Friday, October 5, 2012

Russian noir, and classic Hollywood


I made it to two films in theatres over the past couple of weeks and caught a couple on DVD. The best of the bunch was Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia 2011) shown last weekend at the Detroit Film Theatre. It won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes. Its score is by none other than New Age/Classical composer Philip Glass. And it has a noirish plot. So I bit. And wasn’t disappointed. The film opens with long, studied shots on particular scenes – the balcony of a luxury high rise condo, the interior rooms of the ultra modern apartment. Gradually we see the denizens of the household wake up – a retired couple – Elena and Vladimir – who sleep in different bedrooms and who seem to have two very different lives. Vladimir was some type of successful businessman and investor, obviously well to do. Elena is a retired nurse. On the surface they seem mismatched. Elena spends her days commuting to a poor suburb where her deadbeat son and his family live. Vladimir happens to be supporting this extended family but to his increasing disgust. Elena indulges and is in fact an enabler or her son’s sloth. He doesn’t work, he and his wife forget to use birth control and as a result keep having more children. This is a very simple story but also very moralistic. It’s also about still waters running deep. The studied shots make the film, along with Glass's score, suspenseful and menacing.....I also caught Trouble with the Curve (Robert Lorenz), Clint Eastwood’s latest role as a crotchety old man who’s about to be put out to pasture as a once great major league scout. Eastwood as Gus Lobel is losing his sight and Atlanta Braves’ management thinks he’s losing judgment when it comes to recruiting players. There’s talk of retirement. For anyone who doubts classic schmaltzy Hollywood movies are dead you can take comfort in this film. There’s our hero - Gus, and the folks who are about to do him in – management. Throw in a side story about Gus's daughter (Amy Adams) joining him for a last recruiting run, a love interest between her and another scout (Justin Timberlake), and you have a neat Hollywood package of old. Nothing wrong with that. But the clich├ęs are a little much.  Like when Gus slams into his garage because his eyesight is failing. Or when he checks into a fleabag motel. Don’t think an organization like the Braves would put him up in that kind of accommodation.

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