Monday, May 23, 2016

The sanctioning of immorality

A friend, after watching Luca Guadagnini’s A Bigger Splash (at the Landmark Main), said, “What was the point?” Well, the point is what was on the screen. It was the story itself. But her point was made. The expectation with this film is that it would somehow be deeper or more multi-layered than what it actually is. Instead, what we get is a very straightforward picture, inspired by Jacques Deray’s 1969 film La Piscine (The Swimming Pool). Don’t get me wrong. This is a very good movie. The acting is terrific and the story and plot events are absorbing. But it is in the end nothing but a crime story. Tilda Swinton as Marianne Lane is a famous rock star sidelined by a throat operation. She retreats to an Italian island with lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They are thoroughly enjoying the hedonistic contentment of their sun splashed idyll when, out of the blue, music producer Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes), with daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) in toe, show up, quite uninvited. This throws off Marianne and Paul’s vacation but Hawkes is no stranger to them (he used to be Marianne’s lover) and so is minimally tolerated if not variously embraced. But Paul remains skeptical, and sees a ploy by Harry to ingratiate himself back with Marianne. Not that Paul himself doesn’t have thoughts about the supposed 22-year-old Penelope, who proves to be younger. The days pass among this foursome of the idyll bohemian rich. It turns out Harry has produced hits for The Rolling Stones. He’s of a type: the frenetic braggadocio music industry exec. Paul, a brilliant filmmaker, is passive and withdrawn. Penelope is cunning and Marianne is simply knowing and observant, and can hardly speak anyway. The group eats, swims, and takes day trips together including into the nearby town’s annual carnival, where Paul and Penelope beguile (there are hints of a sexual relationship since she is not his birth daughter) the locals in a karaoke duet at a local bar. The competition between Harry and Paul ramps up. Fiennes is in a role probably like you’ve never seen him, playing an A-type personality who overwhelms everyone around him. The best aspects of the film, which has got superlative reviews, are the acting and plot pacing. It’s like you're there with the characters on the Mediterranean Sea and enjoying the indulgent ride among the flora and fauna, switchback roads and sublime gastronomy. And for the most part, some prickly comments aside, this group is fun to be with. So what is the point of the picture? Is there any moral message - such as, is hedonism an end in itself, does immorality get rewarded? Hard to say. All we know is that our characters, somewhere along the way, have jumped an ethical barrier.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Relationships clawed in The Lobster

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015), opening May 27 at the Main Art Theatre is, shall we say, unlike many a movie you’ve seen of late. Advisory: this may be difficult for some people to handle. It abounds in absurdity and at times seeming incongruity. The kind of movie, in other words, where people, exiting, may say: “Well that was different!” or “What the heck was that all about?” But it’s nice to come across a film every once in awhile that bucks conventionality, not only in its plot structure but in its themes. Colin Farrell is David, a man who was dumped by his wife. In the story, set in the near future, David is sent to a plush countryside resort which is also a kind of prison. Here, he must find a new mate in 45 days or be turned into an animal. Because, it appears, this society only accepts couples as legitimate forms of life. David meets his fellow inmates such as John C. Reilly as the Lisping Man and Rachel Weisz as the Short Sighted Woman. Ashley Jensen as the Biscuit Woman tries to seduce him but fails and attempts suicide. David has his eyes on Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) who in turn is attracted by his emotional coldness.  Lisping Man is caught masturbating and is forced by authorities to put his hand in a hot toaster until it burns. David escapes from the asylum to a forest of renegade “Loners.” So just when you think this is a movie condemning conventional coupledom we also find that the Loners prohibit romance and have their own violent means to deal with transgressors. Not a pretty picture all around. Finally, David and his illicit paramour Short Sighted Woman (photo above) go on trips into the city where they change clothes and mingle as if they’re a normal couple. But she is set up, and gets blinded from an operation where she thought she was going to have her full sight restored. David, wanting to bond with her, threatens to take his own eyes out. Scenes of the Loners are marked by exotic animals that walk by in the background, obviously formerly people who weren’t able to find a mate and chose their preferred animal in which to be converted. David’s choice was to be a Lobster, hence the movie’s name. Meanwhile The Loners are being hunted by the hotel’s inmates who get additional days’ credit if they shoot a Loner, who in turn are universally dressed in rain ponchos (it gets wet in that forest). The Loners even carry out a small takeover of the hotel and have the hotel manager attempt to shoot his wife (with a blank gun). Hard to figure this out? Can’t get your head around it? Think of the films of Luis Buñuel or David Lynch, or other directors, like Fellini, Bergman and Wes Anderson, who brush up against the absurd. So how do you relate to a film like The Lobster? My advice: Take it as it is and linger in your thoughts upon various of the story’s moments or incidents. There are plenty of them.