Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Day 81: Hiroshima Mon Amour

I've got to stop watching such great old films. It's really impossible to enter into any dialogue about them that feels fresh, vibrant, or, even honest without the ghosts of critics past haunting my keystrokes. Generally, when I sit down to write about a movie like Hiroshima Mon Amour, I try to dig deep, to find what it means to me, try to ignore everything that's been said about it, and find the aspect of the film that hit me the hardest as an entry point.

For Hiroshima Mon Amour, there's no doubt that the documentary footage of survivors of the atomic blast is this entry point. The film juxtaposes the smooth bodies of two entwined lovers with the burnt, crispy flesh of the survivors while the lovers whisper enigmatic things to one another about Hiroshima. The couple is comprised of a French actress, in Hiroshima to make a film about peace, and a Japanese architect. They've only just met and both are married, but they connect so quickly, so easily that the affair threatens to overtake their lives. As the film progresses, they constantly break apart and then come back together, compelled, perhaps, by the desire to understand the enormity of the violence that took place in Hiroshima and how it affected both of them.

We learn that the Japanese man was off fighting in the war when the bomb dropped, but his family was living in Hiroshima. We learn that the French woman had an affair with a Nazi when she was 18 and was publicly shamed for this fact. Both lovers cling to one another in order to exorcise their painful memories, but their desire to hold on to the pain of the past separates them, isolates them, and dooms their relationship. The Japanese man is the more ready to let the past drift away of the two, but the film never resolves his disturbance that the French people celebrated when the bomb was dropped. The actress cannot let go of the memory of the dead Nazi, telling herself that she's cheated on him by revealing their story to another.

The pall and guilt of war crimes pervades a well-captured and realistic romance. The relationship is a sweaty, passionate, yet shameful affair, and this is never more apparent than when the two make one another happy. Their smiles are tinged with regret and their laughter short and terse. The characters often refer to past events in the present tense and this conflates the past and the present of the film. This is particularly saddening, as it gives the sweet relationship an air of inevitable doom.

The film is beautiful in the way it takes world events and makes them personally relevant to realistically drawn characters. This is something that I never fail to go nuts about. With beautiful black and white photography and a delightful musical score, Hiroshima Mon Amour is a poignant history of the emotions of people post World War II and, yet, much like the way the characters speak of the past in the present tense, it exists above time.

Home stretch

A double meaning. On the one hand, I'm down to watching the last ten or so movies for this blog. In addition, I'm going to Kansas City for the holidays to be with family.

But there will not be any days off. Not even with a 10 hour car trip. I've gone so long with no break, I'm committed to not skipping a single day even with my bullshit declaration of principles allowing for it. No. Movies will be watched. And things will be written about them. Even on Jesus's birthday. Especially on Jesus's birthday. This is what he wants me to do. I can feel it deep down.

What's even more exciting is I'll be away from home base, forced to find films and fit them in as I can, even with busy holiday activities. Forced to find stray internet capable computers and type on them before their rightful owners find out. Blogging by the seat of my pants. It's going to be fun.

Things like this are only worth doing if the amount of respect you'll lose for yourself upon failing is enough to make you commit yourself totally. And, you know, even if no one was watching, I'd still feel this way.

Day 80: Eureka

Not a bad movie, exactly, hobbled by critical flaws, to be sure, but certainly interesting, Eureka is about a gold prospector, Jack McAnn, who strikes it super-rich thanks, in part, to a magical rock.  After he finds his fortune (alas, very little dancing around and screaming GOOOOLD!), the film jumps forward in time to show a man marred by his wealth.  He's married, owns an entire island, and lives in a state of paranoia, greed, and jealousy.  There are echoes of Citizen Kane in the way the character uses his money to craft a world of his own making and becomes angry when other people won't play along according to his plan.  His daughter, for instance, is in love with Rutger Hauer, something any dutiful parent would object to, I think, and McAnn goes to great effort to destroy their relationship.

This is a Zardoz-y trainwreck.  The film bounces around in time and space for a while, a technique that captures the McAnn character as a hardened loner against the rough landscape of the American West in mythic, grandiose terms.  It's not entirely convincing, though, and the histrionics surrounding his character in the first sequence of the film are so overblown, albeit in a pleasing Legend-era Ridley Scott sort-of way, that it's hard to get a handle on what's happening in the film.  Once we join his cranky future self, things settle down (to both the movie's benefit and its loss) and the plot that follows the elder McAnn is well-wrought (the film finds its footing through a particularly focused and engaging Gene Hackman).  But, suddenly, he's gone from the story and Eureka turns into an unconvincing, improbable, and ridiculous court drama.

The courtroom shenanigans don't work and the straight-forward Kane meets The Godfather plot digressions are lacking any real narrative thrust as well.  What's captured nicely, though, is a triangle of conflicting emotions between McAnn, his daughter, and Rutger Hauer.  After exercising restraint with the other straight plots in the film, director Nicholas Roeg turns on his faucet of editing gimmicks when this conflict is at the forefront of the movie, and they're used to good effect.  One sequence featuring Hauer at a Bacchanalian voodoo ceremony, cross-cut with Hackman and the daughter is especially effective as the rhythms of the music and the actions of the people at the ceremony seem to dictate what will happen in the narrative.  Then, we're back to the straight stuff as Hackman refuses to sign some papers for some land over to Joe Pesci, and it feels like a betrayal of the fantastic scene that's come before.

This is representative of the whole.  There's a fantastical element to the plot found in Hackman's magic rock that works surprisingly well, foreshadowing events to come and affecting Hackman's life in a subtle, uneasy way.  The film is very, very good at this and excels whenever something "odd" is happening onscreen (including an intense and grisly murder scene that defies all the cinematic decorum that's preceded it [and come to think of it, also the decorum that follows]).  But the more traditional narrative strands are done in such a conventional fashion that they feel lacking in comparison.