Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Horseman on the Roof

I love Juliette Binoche. I'll watch any movie that she graces. This one takes place in France in 1832. The cholera outbreak has the villages in panic. An Italian nobleman has taken exile in southern France followed from his homeland by Austrian spies. He hopes to single-handedly free his country from Austrian control and is trying to raise money for the revolution in France.

This is not my favorite type of movie. I do tend to see a lot of wartime films, but they center on personal stories, the lives of people and families affected by the war. Movies like this one begin to lose me when they shift around with the ins and outs of war, the strategies, the camps, the chasing, the conflicts, the trumpeting. Who am I rooting for? Who's winning? Why are they attacking? What are they trying to accomplish? It's not the fault of the director or screen play. It's my own, for sleeping through history class. Furthermore I find that I don't do well with any movie involving petticoats.

While Angelo, the nobleman, is hiding out from the Austrian spies on the rooftops of rural France he takes refuge in the attic of Pauline de Theus, the wife of Marquis de Theus. She is awaiting her husband's return. She provides shelter and food for Angelo and they become partners as she looks for her missing husband and he tries to get home to Italy with money for the revolution.

The scenery is beautiful, these two beautiful people riding horses through mountains and countryside. I can't help but think of my nephew Blaise who has currently returned to his mother's homeland in southern France to work in his uncle's vineyard. He has also taken up training as an equestrian and is, as word has it, "a natural." Thank heavens for foreign films, I can imagine being there with him, the lucky duck.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I've Loved You For So Long

Is a murderer necessarily different from you and me? Juliette just got out of prison for murdering her 6 year old son. Rejected those years by her family, she is now welcomed into the home of her long lost sister. Her days are quiet and heavy, spent resuming the job of fitting in, looking for work, learning to love and be loved. No one has ever known the circumstances of the murder and no one asks. There is a young niece who asks a lot of questions of Juliette, mostly where she has been all her life. There is a brother in law who isn't completely comfortable with the idea of Juliette living in his home, with his children. There is a sister who is waiting to become a part of Juliette's life again.

The small things in life are presented here in each scene of Juliette's new life. An hour at the local cafe, a hopeful job interview, washing dishes in her sister's kitchen, teaching a niece to play a piece on the piano, a dinner with new friends. Life can be reclaimed after tragedy. There is always more love when we believe all is lost.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Life is Beautiful

The first time I saw Life is Beautiful I was shaken to my core. My friend Mary had invited me to go to a movie as she often did. We were homeschooling partners. She lives down the street and would take my son for a lesson or project and then I'd take hers. Our lives revolved around our families. I had a new baby boy. She had told me the premise of the movie at one time but I'd completely forgotten. I sat down and began to watch a love story, a sweet funny man, Guido an Italian Jew, who had come across the sweet shy woman of his dreams and he was determined to win her heart. It was Italy in the 1930s just before the German occupation and life was beautiful.

Guido wins the heart of his Italian lady who he calls "princepessa," princess. They have a beautiful little son and their life is beautiful until the movie takes a nightmarish turn and the Germans take the father and son. Princepessa insists to be taken with them. My heart began to break.

It was their son's 4th birthday and Guido, refusing to relinquish life's beauty, tells his son they are playing a game to celebrate. At every step of their unthinkable journey Guido remains bouyant, encouraging his son with his imaginative game to be the same. The crowded train ride was torturous. The boy wanted to go home and sleep in his own bed. For me this was an excrutiating scene. The simplicity of life and comfort, gone. A child needs a bed to rest his weary, confused body. At the camp, Princepessa is separated from the two and Guido continues his game telling the boy that they are participating in a contest, the winner of which would win a tank in the end. He lifts the spirits of his boy who he keeps hidden from the guards with his game throughout their days in the camp.

In the weeks following my viewing of this movie that bruised my heart with unthinkable pain and joy I would be shocked again hearing people speaking out against it. They said that Roberto Benini made light of one of the worst evils this planet has ever seen. No, it was the exact opposite. His movie was somehow able to introduce to me in a new way the horror of it all by holding fast to the beauty of life despite that horror. By showing the one that refused to go down with the ship, I could see more clearly the catastrophic evil that pulled millions of people, the Germans included, under to the destruction of their lives.

To know parenthood and the desperate consuming love and appreciation of life discovered there from the moment of conception is to know the immense tragedy of ignoring it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pierrot Le Fou

To say that Ferdinand Griffon is a husband and father is only to describe the incidental situation in which he has found himself. As the movie begins he is sitting in a tub, cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he reads aloud: Velazquez, past the age of 50, no longer painted specific objects. He drifted around things like the air, like twilight, catching unawares in the shimmering shadows the nuances of color that he transformed into the invisible core of his silent symphony. Henceforth, he captured only those mysterious interpretations that united shape and tone by means of a secret but unceasing progression that no convulsion or cataclysm could interrupt or impede. Space reigns supreme. It's as if some ethereal wave skimming over surfaces soaked up their visible emanations to shape them and give them form and then spread them like a perfume, like an echo of themselves, like some imperceptible dust, over every surrounding surface...These words invite us into Ferdinand's chaotic world.

A babysitter arrives and Ferdinand and his wife leave for a party where pairs stand close, smoke cigarettes, hold drinks and exchange superficial observations and we become the observers in this filmmaker's mockery of mindless self-absorption. Ferdinand wanders through, unsatisfied. He finds himself standing beside an American filmmaker and asks, "What are films?' The filmmaker replies that a film is like a battleground: love, hate, action, violence, death.

Ferdinand soon leaves the party, returns home, runs off with the babysitter, Anna Karina, and this film, this battleground begins. She has a mysterious past and present. There is "love" but only in the self-love sort of fashion, these two are too aloof and consumed with their own issues to create a viable relationship. She's running from her sins, he's running from his life and love seems to be something they've adopted as a travel partner. The film progress through the other four necessary elements.

This is a pretty film, Ferdinand and Anna wander and flop through France on their way to Italy. There are beaches and parrots, islands, boats and stolen cars plunged into lakes and left burning in fields. But the poignancy of the film is found in the ideas and emotions between the two runaways and the words Ferdinand compulsively records in his journal during their directionless and fateful lark.

To want something you have to be alive.

Life is so different than books. I wish it were the same, clear logical, organized.

I feel alive and that's all that matters.

Life may be sad, but it's always beautiful.

Real life lies elsewhere.

Why do you look so sad? Because you speak to me in words and I look at you with feelings. I can't have a real conversation with you. You never have ideas, only feelings. That's not true. There are ideas inside feelings.

In the end, the only thing of any interest is the paths people take. The tragic part is that even when they know where they're going and who they are everything is still a mystery. And the mystery forever unsolved is life.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mother of Mine

When World War II began to threaten Finland, the Swedes opened up their homes and took in 70,000 Finnish children until it was safe for them to go home. This is the backdrop of Mother of Mine, a premise that at once stills my heart to a low murmur, my head says No, don't go there. I did watch this stunning film then with lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, placed it high on the list of my favorite foreign films. This is a seamless and poignant story of lives coming together, lives that have come apart.

The story centers on Eero, a nine year old boy whose beloved father leaves to enter the war and never comes back. Eero and his mother are alone as Russia invades and she is forced to send him away for his safety. In a dim, depressing scene he boards a ship with other children and is carried away with two promises - to be returned as soon as the war is over and to be given a new bike in Sweden. The girls are promised dolls.

Some children are taken to facilities, but there is a home for Eero. His new home is by the sea. Pale green rolling hills, absent of trees or bush, and constant soft blue skies pair together filling the screen in nearly every scene . A farm house and low barns, all white and trimmed in green, connect to form a small cobblestone courtyard. There are geese and pigs and a humble couple who care for an elderly father. Willingly but cautiously they welcome this boy and begin to share their lives with young Eero, who misses his mother and doesn't speak their language.

Colors are prominent in this film: the perfect spring green of the grassy hills, the permanence of the blue sky, the staid white house with hopeful green accents, the dark blue car that cuts through this unchanging scene carrying child welfare managers, and the red mail box that stands alone at the bottom of the winding driveway. Here Eero waits to hear from his mother and the woman of the house, his new mother, retrieves letters that affect her present, dictate her future and dredge up her past.

Friday, March 27, 2009

See the Sea

Settling in with a cup of tea, surrendering to beaches with high rocky ledges, meadows, a young mother a baby on one hip, lazing through summer days. It is the perfect beginning to a film, a story - only, in this case, not a perfect story.

The first glimpses of Sasha and Siofra's lives in See the Sea are a pebbly beach through clear shallow waves with foamy edges, thick green meadow grasses holding gently in stiff coastal breezes and a solitary whitewashed, concrete house with royal blue shuttered windows and doors. A baby cries and a mother calls a sleepy answer from bed, and in her husband's white t-shirt, walks to a playpen and leans down for her sweet baby.

The part of 10 month old Siofra is played flawlessly by a sweet babe who cries when Mommy leaves, quiets when Mommy comes, sleeps on the beach under a hat and a thin blanket or snuggled beside Mommy on the couch. Her tiny toes are teased by the surf as she walks, holding Mommy's hands, in the wet sand.

Sasha, Siofra's mother, is a pleasant young woman with the bright, callow face of an adolescent boy and shoulder length straight honey colored hair. She fixes the whining baby a bottle, cleans a naked Siofra's bottom in the sunny grass, she rides Siofra down the empty road to the beach on a bike laden with towels, a bucket. Any mother can remember those peculiar days of young motherhood, a mixture of precious simple moments, mild weary frustrations, gazing loneliness, profound and mysterious love.

Sasha falls asleep on her towel, Siofra wobbles to stand using her mother's behind as a prop. Her eyes climb the rock rising before her where a backpacker walks and stops to look out over the sea and then down to the solitary pair on the beach below her.

We meet the backpacker. She stakes her red tent in Sasha's backyard. They share meals and odd conversations. Her manner is rather flat, raw, unfriendly - rude even. Sasha doesn't seem to notice as she willingly, perhaps because of the sweet dullness of her days, lets this strange visitor into her life. We learn that Sasha's husband is coming home soon from business but in the meantime we are helplessly beached with these three people in the whitewashed house by the sea.