Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Alain Resnais's Coeurs (aka Private Fears in Public Places) finds Resnais in full operetta mode - although there aren't any musical numbers, with the pleasantly artificial sets and carefully-designed interactions and transactions between the different characters and sets, it certainly wouldn't be out of place for someone to burst into song. The film is light-hearted enough that an indoor snowstorm works quite nicely as metaphorical punctuation for the understated climax.

Because Resnais is working in what feels like such familiar territory, when the film strays from classical romantic formula there's something of a shock effect. As in Hollywood's grandest romantic tradition, characters are paired off from the very beginning of the film - obliquely at first, more directly later. Resnais understands perfectly well how invested the viewer becomes in an ending that is not just "happy," but the sort of happy ending in which romantic pairings are all finalized by the end of the film - and so the departures from this formula take the audience out of its comfort zone, and made me, for one, feel a little uneasy leaving the theater.

I think the play with conventions (which I'm assuming - and please correct me if I'm wrong - comes from the original theater piece from which the film is adapted) is pointed, in that it serves what appears to be a very specific purpose. Nobody ends up together, romantically-speaking, but the ending isn't really a sad one. The romantic loneliness spread among (most of) the characters does give the ending a melancholy feel, but my impression is that the ending offers an intervention that's not exactly cheerful but is nonetheless necessary. That is, Resnais's characters lean on the possibility of romantic fulfillment (and, more than that, on the potential of a relationship that hasn't yet begun) as the sole object and outlet for their own happiness. As a relationship falls apart, one partner finds a replacement without pausing for breath. A woman spends every night answering personal ads. An older man pines after a co-worker who has inadvertently left him naked footage of herself on a borrowed video. Romance (or rather, the possibility of romance) serves a different specific function for each, but in each case it's an all-purpose solution, an escape from whatever problems they have in their daily lives. The resolution forces the characters to return to the lives they're running away from, and signals that they need to be secure in their own lives before they start chasing fairy tales. As cynical as that sounds, the film is strong in both optimism and humanism - Resnais isn't condemning his characters to loneliness, but forcing them to start over. It should be noted that the proposed pairings would make for terrible relationships, the kind born out of convenience, proximity and desperation. What makes it truly optimistic is the sense all the characters will be okay, that they'll learn to exist in their own situations before seeking to enter someone else's (or that they'll stay single, and that might be fine as well). Coeurs is an extraordinarily mature, humane film. It's also a lot of fun.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Spiderman 3

An instructive, if ridiculous and slightly unfair, point of comparison for Out 1, the 2.5 hour Spiderman 3 is packed with plot and very fast-moving but feels slight, and does get a little boring. Out 1 buries its (questionable, and occasionally nonexistent) plot points underneath the rhythms and minutiae of everyday life, while Spiderman is so dominated by narrative and so full of action that we never get the chance to know any of the characters. Watching Spiderman is like gathering together a year's worth of comic books and working your way through the pile in 20 minutes, glancing at the pictures while flipping through the pages. It's an outline for a movie whose script remains to be written, filled with high concept plot points but lacking enough details to make it interesting to humans.

Sam Raimi doesn't seem all that into it anymore, except for a single scene in which Tobey Macguire (as an evil, emo-looking Peter Parker) performs a song-and-dance routine - a scene that reminded me of something Raimi said (possibly from my favorite book of interviews ever) about how the climactic fight scene in Army of Darkness was originally supposed to be a grandly choreographed dance. The second Spiderman movie was a wonderfully shameless melodrama, and the first wasn't bad even if it wasn't especially memorable. Raimi's put his time in at the studios and has done quite well for himself. Speaking as a well-wisher and admirer who appreciates the chaotic humor and transparent production of his genre films as well as the taut intelligence of his "serious" prestige indies (though I prefer one over the other, naturally), let's hope Raimi can and will return to more personal projects. As is the case with Peter Jackson, I've given up hope that he will return to the endearing shabbiness of his roots, the slapped-together horror films that had so much humor and energy and seemed willing to try anything. And maybe someday he'll parlay that studio goodwill into a Sam Raimi musical. I'd say he's earned the opportunity, and, regardless of the project, this hypothetical musical already sounds like more fun than all three Spidermans combined with Darkman.

The high point of the film is its quietest section: as the Sandman awakens from a science experiment-inspired loss of consciousness to discover that he's now made of sand, there's an extended sequence of sand moving and shifting and slowly forming into a human-like figure, which then crumbles instantly on contact with anything else. After a while, of course, they have to get on with it because there's so much more narrative to zip through. (Four villains. Five if you count evil Peter Parker.) But before its premature and definite resolution about five minutes in, the scene was quite beautiful and evocative and eery - which is five more minutes of poetry than could be found in the last X-Men movie.

[I caught Spiderman last Friday at the pleasantly shabby - some would say ratty - bargain cinema in Logan Square. The theaters are asymmetrical enough that the best seat in the house is sometimes (depending on which theater you're in) up against the wall to the far left, but the rows don't really line up so your knees might be in for a surprise if you make your way down the wrong row without paying attention. They're notorious for starting films 5-10 minutes early, you have to check your backpack before entering, and the restrooms have single-serving toilet paper - but the folks at the Logan don't hold back with the air conditioning and the $3 ticket price does go a long way towards curing me of indifference towards recent multiplex fare.]