At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm
Film Space is now showing “A Month of Mental Retardation” through the end of November. [In December, they will give you another chance to view Kieslowski’s fascinating Three Colors Trilogy, plus his The Double Life of Veronique.]
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Now that the weather is cool, they are resuming their rooftop showings, weather permitting. You might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.
At Film Space on November 22, 7 pm: Double Bill planned! The Eighth Day and Rain Man.
Nov 22 Film 1. The Eighth Day / Le Huitième jour (1996) by Jaco van Dormael – Belgium/ France/ UK Comedy/ Drama – 118 mins. Mixed or average reviews: 68 out of 100.
When his wife and grown children abandon him, a controlling, aggressive salesman resigns himself to a life of isolation and despair. But after he literally crosses paths with a sweet-natured Down's syndrome patient, the two forge a tender friendship based on their mutual dependence. Stars Auteuil and Duquenne (who actually has Down's syndrome) shared the Best Actor award at Cannes.
New York Times, Janet Maslin: When The Eighth Day was shown at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it was greeted with a mixture of derision and tears. I was surprised to find myself in the handkerchief brigade, by far the smaller faction because this film is unforgivable in so many ways. It's mawkish and pushy in a manner that identifies its director, Jaco van Dormael, who also made the very well-received Toto the Hero, as a former circus clown.
But it's also touching and unabashedly big-hearted as it shows a lonely executive being shaken out of his gray corporate universe, then reminded that the natural world is full of tender little miracles. Not such a bad point for a movie to make.
The stars of The Eighth Day, Pascal Duquenne and Daniel Auteuil, shared Cannes' best actor award for playing out a familiar movie story in surprisingly fresh ways. Duquenne, an actor who has Down syndrome, is the main reason The Eighth Day invites frequent comparison to Rain Man, though his is not a subtle star turn. The performance is rudimentary -- happiness, sadness, hugging -- but it has the advantage of looking spontaneous and real. Don't be all that surprised if he makes you cry, too.
In a hackneyed odd-couple pairing, Georges (Duquenne) and Harry (Auteuil) meet by accident (quite literally, since Harry stops his car to find Georges after the car hits a dog in the road). Georges has run away from the institution where he lives, and Harry has no idea what to do with him. Impatient as he is, Harry is also at liberty, since he has been left by his wife (Miou-Miou) and two children. As the film unfolds and the two men become fast friends, there's plenty of time for Harry to stop and smell the roses.
The first thing Harry must do is get used to Georges' way of living in the moment. Georges shouts, waves, touches or flashes a thousand-watt smile at the slightest provocation. Of course, the button-down businessman finds himself beginning to enjoy this. He starts joining in the fun. He rediscovers that dread movie resource, a childlike sense of wonder. There is also an empty seaside amusement park just waiting to show Harry, Georges and Georges' friends from the institution a rollicking good time.
Amazingly, van Dormael tells this story as if neither he nor we had seen it dozens of times before. Broad strokes of magical realism also offer their share of heart-tugging surprise. In his daydreams, Georges is accompanied by his favorite singer, who sits on the hood of Harry's movie car in a purple-spangled mariachi suit and, at one remarkable juncture, appears in the form of a singing mouse. Georges also imagines a smiling, loving mother who asks, "How's my little boy?" even though his real mother is dead.
The title, which comes from the film's idiosyncratic account of the world's creation, also refers to the way Harry is able to escape his cliché-ridden real life thanks to Georges' intervention.
Georges has the magic to let Harry step out of time. The film exploits that thought with a manipulative ending that makes its amusement-park episodes look dainty, but some of its sweet, peaceful moments really do have redemptive power. All it takes, in one scene, is for Harry and Georges to lie wordlessly in the grass enjoying the sights and sounds of a forest.
"A nice minute for us," Georges says simply. It really is.
Roger Ebert: . . . Watching The Eighth Day, I felt contradictory impulses. On the one hand, I was acutely aware of how conventional the story was. On the other, I was enchanted by the friendship between Harry and Georges. Auteuil is a fine actor, and so is Duquenne, who belongs to a Brussels experimental theatrical troupe and approaches every scene with a combination of complete commitment and utter abandon. These two men shared the best acting prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, and indeed it would be impossible to honor one without the other. . . .
Nov 22 Film 2. Rain Man (1988) by Barry Levinson – US Drama – 133 mins. Starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Generally favorable reviews: 65/77 out of 100.
Winner of four Oscars in 1988: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Original Screenplay.
Reel.com: Everyone knows Rain Man. Everyone uses catch phrases spawned by Rain Man. Everyone loves Rain Man. Autistic savants are now referred to colloquially as "rain men." The 1988 film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four is a piece of pop culture history embedded in our collective unconscious. Rain Man is the story of two brothers, Charlie (Tom Cruise) and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) Babbitt. Charlie is a nasty, malevolent, and greedy importer of Italian cars, the personification of 1980s excess (he could be a protégé of Michael Douglas's "greed is good" Wall Street character). When his wealthy but estranged father dies, leaving Charlie only a vintage car and some rose bushes, the 25-year-old sets out to see who "stole" his inheritance. What he finds is a 50-year-old autistic savant brother who has been institutionalized since their mother died when Charlie was two. The younger brother kidnaps the older in order to take him back to California and win custody, thereby gaining control of the $3 million trust fund. En route, Charlie—described by Cruise as an "emotional autistic"—learns to reach out and love from his clinically autistic sibling.
At Film Space on November 29, 7 pm: I Am Sam (2001) by Jessie Nelson – US Drama – 132 mins. Starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dakota Fanning. Generally negative reviews: 28/46 out of 100.
Sean Penn leads a large cast as a mentally handicapped man raising a young daughter on his own as well as fighting an impervious child-care bureaucracy. Quite a difference of opinion on this one between the critics who in general slam it as simplistic and manipulative, and many viewers who count it among their most favorite films. As examples:
Rolling Stone: Contrived, manipulative, and shamelessly sentimental, this film is notable for the courageous reach of Sean Penn, who gives a bold, heartfelt performance.
Variety: A near-parody of ultra-politically correct storytelling, in which single parenthood is lionized (and even finally found preferable over an alternative two-parent family option). The movie assumes, in a thoroughly unearned way, a total acceptance of its shaky premise -- that a man like Sam, with the mental abilities of a 7-year-old, is the best possible parent because he has more love for his child than anyone else.
IMDb viewer: As the film progresses, you will find yourself laughing one minute, crying the next (you WILL cry no matter how mature or old you are, so make sure you have tissues) . . . and the next moment simply staring at the screen not believing your eyes and ears at how emotionally powerful a film can be.
IMDb viewer: It's A Wonderful Life has been the top of my list for all time favorite movies, now I Am Sam has moved in right next to it.
At Film Space on December 6, 7 pm: Trois Couleurs: Bleu / Three Colors: Blue (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 100 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.
With Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Véry, Hélène Vincent, Philippe Volter, Claude Duneton, Hugues Quester, Emmanuelle Riva.
“Three Colors: Blue is the first part of Kieslowski's trilogy on France's national motto: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Blue is the story of Julie who loses her husband, an acclaimed European composer, and her young daughter in a car accident. The film's theme of liberty is manifested in Julie's attempt to start a new life free of personal commitments, belongings, grief, and love. She intends to spiritually commit suicide by withdrawing from the world and live completely independently, anonymously and in solitude in the Parisian metropolis. Despite her intentions, people from her former and present life intrude with their own needs. However...”
– Alliance Française description
In Blue, you will be struck by the powerful performance of Juliette Binoche in what is basically a solo performance. It has been said that her face shows clearly what she is thinking all the time. Well, not all the time for me. Most of the time, yes, but at a couple of key points I was suddenly at a complete loss as to what was going on in her mind, and it was a puzzle that I needed to figure out.
Kieslowski obviously wants to key these three films and their themes in some way to the French flag and the French motto of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity: blue, white, and red are continually referred to in the film, as well as in the titles. At one point in the first film, we see the protagonist Julie carrying a box which, as a close-up shows, has prominently written across it the word "blanco", Spanish for white; in the next shot we are looking at her from behind, and she pauses in the street as a man in blue passes her on her left and a woman in red passes her on her right. This is a not-so-subtle reference to the structure of the Three Colors trilogy - blue, white, red, in that order, mirroring the French flag.
And then again, During one swimming scene in the blue pool, children in red and white bathing suits run out and jump in the water -- another reference to the trilogy (blue, white, and red).
And in the first film, Blue, there is blue all over the place; in addition to blue filters and blue lighting, any number of prominent objects are blue - a foil balloon, a tinted window, awnings, a folder, the walls of a room, coats, skirts, scarves, blouses, jeans, shirts, trash bags, crystals, a lollypop and its wrapper, binders, graffiti, a pool, a van, and a pen.
Blue, supposedly standing for Liberty. Does this help? Well, for sure, it can get you thinking, trying to make connections. You could say that this woman is on a campaign to be completely independent (at liberty, I suppose) with nothing to tie her down, and no alliances which might become entangling. She says at one point, “Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”
Is this a cautionary tale? Liberty being taken to a ridiculous extreme? What precisely is the film trying to say? If one takes this as being an example of “liberty” then what about it’s unity with another part of the flag, the red, “fraternity” (or “brotherhood”)? This woman is about as opposite to “fraternal” as you can get! In fact, she’s basically an extremely unsympathetic and unpalatable character, cold, and selfish.
So the blue, white, and red of the French flag, and Liberté, égalité, fraternité, may seem like a help, our window to a grand scheme, but is it really? I rather think it only seems to be a help, on first glance, but really isn’t. If it’s purpose is just to get you to think about it, it certainly succeeds. Maybe something along the line of, “You can’t have all three!” Not at the same time.
Juliette Binoche, in what amounts to a one-woman show, turns in a mesmerizing and accomplished performance. She manages to bring an element of humanity and sympathy to a basically unsympathetic character – there is little in Julie, as written, for the audience to latch onto, but Ms. Binoche provides the emotional link to the story.
Blue is a powerful motion picture - both in terms of its dramatic impact and in its method of presentation, and it is an adventure to be prized highly.