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Told through flickering cameras, jump cuts, fluorescent lights, visual
fragments and burnt colors, this is a romance within a romance, a
narrator within a narrator searching for a girl he lost. He's a
cameraman, someone tasked with seeing; he watches her every day as she
comes along the bridge to an apartment they share. As he waits he
imagines a story she told him about a man who spent his life searching
for a girl he lost. Imagines her in the girl within the story's place,
until that girl disappeared in the river. His own girl emerged from
water the first time he saw her, mermaid in the club aquarium.
It's about his girl who never came back one day, vanished into air. The whole is narrated from the end, with the nested story about heartbreak as wondering about love, how people can truly do it. The river standing in for transient life that carries away the past.
It's not quite Kar Wai, albeit in the same vein of languorous longing that stirs electrifying poetry out of streets. It's a bit loose in shape, pieces of daydream that float, and very much influenced by French notions of layered narrative.
Noir Meter: not a noir
Okay, so Egoyan has faded from view it seems, but for a while as he
really was something. Exotica was powerful in exemplifying his
paradigm. A narrator trapped in hurt that he constantly relives as
performance, the entrapment as memory, the narrative of vaguely
dreamlike connections as self. More than just some drama out there, it
was a coda penetrating into something of the very process that gives
rise to the ruminating mind; self. He extends it here.
Once more a narrator who remains trapped in impotent hurt - a lawyer whose daughter has strayed in drugs - who is now approaching people much like him, heartbroken by childloss, to convince them of the need to find someone to punish and hold responsible. A larger view through this man. About us, unable to come to terms with the fact that life is transient and will sometimes break down for no reason. And how this freezes love, makes rigid our ability to remain supple in the face of mishap - and I may have just stumbled on a great definition of love - and turns it into incessant ego.
Egoyan is an intelligent mind in sketching his paradigm and again in how he pursues resolutions. Parents having been convinced by this bitter man (who is a storyteller working to construct a legal story that justifies) to throw their hurt outwards, turn it into recrimination, it's the surviving daughter who breaks the cycle of suffering for all involved. How she does it, again referencing narratives, is by fabricating a memory, fiction that requires a performance. It's not the truth of course, but it's what needs to be done so that fictions can be chucked away and simple acceptance can begin the work of mending.
Yes, he can be obvious in spots and parallels, more so here than Exotica. He can be as simply lyrical as Kieslowski, as complexly layered as Medem. But seen overall, it's the larger awareness of life as flow that goes through many veils that makes this worthwhile. On these veils are seen the shapes of bygone life, mind itself as it wonders. He pursues this mind with an eye that is marvelously freed from the here and now to surge forward and back in search. This effort in film is far from novel, it goes back to Tarkovsky at least, but it's tuned to the same purpose; how to see with an eye that remains supple in the face of reality.
And we can venture even further out to offer this view about the world that gives rise to this work. Egoyan can trace a past life for himself in a corner of that bygone world that centuries ago was overran by invaders from the steppe. He must be acutely aware of a past that is shrouded in ruin, the need to placate ghosts of memory. This is a world I happen to share with him, first Armenia, then Constantinople and all the way up to the Danube, that was wrecked in its physical reality, severed from it in so many ways, and a deep part of it has taken flight in dreams and memory, which is the subject of both this and his previous film.
So is it any wonder that he draws fresh water from Tarkovsky's spring? It's a spring that both Parajanov, another Armenian, and Kusturica later would draw from, and it goes back in time in a deep way. Something to keep in mind while viewing him.
For what this is, this is just fine. The whole gambit, which is the
difference between Appatow stuff that work and those that don't, is to
have skits that mask themselves out by spontaneity and characters that
you can buy as people who are troubled by real stuff before they have
to morph for the cartoon. They do it here mostly. A lot of it is down
to Rogen and Byrne conveying a great vexation.
It's about this couple of 30 year olds who have ushered into proper adulthood, bought their first house in the suburbs and just had a baby. The film begins with the notion that maybe they would like to party once in a while but this new life is too hectic. What do you know, a sorority moves next-door, reminder of crazy youth they have to leave behind and are probably better off for it.
Enjoyable to watch overall and more of a breeze than not, which is what I expect to get out of a night with this.
This is like all the Iraq movies where a few raggedly handsome troops
stave off hordes of ululating savages. You can see how the western
version would go, remote outpost in the desert ambushed all night by
marauding Comanches. We would be asking in that case the same question;
what business do these Yanks have being there in the first place? But
always as afterthought to the thrill of will they climb over the wall.
And Bay is addressing what I take to be a controversy of the cavalry
not showing up.
After the long night, we celebrate bravery and brotherhood, briefly lament the needlessness. We cast a parting sorrowful glance at the mothers of the enemy crying over the bodies of their braves. We get to understand that omission is as much a part of this as cowboy courage, that the whole thing is overseen by calculating minds from afar. We don't get to see how the tribal viper's nest was poked by these overseers in a bid to remove Qaddafi.
But I have another response that outlasts all this in my mind, let me paint a picture. With these movies we fly over wartorn lands that have been devastated in innumerable ways, a sea of malaise stretching from Iraq to Libya. We swoop from above to find the handful of Americans wherever they are, wrongly or not, stay for the battle, see their courage, and fly off again with the bodies of fallen heroes.
There's a vast discrepancy here that doesn't wash with me. Between how precious and celebratory life is on one side and how wretched and nameless on the other. Between single lives of CIA contractors and the unwashed multitude. Between the luxury of a movie clocking at 2,5 hours to enshrine 13 hours to memory and a whole country in shambles where life is just washed away year in year out.
Blood Simple introduced the combination of mood and noir karma from
above, the key was in making the first long, the second precise.
Arizona went two steps further, supplying the multitudinous desiring mind that makes reality bubble up, Ozzie and Harriet through HI's mind.
Miller's tried to do both the karmic noir while toying with 'the world of the mind' in the forest. They made Barton Fink that film about the mind instead, in a most obvious way by that point, rooms mapping to mind, wallpaper coming unglued.
So by the time the Coens made this, there was already a clear blueprint of inclinations. Once more a film noir about a schmuck whose desire makes the skies cave in on him. Once more about the life of the mind, the mind dictating egoistic desire and greed, less obvious than Barton. Along the way we get quirky staples, dry gaffe, guns, blood, a satchel of money, to offset the frigid pace in the broad audience's mind.
But although Macy's desire makes all sorts of accident and chaotic whimsy bubble up in the world, a softly maintained order straight from Frances' calm Minnesotan mind prevails. The film offers in fact a perfectly centered metaphor of the Coens at work and their larger blueprint. It's a cold world out there, with broken people and human ego and desire creating inane anxieties, but it hasn't numbed the heroine's soul who calmly goes through a narrative, piecing it together, to save a mirrored wife from danger and restore order in the world of the film.
It's fine work to see on your first rounds. Methodical, exact, clean, some of the cleanest work you'll see anywhere.
But clean logic comes with a tradeoff in unfettered intuition that can slip ahead of you into places you didn't know or can't explain. It takes a parting of this logic to give me the great stuff that go beyond ideas; Lynch's whole career has been a creative journey of this. I miss this here. Still, the entry points are there to see and imagine from. The kidnapping plot as a thought that wafts from his mind before he could keep hold of it, herself woken up in the middle of the night by nightmare.
The Coens must have been aware of this fettering. They would drop a bomb on cinema with their next one.
Noir Meter: 3/4 | Neo-noir or post noir? Neo
This is wholly typical to look at as "wrong man" thriller but makes
more interesting sense when you take stock of it as modern noir. It
begins with a man who is going around with someone's wife. He may be
well meaning and the husband an abusive dolt, but there's something not
quite right here and will need to be settled.
So his tiptoeing in the dark takes noir shape in a narrative where he finds himself at the mercy of a plot where he was only being used, a character in a story prepared by cunning authors to exploit what he thought was love. The main tool for giving shape to turmoil is that the anxiety is so overwhelming, he splinters in two; one where he is pretending to work the case where he has been framed as culprit, the other where he must rush to prevent himself from being outed, tinkering with the story, changing clues.
I like how it is all laid out in the very first scene, the scene of the narrator's emergence into the noir world; he has answered a call for a break-in to someone's house, she says it was someone exactly like him, he tries to seduce, then she does. Then we pull back to have it revealed that they know each other and were only playing, the call an excuse for the affair. But of course in due time we get to note that she was seducing outside the seduction, the affair an excuse.
Along the way we have Florida as the evocative backdrop, some ordinary mechanics of tension as he fights to reclaim control.
It's brought back full circle in the end where he emerges from the nightmare of this illicit affair and, having realized the hazard to his soul, is relieved to be taken back by his estranged wife (she was mightily impressed that he didn't kill and steal, okay). So with Denzel on the cover this might seem like any thriller, but it's from a noir genealogy. Denzel and this filmmaker had made a more alluring noir prior in Devil in a Blue Dress, this is more mechanical.
Noir Meter: 3/4 | Neo-noir or post noir? Neo
This is film noir and works from a great primary text, in fact it's
Postman Rings Twice; man has washed up in a smalltown limbo somewhere
in Texas, goes to work for a blonde bombshell's husband who has a heart
condition. It's viscous in mood, scorching heat as you wait with
nothing to do in the empty car dealership, a lot of latenight snooping
But it also has what I can always count on noir to provide and really sets the genre apart from ordinary crime; realizations about the mechanisms that create a life of suffering, how they begin in the mind and take mirrored form outside in narratives that trap us in chimeras.
A man succumbing to desire - rendered here as a fire that goes off in town and he goes to see - and how that sets in motion a karmic chain of events woven from that desire. It begins with merely being curious to see, ends with inability to escape a narrative. None of that would have come to pass of course if he hadn't allowed himself to be pulled by desire, thinking that fates are blind and he could go unseen inside the bank.
In other hands that might have been expert notation squandered in a histrionic telling, think Romeo is Bleeding. A lot of modern noir is like this, selfaware cartoons. It works so well here and to my mind it may have something to do with having Hopper at the helm, someone who has made his rounds of reckless life on the edge. Judging from the film, he brings an affinity for all this as life that entwines around you, sticky clothes on a hot night.
My favorite part is the premonition of possible lives ahead of him anchored in the two women.
The sultry femme, with the viscously furnished house of meaningless passion, the latenight encounter in the wilds. And as contrast the sweet co-worker who stands as promise for quiet love, swimming with her in the secluded pond, walking her back home in the early morning.
Hopper weaves here again the notion of a wrong perception as the early stage of suffering; a seeing that pried into her one day at the pond, snapped images of her that a redneck lecher is using to keep her trapped in a (false) narrative. His house as another space of meaningless desire that feeds off appearances, with photos of women strewn about but the place is a junk heap, the place of someone who's let himself go.
Noir Meter: 4/4 | Neo-noir or post noir? Neo
I was intrigued going in. Robert Towne working from a script of his,
Gibson, Pfeiffer and Russell at their most fresh. Conrad Hall handling
the camera, a wise assignment to the rookie Towne. It would be taking
place in LA, the most noir of cities. What could have gone so wrong?
I guess one thing to note is that Towne isn't up to it. He films a hodge podge of scenes where romance, conflict or drug plot are sped along to be whatever the story demands them to be at that point. You'll see angles and shots awkwardly hanging about like discarded fabrics from something that was badly sewn. Heartfelt exchanges between the trio of characters but they all feel patched on. A Spanish guitar twirls wistfully now and then to remind that this is all fundamentally tragic.
So it's all in disarray here but the real problem as I see it is deep in the fabric of the imagination that gives rise to it.
A way to think about it is that America had caroused into apathy since the time of Chinatown, both in a larger sense and the Hollywood mirror. It was "morning again" but a kind of fake morning like someone had filmed the idyllic sunrise in an studio backlot of the 50s (much like Reagan's ad feels).
This isn't a matter of the film not being dark or cynical enough as though either were a virtue. Chinatown was both but it was from having its ear on the ground. It's that the cinematic mirror here is pointed without care, showing no particular thing. It has a slapdash feel that to my mind serves as reflection of this larger dissipation of vision.
(You can practically watch this disconnect take place in Lethal Weapon the previous year; a noir plot where cops come to investigate a mysterious suicide, by the end we don't get to know anything about the girl who leaped to her death, but we have all this time devoted to explaining the whole drug trafficking plan with its cartoon villains.)
There's one scene that stands out; the one that begins with Pfeiffer and Gibson kissing in front of the azaleas, cuts to prowling shots outside the house, gives us their lovemaking inverse reflected on steamy waters, intercut with shots of voyeur cops "viewing" intently, and intercut again with Russell making an important discovery by looking at photos (that he magically procured from thin air to serve the story). But even that stands out as clumsy bravura, trying to be Welles for a few minutes out of the blue.
It just goes to waste the youthful energy of these actors, Pfeiffer in particular. She brings to life one of the screen women truly worth knowing; aloofness that glides with kind dignity, guards herself without ego, spirited enough to stay and find out.
Noir Meter: not a noir
There are two movies at work here (see also the title). One is about
placing us in a remote place and time, New England in the 1600s when it
was uncharted wilderness, giving us a presence in a life outside maps.
A family has been ostracized and comes to live in a remote farm at the
edge of the woods. Dread here comes from knowing we are on an edge of
the world and no one will be coming for help.
And then we have another kind of presence as you might guess, lurking in the woods and circling from afar. The apparitions are scarce, which seems to have put some viewers off, but are harrowing when they came so we stay the duration until the next one. The first one in particular is so well timed and ghastly; we know right away this will be a world without mercy, without cuteness about evil.
They made it overall, this is worth watching, it creeps. The difference is all in the first kind of presence that ushers us in a world of human frailty. There are all kinds of ways to explore that edge, only one of which is the notion that evil is being hallucinated, reality cursed by belief in a narrative about evil powers. The forest as playground for chance havoc transformed in the traumatized mind. The filmmakers toy with as much in the scene with the kids becoming possessed by the sight of possession, then snapping out of it. And it's of course in Thomasin giving herself over to delicious madness, levitating out of mind that witnessed what it did.
I would have liked to see a Herzog version, even more knowingly centered in shedding knowledge to give us mind levitation, from his days when he was still a shaman of the craft of seeing. Or this with a lusher camera that listens for the night. We don't altogether escape movie- ism here and this kind of film more than others needs to reach us primal, although it must be an uphill struggle. Was Blairwitch the last time our viewer defenses could be witched away?
Tilda is superb as always and the one real reason to see this. She
colors the space around her with profound tensions. She's like Brando,
able to improvise a whole sea of shifting emotions in the space between
the outskirts of her character and innermost soul, but whereas Brando
struts in that space in capricious absent-mindedness, she surfs on what
flows from inside her, letting float inside but balancing on the out.
The film needed this same ability to color narrative space. It doesn't have it.
It needed for us to not be in full control of the facts and stumble through what floats inside to color the out. It would have benefited from threading early for example the son's suspicion that she might be having an affair while their father is out at sea instead of inserting it late in the story when we know she's not. It needed for her relationship with the mob guy to be ambiguously defined from afar. It teeters in silly sentimentality shown as it is.
Check out Bastards (the Claire Denis film). It's also about a mother being profoundly torn by what she believes she couldn't prevent, also noir about reality becoming cursed and devious because she couldn't face it clearly. But it takes place in that space between eye and inmost soul that Tilda anxiously inhabits here (and gives us the most advanced logic of perception since Lynch). This one just embeds her in a plot of to and from.
Noir Meter: 2/4
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