Though I see well over a hundred of films every year, I don’t go out to a movie theater very often, since I am a stay-at-home cheapskate, happy to see as many films as I can on Blu-ray disk or video streaming from Netflix, for a simple monthly membership, unbroken since June 2000. The choice of films at Images Cinema in Williamstown usually represents exactly what I intend to see, even if I am typically content to wait a few months to see them at home. Recently, however, Images offered three films in one week that I couldn’t wait to see.
Though I’ve never really liked any Jean-Luc Godard film after Masculine Feminine (1966), and certainly none since his break with my main man Truffaut, in order to maintain credibility as some sort of expert on film I had to see his latest, which came in at #2 on the Film Comment poll for the Best Film of 2014. So when Images went out on a limb and showed Goodbye to Language in 3D (MC-75, NFX), I availed myself of the singular opportunity. And since the primary interest of the film lay in the way it played around with the 3D format, such viewing was essential to any evaluation. Nonetheless, this Godard will come nowhere near my list of the year’s best. I did not so much watch the film, as observe myself in the act of watching it, piecing together perception out of visual clues and illusions. Trying to find a point of reference around which to resolve a coherent visual perception, I often lifted the 3D glasses, but other times I simply reveled in the representational quality of the format. I think in particular of a lingering shot of a passing ship with the waves of its wake lapping into the foreground. (I wasn’t sharp enough to witness the effect that several critics mentioned, in the unreadable superimposition as a couple splits, which if you close one eye or the other, resolves into two separate, and separating, images.) The film did suggest many ways that 3D could be used to good effect outside of action films or animation. Of the actual content, and of Godard’s intellectual pretensions and hobbyhorses, the less said, the better. You endure all that for 70 minutes in order to see the occasional amazing image, definitely not to see or hear two unreal characters pontificate, about how the two most interesting ideas are “infinity and zero” (the man) or “no, sex and death” (the woman, who elsewhere announces her purpose in life as “to say ‘no’ and to die.”) Godard not only dredges up his old Mao obsession, but even attributes a Zhou Enlai quote to him in error. He long ago claimed the privilege to fool around with film any way he wants, but hasn’t had a genuine new thought in forty years or more. He’s always congratulating himself on his own cleverness.
After the Godard I went back to the box office, and into the theater again, for the humanistic antithesis and antidote. A new Dardenne brothers film is an event for me, so I didn’t want to postpone the pleasure, and I truly appreciate Images for showing each as it comes out. Two Days, One Night (MC-89, NFX) is not their greatest film (my personal favorites are Rosetta and The Kid with a Bike), but it is their most accessible to date, and I urge you to see it at earliest opportunity. Relatively speaking, they calm down their herky-jerky, on-the-fly style, and they include a well-known actress in the lead. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard meshes seamlessly with the Dardennes’ regulars and nonprofessionals, and indeed received another Best Actress nomination. She’s completely believable as a worker in a Belgian solar panel factory, who is threatened with losing her job when she tries to return from medical leave for depression. The factory manager has determined that he can function with a crew of sixteen, so he will allow her to return to work only if her fellow workers forego a bonus to cover her wages. She has one weekend, the time denoted in the title, to try to influence her fellows individually by direct appeal, fearful that without the job her family will lose the house they just moved into from public housing. The film plays out as a parable of solidarity, without ever speaking the word, and as a demonstration of Jean Renoir’s famous dictum, “There is only one terrible thing, and that is, everyone has his reasons.” With the breadth of a sociological survey, the Dardennes pose one question, and then observe the disparate answers of their characters, in a way that ratchets up suspense, and then provides a surprising but completely convincing resolution. Eschewing background music as usual, they feature two songs on the car radio, one by Petula Clark (in annoyingly unsubtitled French), and Van Morrison singing “Gloria,” in a music cue that was positively Bressonian. There are few filmmakers working today with whom I feel more affinity than Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
Mike Leigh is right in there with them, and the next attraction at Images was his latest, Mr. Turner (MC-94, NFX), with commentary on the painterly subject from one of the
Clark’s own attractions, Michael Cassin. This was definitely a film that deserved to
be seen on the widest possible canvas.
It ran long enough to feel a bit wearying, but I very much look forward
to seeing it again at greater leisure.
One thing I’ll be more attentive to is the extent to which it serves as
disguised autobiography -- a deep, late-life look at an artist with whom Leigh
feels a close identity. Having confirmed
the film’s fidelity to the facts of Turner’s life, as close-mouthed and
little-known as portrayed, I’ll relax into scenes whose meanings are fragmented,
but eventually form a meaningful mosaic.
But this is judging the film from one’s fatigue at the end, rather than
the sense of rapturous immersion with which it begins. Never has the past felt more palpable in an
historical film -- this is the past when it was present, just how it looked and
even how it smelled. The density of
specification offers time travel to two centuries ago.
As played by Timothy Spall, J.M.W. Turner is an enigmatic and rather
unappealing character, boorish and boarish, but redeemed by a profound love of
light and devotion to the discipline of its capture on a painted surface. In accord with Mike Leigh’s trademark practice
of lengthy rehearsal and character development, all the performances in the
film are thoroughly lived-in. In the
vein of Topsy-Turvy, the amazement lies in the detail of the
production – locations, sets, costumes – from a director best known for
kitchen-sink dramas. His longtime
cinematographer Dick Pope also needs to be singled out for credit. This is a must-see on a big screen. Britain