Friday, April 12, 2013

Pushing the fanciful boundaries

Baseball season has begun and I’m batting zero for two when it came to movies over the past week. The first was Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette, 1974) at the Detroit Film Theatre. Many consider it Rivette’s best film. Rivette was one of the main directors in the French New Wave. Rivette is a little more unknown – at least to North American audiences - than his counterparts like Truffaut, Godard and Chabrol. His work is definitely more experimental, perhaps even more so than Godard’s. I loved his La Belle Noiseuse (1991) about an artist (Michel Piccoli) whose mental block put him into a kind of power struggle with his model Marianne (Emmanuelle Béart), having a transforming effect. In Celine and Julie, the leads Juliet Berto (Celine) and Dominique Labourier (Julie), are amazingly spontaneous and unselfconscious in front of the camera. They’re a couple of friends who explore an alternative reality, in which they play roles in a Henry James story. But the question I had at the end: what’s the point? If the characters were supposed to resemble the others or be their alter egos it wasn’t apparent. Maybe, alas, it just is as it is.
The second movie was Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s 2012 film Beyond the Hills (at Landmark's Main), which was shortlisted for this year’s Oscars. Mungiu received lots of critical acclaim over his 2007 film 4 Months 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, which won the Palme d’Or, Cannes’ top prize. I saw that movie, set in Communist Romania. It’s about two female friends who try to obtain an illegal abortion. This film, like that one, is about two close women friends, one of whom is a young nun, the other who wants to lure her out of a religious life to live in Germany. Inspired by a true incident of what was thought to be demonic possession, I thought this film might be a kind of surreal European version of something like The Exorcist. It wasn’t at all. It’s a very straightforward drama about friendship, religious orthodoxy, and mental health. It didn’t seem to have a whole heck of a lot to say about any of them, quite frankly. But it was extraordinarily well acted by newcomers Cristina Flutur (Alina) and Cosmina Stratan (Voichita). This movie could have also been cut by an hour, from its running time of just over two-and-a-half. You might say it was a little repetitive.

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