Lady Bird [2017)

So much has happened since I last wrote.

Since I last really wrote.

The world has changed.

Donald Trump is President.

And the effort to oust him continues.

But I still support him.

Not blindly.

And yet.

A movie.

Here.

Lady Bird.

At first glance, a daft filmic gesture.

Taken again, a poignant slow-boiler.

And finally I watched the whole thing.

On the third try.

It’s like making a hazelnut blonde latte.

You put the hazelnut.

Pump-specific for size.

And you pull your shots of espresso.

And midway through, you realize you are pulling regular shots.

So you start over.

BLONDE espresso.

And you make the drink the second time.

And you hand it off.

And the drink comes back.

It wa sup be ic.

Iced.

All these fucking abbreviations.

Like being a part of the “intelligence community”.

So you make this same pitiful beverage a third time.

And by now you are woefully behind on the assembly line.

Once behind, there is very little chance of catching up.

Oh.

You will catch up.

Or fall over dead.

And probably no one will care either way.

This is Lady Bird.

Sacramento.

San Antonio.

Orlando.

Shitholes masquerading as metropolises.

Oklahoma City.

Provincial nightmares.

Greta Gerwig did a good job.

I ripped her to shreds the first time I saw her mise-en-scène.

Like a fucking JV football coach blocking The Tempest on a chalkboard.

Bad.

But, as we know, each film is its own language.

Each auteur, or metteur en scène (as the case may be), is a Rosetta Stone.

Mashed together.

Bleeding from one translation to another.

Along the gnarled edge pulled from from the Nile.

Trump is hard-pressed on every side.

And what is this #QAnon business?

Is it real?

I hope so.

Yet it’s terrifying.

Life, mainly.

The whole enchilada.

You work your balls off.

For what?

Are you happy?

Yeah, me neither.

And then you get to a place in life where you have no friends.

Yep.

That’s me.

It’s over.

Right now.

No friends.

Family, yes.

Thank God.

But no friends.

And you feel like a failure to have let down your family.

But maybe you came back for them.

You lazy Messiah, you.

You laid it all on the table…the altar.

Hammered to the sacrifice plane.

And also, you were really dumb.

As always.

But it is an idiot-savant dumbness.

Fuck.

I have a Master’s degree.

And a really specialized bachelor’s degree.

And the two together put me in position to do…just about nothing.

I could find that job.

But it wouldn’t be here.

But let’s talk about drugs.

Sickness.

Exercise.

Work.

Exhaustion.

Sacramento.

Mundane life.

I have hung on.

Barely, sometimes.

As today.

Fucking horrible shift.

God damn it.

Don’t get me started at this late hour.

This elderly midnight.

Premature.

“Time to make the donuts.”

I watch a film, and then I write about it.

Except that it hasn’t happened in a long time.

Because my job is a shock to the senses.

It is a brutal concatenation of events which beat upon my body and soul.

And my PSYCHE!

My brain.

My health.

Exercise good.

Stress bad.

Laziness gets no exercise.

Work gets exercise.

Work gets stress.

It is a tradeoff.

Decision theory.

And so I humbly pray to God.

That God will send me friends.

That love has not passed me by forever.

That my mind will be healed.

That my body will be strengthened.

That i will find the will to make difficult choices.

Which lead to health and happiness.

It is uphill.

I am not young like Lady Bird.

I’m old.

I’m a failure.

“I been all around the world, boys…”

What does life hold for me?

What does tomorrow hold?

Can I get out of fucking bed?

Will my joints ache as much as they usually do?

What’s the point?

What’s the plan?

Must rest to continue.

Must have hope to continue.

Where’s the hope?

I need hope.

I am a religious man.

And so I ask God, here among witnesses, to grant me hope.

I ask that my method be acceptable.

I believe in God.

And I feel the Spirit with me now.

I am scared.

I don’t know what the next day brings.

I don’t know which way to steer my ship.

And so I ask for Divine intervention.

A nudge.

A signal.

A sign.

That still-small voice.

Lord, help me to know.

Where to go.

Help me in my weakness.

Shore up my deficiencies.

Make your power evident in my poverty.

A film.

Lady Bird.

A country.

Coup and countercoup.

Q is the countercoup.

Assuming it’s real.

And a life.

I am here.

I can watch films.

When my brain allows.

But I know that in order to keep going, I need a miracle.

What will it be?

I have no idea.

I ask, Lord, that you have mercy upon me.

I ask that you comfort me and give me guidance.

I come to your feet humbly.

This is an excellent movie.

Saoirse Ronan is great here.

It is a poignant story by Greta Gerwig.

May we all be richly blessed by the Creator.

I pray this is Jesus’ name.

 

-PD

Perličky na dně [1966)

I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.

Several directors.

One product.

But this one serves a very interesting purpose.

So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).

So now we will get to branch out a bit.

A sampler of sorts.

Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.

Start with your best speaker, they say.

Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.

It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains

Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.

But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).

If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.

As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.

We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.

The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.

The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).

It’s baroque, but just slightly off.  Anachronistic.  Neobaroque.  Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).

But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec.  Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.

In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital.  It is a very touching piece of cinema.

They try to keep each other’s spirits up.

We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing:  lies.

Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.

In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.

What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen):  organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.

We are presented with outsider art in its purest form.  A painter who paints every wall in his house.  It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.

Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.

Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout.  Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.

Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.

A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.

Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature.  Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.

And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave:  Pearls of the Deep.

And little by little we learn a new culture.

 

-PD

Prenom Carmen [1983)

If Jean-Luc Godard had never made another film after 1983, this one would have been his best ever.  It is that good.  But perhaps you doubt?  Let me tell you why I believe this to be the case.

This may have been the film where Godard really nailed down his mature style.  Really, there is no putting a date on such things.  He has continued to progress to the current day.

But let us focus on a few salient elements.

Beethoven.

The sea.

One might expect a French (Swiss) director to pick Debussy and call the elements connected (we refer here to the orchestral piece La Mer).  But Godard was always very analytical.  And so Beethoven is a more natural choice.

But what Beethoven?  Which Beethoven?  It is the string quartets.

Must it be?  It must be.  It must be.

Godard began (continued?) to make films more like a composer than a movie director.

The art film genre allowed him to do this.  And in many ways he formed and shaped this genre from the beginning.

To call art films a genre is generally not in keeping with standard film criticism practice.

But I don’t care.

If it helps to call it a genre here, then so be it.

But does it help?

It makes no difference (as Rick Danko sang).

But let us not neglect the ocean…the sea.

“I salute you, old ocean,” as Lautreamont said in Maldoror.

Indeed, Godard has some of that proto-Dadaist perversion in this movie.  Perverse, as opposed to perverted.  Both.

What is remarkable beyond Beethoven and the sea is Godard as an actor.

That’s right, Godard himself plays a prominent role as (what else?) himself.

It is really a caricature of himself.  Or is it?

To wit, Godard plays a director who has gone crazy.

Early on we see him in an insane asylum.

There is something slightly frightening and menacing about him from time to time, but generally he is hilarious.

Humor.

This film is replete with humor.

But it is not a comedy.

Sometimes a comedy of errors.

And so, Carmen?  Yes, like Bizet.  We remember Brahms being so taken with this opera.

Was it the music or was there perhaps an attractive alto in the production?

Alto.  Viola in French is alto.

And who is our alto?  Only one of the greatest actresses to ever live:  Myriem Roussel.

I must at this point beg forgiveness from the universe for not even mentioning her in my review of Passion.

I blame Wikipedia (as I always do).

I admit laziness (as per usual).

Frankly, I knew it was her in Passion by the poolside.  It is a small-but-striking role.  Mainly because she is nude.

It is all very artistic, yet I see why Godard would cast the beautiful Roussel in revealing roles over the course of several films.

Yet here, Myriem is merely a violist.  The viola in my life.  Morton Feldman.

But it is neither Godard nor Roussel who carry the bulk of the dramatic action here.

For that we must credit Maruschka Detmers and Jacques Bonnaffé.  The acting from these two players is outstanding!

Detmers plays the titular Carmen.  Indeed (keeping with the hanging sonority), it is Detmers who spends a fair portion of this movie nude.  But, to Godard’s credit, so does Bonnaffé.

But this is not just a gratuitous European pseudo-art film.  This is the real thing.

The most beautiful moment occurs during a bank robbery.

A struggle for a gun.  A man and a woman.  Carmen.  She has robbed the bank with a band of professional thieves.

And Joseph (Bonnaffé)…the gendarme responding to the violent robbery.

He leaves his post in front of the bank and exchanges gunfire with the trigger-happy gang.

And so it is that Carmen and Jo (Joseph) struggle for an automatic weapon.  Both having been shot.

They crawl over each other.  Win at all costs.  To lose is death.  High stakes now.

And climbing over each other in spurts of faint energy, they abruptly stop and begin passionately kissing.

They give up.

It is the moral.

Ah, but they DON’T give up!  They join forces.

And so Joseph goes from cop to thief.  All for love.

Lust.  Love.

Oh no, I’ve said too much (as Michael Stipe once intoned).

But no…

Carmen needs to pee.  Joseph has tied her wrist to his using his necktie.  [What kind of gendarme doesn’t have handcuffs?]

And so they stop at a shitty roadside gas station.

The moral of the stop:  even France and Switzerland have shitty roadside gas stations.

Away from the tourists.  Off the beaten path.  Where people actually work for a living.

And we have the most poignant scene.  The most bizarre.  A fat man has pocketed a jar of baby food (?) and proceeded to the restroom to eat it lustily with his fingers.  Put another way, here’s a poor schmuck whose life at this moment (for one reason or another) has been reduced to shoplifting to sustain his life force.

And the poor schmuck gets a treat.  Carmen needs to pee.  So does Joseph.  Joseph won’t untie her.  And so she uses a urinal.  And the shoplifter continues to make slobbery sounds as he licks his fingers while eating baby food in front of the bathroom mirror…nonplussed by the action.  But he sneaks a peak…ah, whatever.  He is entirely involved in his “meal.”  Somehow this scene makes sense of the whole universe.  It is hilarious, disgusting, and believable.  The mark of genius is on this film throughout.

I must add one last thing.  Just when the strains of Beethoven have become commonplace–just when the crossfaded splosh of waves has been drowned out by our psyches…it is at this point which Godard throws us the most gut-wrenching curveball:  “Ruby’s Arms” by Tom Waits.  Bonnaffé hugs the TV…resting his weight on the crappy 80s hotel console…and the screen is tuned to snow…static…fuzz…phasing lines of nothingness.  Between channels.  And as the song plays, Bonnaffé caresses the screen…caresses what might have been.

It is a most touching evocation of lovesickness.

Carmen is fond of repeating the line from the American movie, “If I love you, then that’s the end of you.”  She may not work at a cigarette factory nor dance the habanera, but she is still the prototypical femme fatale.  Yes, Jo…love is a rebellious bird.

-PD