more movie capsules 8/10

shhh . . . I actually saw all of these over a week ago.

My Dinner with Andre: My hopes were a little too high for this one, but it had a lot to offer. The movie (directed by Louis Malle) depicts a conversation between two men, which touches on a lot of different subjects but ultimately becomes an argument about how to make political art and what it means to be mindful. Both participants seem to agree that art can lead the way to a newfound consciousness, but Gregory prefers the shocks of wild experience while Shawn finds fascination in his immediate surroundings. I’m not tooo interested in the actual conversation that takes place between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn—the intellectual concerns seem dated, now that “think global act local” has become a lot more than that clichéd phrase immediately indicates. The various happenings that Gregory describes seem inward instead of outward.

What I really loved about the movie (and what I struggled to explain to my teenage cousins, who actually sat down and watched the whole thing with me) were the various games going on during the conversation. Shawn’s opening narration sets up a lot of these. Shawn hasn’t seen Gregory in years and claims he’s been avoiding Gregory. It’s not clear where Gregory’s been for the past few years. The choice of restaurant rubs Shawn the wrong way, because it’s not the type of place Gregory’s known to frequent, and Shawn is short on money. Then we finally see Andre! All of the answers will soon be rushing toward us! And then, Andre’s first few minutes of conversation are covered over by continued narration from Wally Shawn.

Finally, Andre begins speaking . . . and speaking, and speaking. Joking, pontificating. Now we have the answers to Shawn’s questions, but we have something new to wait for—Shawn’s reaction. Instead of jumping right in, Shawn keeps asking wide-open questions, and gives us no thoughts of his own. All this tension finally gives in the famous last third. There are tons of other little narrative tugs.

My other favorite thing about the film was how the actors handled the food. Since we’re getting the whole unedited conversation (there are no cues that time has jumped) Wally and Andre speak pretty much continuously for two hours. Each character sneaks in food in bits and pieces, where normal people might pause for breath. Or, luckily, one character is able to chow down while the other begins an extended monologue.

The Big Lebowski: So everyone  claims the new Pynchon book is Lebowskian; upon watching this film again last week, I was reminded that the film is Pynchonian. Somehow I forget the nuances of the central kidnapping plot before every viewing, and find myself obsessed with them during the viewing. I think the actual plot, which just about everyone disposes after the film is over (they’d prefer to talk about characters like The Dude and Walter, and what they signify about the cruelly divergent paths out of the 60s), is still the vital ingredient to its rewatchability. My cousins saw it for the first time—it feels pretty good to know that they’ll return to it several years later and manage to forget most of it.

Europa (Zentropa): Lars von Trier is another forbidding cinematic presence, but if you refuse to take him seriously, he can be pretty fun. Zentropa is supposedly about American entanglement in the shadows of postwar Europe. Thankfully the American protagonist is fairly dumb, empty, and not particularly likable, so his increasingly chequered company does not disturb very much. Most of the movie is played for laughs—it’s a screwball Werewolf Nazi tragedy. Since this film predates the Dogme 95 vow of chastity, von Trier has full run of the studio bells and whistles; in fact, it’s as if he exhausted them in this film and was therefore forced to take on a cleaner style. Europa makes fine use of many techniques of early cinema. Watching this, I got the feeling that Guy Maddin owes basically his entire career to this movie (and I like Maddin a lot more than von Trier).

Classe Tous Risques: a formulaic French gangster film played to the hilt. Lino Ventura (Army of Shadows and other Melville films) is Abel Davos, criminal on the lam. Having once left Paris, and traveled all over Italy, he’s forced to take his family back to Paris to escape the law once again. Things go wrong almost immediately, and Davos calls upon his old Paris friends for assistance. Then things go wrong a few more times.

Jean-Paul Belmondo plays a bolt of energy named Eric Stark, who escorts Davos and his children back into Paris. He’s impossibly wiry, dapper, unflappable, flirtatious and loyal. Classe Tous Risques came out a month after Belmondo’s star turn in Godard’s A Bout de Souffle. 1960, what a year!

Maybe next time I’ll write about Samurai II, Koko, A Canterbury Tale, Julie & Julia, and my rewatching of the Generation Kill miniseries.


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August 2009
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