some time.  Reflect.

But there are no good psychs…seems.

No, surely there are.

A lot (two words) of professions seem glutted with criminals.

And the psychs are there to define criminality.

Judges by the benison of nepotism.

By which we mean judges.  [new subject]

By this time they broke the fourth wall so efficiently and effortlessly.  With Jane Fonda.

The wrong woman.

Diegesis or die a Jesus?

Opacity of performance?

I think what they mean is, by being weird it causes the audience to ask, “Why are they being weird?”

Who cares.

Too beautiful to end there.

The most important.  Perhaps.

Can’t this motherfucker complete a goddamned sentence?

New forms for new content. (2)

Seriously, the boss has to piss!

And is that the cock from Persona?

Cock.  I never would’ve said it that way.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.

She told me.

Double-spacing was an antiquated technique.  Something about a journalism degree.  I tried.

Obviously, people are watching.

Route me out of the main stream.  Rout.

I know my true brothers and sisters, but they remain invisible.

Little signals over the ether and we take the helm.

Rub your jade.

Yes.  Look look look.

Doesn’t matter.  They want you to know that clearly.

The movies where the hero is a shitbag who finally does the right thing at the end…and utters one last dying quotable.

Karate for life.  For instance.

Capitalize the first noun, and then shut the fuck up.  It’s just a title.

What’s in a goddamned name?

Shaky sphere at the globe.  On the shore.  Of a ditch.

The borr(o)wed.  Borr()wed.

Barred.

If there’s a right way to write about film, this ain’t it.

Unremitting self-referential showmanship.

Serves to defuse…de fuse.

Someday.  Someday.  A couple of holy grails will roll down the hill.

Goddamn.

-PD

Way of the Dragon [1972)

1770.  Beethoven.  Dragon.  If my math is correct.  I was born in the year of the dragon.  Hour of the dog.  For dragon, I will own eccentric.  For dog, sense of justice and lazy.  Bruce Lee was born in the year and hour of the dragon.

Strong.  Intestinal fortitude is usually used figuratively.  Early in this film we might be disoriented by the clumsy, blurred  mise-en-scène.  Indeed, this was Lee’s first and last completed directorial effort.  The beginning doesn’t bode well.  Just like his character, who accidentally orders five bowls of soup, Lee seems in over his head as an auteur.  As his character Tang Lung deals with a seeming case of the shits, the film moves (on the contrary) very slowly.  Not only do we wonder about the technical proficiency of the cinematographer, we experience a claustrophobic hyper-sensitivity to the passing of time.  Mercifully, this is offset by a cinematic tone which echoes Tati’s Playtime.

But the strength builds up.  The film, literally, comes into focus (albeit slowly).  Lee once again plays a similar character to those he delineated in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury.

You must put your hip into it, he says.  Yes.  This is the secret to power.  Leverage.  Chinese boxing.

We are made aware of Lee’s strength on several occasions when he flexes his taut physique.  Suffice it to say that there is nothing slight about the diminutive Lee.  One senses that every square inch of this man is power.  Strength.

Proud.  Nothing is like back home.  Hong Kong.  Rome doesn’t impress Lee.  On one occasion he seems to see things through the eyes of Respighi for a moment, but then makes a flippant comment about a grand fountain.  Tang Lung (Lee) would build over it.  Make money.

But this façade is at odds with the loyalty he shows to his newfound friends in Rome (themselves likewise expats from Hong Kong).

Direct.  Lee begins to direct.  There is a panache in all of his movements…like a lethal Chaplin.

Eccentric.  Can I buy a gun around here?  Yes?  Good.  I’ll whittle some bamboo darts instead.

He moves in squawking orbits.  Distractions.  Diversions.  Like Muhammad Ali with Tourette’s.

Show off.  More like a selective extrovert.  Beware of the quiet ones.  The humble ones.  When they reach their breaking points, God forbid they be the most genius asskickers on the planet.

Lee refrains until his adversaries ask for it.  Backed into a corner, he turns the tables…every time.

Arrogant.  Sometimes…  It takes a Chuck Norris to remind us that there are other masters in the world.  And if we beat them, we salute them.  But he who seeks not money shall have a superior core to the mercenary.  To protect is more powerful than to attack.

Violent.  Damn right!  You want violence?  You’re about to be dealt the quickest administrations of pain you’ve ever seen.  Calling Dr. Lee.  This is where shock and awe comes from.  And machinery/technology will never ascend to the glorious depths of human creativity.  Endurance is in the mind.

Brash.  Occasionally.  The big boss needs to learn.  The big boss hires his murders–his terrorism–his intimidation.  The big boss runs and hides when the fast bullets fly.  But once in awhile the masters of war find themselves in very uncomfortable circumstances.  The teacher does not love war.  The teacher masters war.  The teacher masters the passions of revenge.  Bruce Lee never distributes a disproportionate riposte.

Controlling.  Control.  First, control yourself.  Seek to master yourself.  Listen to your body.  Control what you can control…knowing that the world is chaos…an indeterminate harmony.  Then you will be ready to think on your feet.  You will be ready to invent and improvise like Thelonious Monk.

This is the way of the dragon.

-PD

Casablanca [1942)

Time goes by.  Time goes by.  Sitting in his own gin joint…stinking drunk.  It’s like Pythagoras is hammering on Bogie’s heart…searching for a certain ratio.  Left to die in Casablanca.  The money is good, sure!  But the heart is broken.

The heart that loves and the heart that fights…these are the same heart.  If she can take it, so can I.  And Dooley Wilson strides into the song.  It was in the piano all along.

The piano…that musical typewriter…where Beethoven wrote novels as much as chiseled sonorities.  Truth is, nobody is listening.  There are those in this world we trust.  At present we wait.

And then she arrives.  And we blow it.  All of that crestfallen love transformed into angst.  She was the most beautiful woman we ever saw.  When Belmondo and Seberg joyride around Paris, it is in tribute to them.  And perhaps Héloïse and Abelard really are buried at Père Lachaise.  Maybe, maybe not.

But when she hummed that tune in the noir shadows…then the piano started to play.  It’s no use.  She’ll never come.  Oh, but she does come.  And then she leaves again.  We begin to wonder whether she ever existed at all…whether Pythagoras ever passed a blacksmith and heard an anvil chorus.  Anytime’s a good time to be born…and anytime is a good time to die.  Harry Partch said that.  And Casablanca’s as good a place for it as any.  Bogie said that.

Ten thousand dollars/at the drop of a hat/I’d give it all gladly/if our lives could be like that.  Bob Dylan said that.  There’s blood on the tracks…greasing the rails…from the concentration camps to North Africa.  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world…  And now Bogie has to think for all of us.  And he does.

Laszlo had to go all Charles Ives and instead of the Fourth of July, it’s the 14th and “La Marseillaise” is drowning out “Die Wacht am Rhein”…tentatively at first, but ultimately in a rousing rout.

I lost my place…my train of thought.  Rick lost his place…the train from Oran.  It must have been that song…Herman Hupfeld.  Humbert Humbert?  No, that’s more Claude Rains’ department.  Have you tried 22 tonight?  Leave it there.

It’s more Schindler than Schindler…because it’s cinema.  Mostly because it’s Bogart.  The harder they fall…in love.  And so now the piano is silent.  Another proprietor has taken over.  I was always on the side of the underdog…an expensive habit.  Was never much of a business man.

And she flies away.  He remembers the day…the last time.  For me, it was Messiaen.  Turangalîla.  An airport in New Orleans.  I’m not qualified to shine Faulkner’s shoes, but here I am…none the less.

Deep underground is the resistance.  Love.  Maybe.  For now we have cinema…when we can allow ourselves to indulge in such.  We burn in darkened halls…or simply darkened bedrooms on a laptop.  Maybe she has come and gone.  Ingrid, painted so lovingly by Curtiz as she first hears the song again…like the other Bergman…like the overture to The Magic Flute.

I coulda been someone.  I coulda been a contenda.  No, another film.  We merely have our thoughts to cache until the library disappears like mandala sand.  Back to the bottle.  Scorsese gets it!

A lovely day and a lovely actress and Deserter’s Songs by Mercury Rev with the windows down.  Honey.  He did the right thing.  The hard path.  The road less-traveled.  The true saint.  The golden agitator.  Some say the French invented love.

We’ll always have Paris.  That hour in a van…stuck in traffic.  How very Tati!  There’s Sacré-Cœur…and the Arc de Triomphe from the side.

And then…getting on that plane.  The hardest part.  Like seeing the Eiffel Tower…only on departure.

-PD

The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014)

There have been two movies in my lifetime which affected me so that I saw them multiple times in the theater:  Life Is Beautiful and Genghis Blues.  Along with those two masterful films I would add three which have a similar effect on me and formed my pantheon of five as a college student and young adult:  Cinema Paradiso, Central Station and the original Willy Wonka.  Few films have ever touched me quite like these.  There have been a few:  Spirit of the Beehive, Wild Strawberries and even Amelie, but I didn’t feel the same level of “ownership” in the stories–the same resonant investment in the storylines and mise-en-scène.  But it has come time to add to the pantheon of five–a reservoir of naïveté which has remained untouched since at least the time of my reading James Monaco’s book on the French New Wave.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an unqualified masterpiece.  It is not often that I even feel drawn to a movie theater whatsoever these days.  It takes a lot to get me out of the house as far as cinema is concerned.  My interest in this particular film owes to a job which I recently secured and ultimately quit (within a week or so) at an old, old hotel in San Antonio, TX.  I had initially intended to see the film ostensibly for “research,” but when I finally saw it (after quitting my brief stint as a hotelier) it took on a different and immensely significant meaning for me.

I don’t want to spoil the plot or ending, so I will refrain from giving away too much info concerning either.  I will, however, say right up front that the secret star of this film is Saoirse Ronan.  She is the Anna Karina of this movie and she enabled Wes Anderson to make a truly transcendent picture.  Ralph Fiennes is magnificent as Monsieur Gustave H., but it is Ronan as Agatha who embodies the film in such a way that I can only compare to Poe’s story The Oval Portrait (which played such a large role in Godard’s Vivre sa vie).  The movie really gets going in earnest when Anderson goes to a magical close-up of Agatha (Ronan) on a merry-go-round.  It is from the POV of her beau Zero (Tony Revolori) and its weightless, gossamer delicacy sets the stage for what will become (throughout the remainder of the movie) Wes Anderson’s best film to date.

Leave it to Anderson to give the beautiful, chaste Agatha a huge birthmark the shape of Mexico on the side of her cheek.  Perhaps it was a nod to Gorbachev, but the effect is such that the beautiful Ronan becomes even more adorable and perfect by way of her imperfections.  Indeed, it is when she is covered in flour at her job baking pastries that she reaches her highest peak of sublime cinematic presence.  Even in her “mug shot” (which figures into the plot), she exudes mystery and imagination in her smile-less stare.

The red-headed, fair-skinned Ronan is part of a color scheme on the part of Anderson which includes powder-blue uniforms and cotton-candy-pink pastry boxes.  Even The Grand Budapest Hotel itself is pink…like a giant pastry or gingerbread house (indeed, it is a model…a miniature…a favorite directorial device of Anderson).

But make no mistake, the royal-purple-clad gents whose acting makes this the coup that it is are Fiennes and Revolori.  To call it a “buddy flick” would be doing the entire creation a grave injustice.  Perhaps it is a comedy of manners?  Or perhaps sui generis.  Anderson’s “tricks” have never been employed to such successful effect until this film.  It is as if all his prior attempts were quite good practice runs at making this film.

Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe are integral to the fabric of this sentimental, yet razor-sharp tapestry.  Anderson manages to draw from so many influences (I seemed to notice Tati) such that the piece as a whole avoids being a puppy dogs and ice cream affair.  Goldblum and Dafoe play out a sub-plot of sorts (in terms of filmic references) which hints very strongly at Hitchcock.  It is just this dash of bitter verismo which holds the confection together and makes it truly delicious.

The story (not to mention the dialogue) would do a writer such as Ernest Lehman (North By Northwest) proud.  Monsieur Gustave is infinitely quotable and his character bears a striking resemblance to Cary Grant in terms of mannerisms.  It is as if Roger Thornhill somehow ended up in the maze that is Tati’s Playtime.  Indeed, Gustave H. is a man on the run (just as Grant’s character in NXNW).  And as per the Hitchcock motif of “the wrong man,” Gustave is, of course, innocent.

But the truly remarkable thing about The Grand Budapest Hotel is the expansive, somewhat metaphorical love story it encapsulates.  Wes Anderson succeeds in channeling not only Truffaut, but Bergman (particularly Ingmar’s bittersweet Wild Strawberries).  The overall narrative device of a recounting (Zero as an old man) and the framing of impressionable literary admiration (the student reading the “fictional novel” at beginning and end afore the canonical author’s statue) allow the film to operate on several levels simultaneously. The viewer is invited to hop on board the elevator at any floor and draw meaning from any of the many strata.  It is like a cake–a fine, layered pastry from the old world.

There is indeed an air of panache which wafts through the illustrious halls represented in this film.  It is, in some ways, a fairy tale and a morality play.  Do the right thing and you might just end up with Snow White.  And you might, with extraordinary integrity and compassion, get to have your cake and eat it too.

 

-PD