Sunday, 19 October 2008

It's how you remember it that counts

FILM: Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, 2008)
Watched: 18th October 2008
Where: On TV

I had to wait at least a week to write this review and unlike some of the other reviews, this time it really pays off. For this review it will be what I remembered that counts, not what actually happened. Really I should be making my own 20 minute video remake of the film, sadly as I only know how to write, this will have to do! Be Kind Rewind is a simple tale, Mr. Fletcher owns a dilapidated video shop that is about to be pulled down. He needs to find a lot more money then he has to save it. Mr. Fletcher's video shop lives on the legend that a famous Jazz artist, Fats Waller once lived in the same building. Seeing the end of the road, Mr. Fletcher gives things one last go and decides to do some research into what makes a successful video shop (DVD and put everything into two genres, action and comedy, if you must know). In his absence he leaves his co-worker, Mike in control of the shop with the instruction to keep his friend Jerry out. Jerry has other ideas and after a night of sabotaging the local power plant (as it messes with his mind) he barges into the store in a magnetised state and causes all the videos to be erased. When one of Mr. Flectcher's long term customers, Miss Falewicz asks to rent Ghostbusters, Jerry and Mike, unable to locate another VHS copy are left with no alternative and decide to re-make the movie themselves using their memories of the film and the details from the cover. The film is seen by Miss Falewicz's relative and his friends and they love it so much they come back and ask for more films like this. As more films get made their popularity increases and Mike and Jerry add a local girl from the laundrette Alma to their cast (they need a female lead). To save time and make more money they then invite their customers to appear in their remade (or sweded) films. Unfortunately the films become too popular and the "evil" copyright lawyers take all their profits and destroy all the sweeded films and the video shop is doomed. As a last heroic action they decide to make their own documentary about the legend of Fats Waller as a celebration of the town. The documentary is to be shown on the night of the video shop's destruction, making a fitting end to the film. At the end of the film all but the memory of the store is gone, even the graffiti advert is graffitied over.

The joy of watching films, well, of experiencing most things, is not in the experience itself, but in sharing it with others. Sticking just with films, the discussion afterwards is what brings the film to the fore and what you end up with is a collection of scenes, images, quotes and sounds in your head which is your memory of the film. Whether or not any of those memories correspond to how the film actually was is a different matter altogether. Eventually your memory of the film becomes the film itself and if you share it with friends it can become your shared memory, it doesn't matter if that's how it really happened or not. Be Kind Rewind tells this story in two ways, the manufactured memory of the story of Fats Waller, in the end some of it was real, some made up and some nobody knows anymore but eventually, it gets passed as the truth - hence the documentary of his life in the film contains all these shared memories plus a couple of good bits that would have made his whole life more interesting. The same with the sweded movies, they are just a collection of our memories of the movies, the big scenes, the trailers, the retold stories of your friends, family and colleagues of their favourite films. The important thing about the sweded movies, Alma tells us, is that they last no more than 20 minutes since we can't remember more than that anyway. I suppose the 20 minutes most of us will remember from be kind rewind is the sweded movies, the rest we just kind of forget.

The other appeal is to those who are already out there making their fansites, fan movies, fan interpretations etc. These days sweded movies are everywhere online, some of which are real fan works, some which are virals (I suppose it all dates back to the good old days of the Blair Witch Project for the Internet side of things) and some which are a bit of both. In the end do we really care where these pieces come from? We also have the joy of the corporate lawyer having all the VHS tapes of the sweded movies crushed for copyright infringement and passing them a fine of billions of dollars and the threat of thousands of years of jail time. Nice to see the copyright debate thrown up in a major US movie and the heavy handed tactics put in place. I wonder who would be suing who on all those sweded movies on youtube. (Well I suppose those are the official ones!) The Be Kind Rewind lawyers, the kids making the video or the MPAA, it would make an exciting endlessly revolving lawsuit.

Maybe Gondry's film works too well in its imitation of the sweded/home movie style it takes on. When is a home movie like this not a little disjointed, a little silly and ending up with a little of everything? Yes, Be Kind Rewind has its 20 minutes of fame but that fame can't exist without the rest of the film, which for me, only adds to the charm. The simplistic plot and almost one dimensional characters, yes they are needed, how can you have proper character development in a sweded film? Really you just need a selection of set pieces (think when Homer Simpson tries to make his own film, it has all those ingredients but in reality it's a horrible mess) a great soundtrack and something to remember. After all, it's how you remember it and what it means to you that matters in the end. Be Kind Rewind is the joys of watching pan and scan VHS on low grade 20" CRT set, the joys of childhood and of repeat viewings. No BlueRay, no 5.1 surround sound and a whole lot of memories, just how the director never intended!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

3 Fridays, 3 French Films Part 3: Summer Hours

Film: Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)
Watched: July 18th
Where: Renoir Cinema

Summer Hours makes for a great conclusion to the three films about how we have such a lack of control about how our lives and the lives of others are viewed after their time. The three films are also about family and the situation you inherit. Angel was the grocer's daughter who wanted to make her mark with words. Slimane wanted to leave something behind for his family so they could make something on their own terms. In Summer Hours we have the story of a modern upper middle class family spread apart from each other by work. More specifically we look at the power and context of things, Angel's books, celebrated and forgotten, Esme's masterpieces of suffering, Slimane's food and restaurant bringing everyone together again to give them something that is uniquely theirs in an expanding world. In Summer Hours it is art and antiques at the centre stage as objects as well as their place and our place in a global world.

It's Hélène's 75th birthday and her now grown up family complete with grandchildren jet in from near and far to come together for their annual family reunion. Hélène knows her time in the world is coming to an end and wants to make the necessary arrangements with her children for her estate and the many precious artifacts in her possession from a life spent with artists. Her children hate to discuss this with her. Most of the real action takes place after Hélène's death, as her children, not having taken their mother's advice, try and decide what to do with their inheritance. The debate is on two sides, do the siblings share the items between them or do they sell them off? Frédéric (the only one of the three to remain in France) believes they should keep the house and art to leave as a legacy for the children and for all the memories that they had there together and will have there in the future. The rest of the family are not in agreement, the youngest sibling Jérémie living and working in Asia (he wants to progress his career, that's where the action is), their sister Adrienne a designer in New York again prefers to sell as she's hardly ever in France. Much to Frédéric 's dismay they decide to sell and for tax purposes to donate much of the art to the Musée d'Orsay. There are three endings to the film, the first is Hélène's long time housekeeper taking what she thinks is an unremarkable vase (which is actually rather valuable) when offered something from the house. The second takes place at the Musée d'Orsay when we see the disinterested reception of some of the Hélène's furniture by the public and also the all the many items in the museum's archive and restoration sections (normally unseen by the public). The third and final ending is that of the soon to be sold house. Frederic's daughter throws a huge party there for her friends and the camera follows them lovingly through the house as it once more takes in some happy family memories, most probably for the last time. Frederic's daughter takes her boyfriend to a hidden spot in the grounds of the house that only someone who had spent happy times there would know. The film ends with the happy scenes of the house party.

Like the other two movies in this set of three we see how once something moves from the private space into the public the perceptions of it can be different. The desk is a functional and beautiful object in Helene's home but when it moves into the museum it becomes just another object of many with no memories for those who view it. Likewise the memories of the house and the house party are different for Frederic's daughter to that of the other party goers, she has her own private space, to everyone else it's just a big old house. In contrast when the housekeeper takes the vase when she leaves Helene's house for the last time to her it is just a beautiful vase that she always loved, for the memories it gave her as much as for the vase itself. Unbeknown to her the vase was also a valuable item which could have easily been a museum piece to be forgotten and ignored at the Orsay along with the rest of Helene's collection. Like the house and the collection the collaborators must also give up their film and move it in to the public space for it to be celebrated or forgotten. However, Summer Hours finishes on a positive note in that the personal memory and significance of something will never be lost if it truly means something to you, something that is true of Slimane's restaurant, his family and his guests who turned out, something that is up for debate in Angel's books.

3 Fridays, 3 French Films Part 2: Couscous

Film: Couscous (Abdel Kechiche, 2007)

Watched: 11th July 2008
Where: Renoir Cinema

Slimane has worked hard all his life, working in a shipyard to support his families, his first family and his new family. At sixty years old manual work is tough; life is tougher still when new generations of migrant workers who work faster and for less take the place of older migrant workers. What really matters to Slimane and who really understands him? I suppose that is the main theme of the film but maybe it says a little more about a desire to have something that is ours, something that cannot be taken away. After finding out that he is likely to be out of a job and that his family does not really understand him, Slimane decides to do something that matters to him, to bring things back around to how he thinks they should be. He decides to take his redundancy and use the funds to convert a boat in to a couscous restaurant with the help of Rym, the daughter of his new partner and owner of the hotel in which he lives.

Couscous sets itself up so we can see the difficult situation Slimane finds himself in, his family prefer to argue and only calm down at the dinner table to eat amazing couscous made by Souad, Slimane's ex-wife. Slimane prefers to eat alone in his tiny hotel room, however Rym likes to keep him company and support him. As the film builds, it is Rym who truly believes that Slimane can make his restaurant a reality and helps him out with the things he finds difficult. Cue the (comic) scenes where Rym and Slimane go to the chamber of commerce and the banks to try and get the necessary planning permission and funding to get the new restaurant afloat, with Rym playing his business assistant, making his business plan, and trying to look the part in only the way someone slightly out of their depth can manage. Slimane doesn't open up much in the film, though we can see his frustration and shyness, though from his ideas for the restaurant we feel what really matters to him, having his whole family round him, new and old, all together, all happy, all with a part to play. Slimane feels awkward in the hotel when invited to his partner's room, he feels lost when his sons come to visit and say he should go "back to the old country" now that he's retired/unemployed and useless to the family.

The film comes to a climax with the opening of Slimane's restaurant. His family (old) are preparing the food to be heated and served for the grand opening. The old boat has been transformed thanks to Rym's endeavor, a prime space has been reserved for one night only and everything is falling into place. Everyone who knows Slimane is playing a part for the opening and everyone wants to be there except for his new partner who feels she will be made unwelcome as Slimane's first family disapprove of their relationship. When it comes to the crunch the truth comes out, Couscous seems to show that everyone has their place in the world. Slimane's family turn out for him, all the guests turn up, the band from the hotel where Slimane stays play their hearts out, how could Slimane fail to fulfil his dream? Well, someone stole the couscous... Slimane's son Hamid is in trouble as the woman he is having an affair with is a guest at the opening of the restaurant, in a selfish panic he drives away unseen with all the couscous in the boot. The consequences are two fold: we see the truth of Hamid, he is deceitful, we see the truth in the rest of Slimane's family and friends, they all come together to try and make his mark on the world a reality, they stall the guests with drinks and music and dance as Slimane goes off on his moped in search of the grain! Even Slimane's new partner gets in on the act, going back to her hotel to make up a new batch of couscous even though she doesn't trust her cooking. As Slimane goes searching for Hamid, Souad and the couscous, his moped is stolen by a gang of youths. Slimane runs himself to death chasing the moped and the film ends. Slimane gets what he wanted, not that he's around to know it. His truth, that his life will be the death of him, is made real. What is also made true is that Slimane has left his mark on the world and his family. He has left them a restaurant and also the truth that they can come together and make something special.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

3 Fridays, 3 French Films. Part 1: Angel

Film: Angel (Francois Ozon 2008)
Watched: 4th July 2008
Where: Cine Lumiere

Back at the end of July I had the pleasure of watching the following films: Angel (Ozon, 2007), Couscous (Kechiche, 2007) and Summer Hours (Assayas, 2008) on successive Fridays. Despite different styles and stories they form an interesting trilogy together about the legacy we leave on the world vs the legacy we try to leave on the world. What does it mean to try and leave something behind and what control do we have over it? Can this legacy be preserved or is it solely in the hands of time and others? The first film of the three is Francois Ozon's Angel.

"What matters to me is being able to create in the here and now. Will my work survive the test of time? I don't ask myself that question, it would paralyze me. Art can cross centuries, but it's also made for immediate consumption. I can relate to Angel's sense of urgency, her drive to create. Her pragmatism gets her out of her social condition. Her art is in service to her life. It allows her to buy her mansion, surround herself in luxury, get the man she loves and support him financially." (Francois Ozon on his website)

Angel is the story of a young writer who lives in the world of the melodrama she creates (or that creates her). The film is shot as a parody/homage to such melodramas, think a little touch of Sunset Boulevard peformance, complete with a cheesy score, hilarious back projection montage scenes and no end of romantic clichés. Angel Deverell wants to be a somebody, a rich lady who lives in Paradise House with servants and the love of her life. However, Angel Deverell is a sickly school girl writing in her bedroom, an outsider, a grocer's daughter (Shades of Maggie Thatcher anyone?). The film opens with Angel out in the snow looking through the gates to Paradise House. Angel is a master of fantasy, writing about a world she has no real experience of (opening champagne with a corkscrew, child birth etc.) in fact she has almost no life experience outside of the family business and her servant aunt's tales from from Paradise House. By some fantastic miracle Angel's books become a roaring success, they are adapted into plays and she becomes the toast of the town. However, what is any young woman without a man at her side, one who will complement her. After watching an adaptation of one of her novels, Angel meets Esme, a painter and it's love at first sight. Esma is Angel's opposite, he comes from a wealthy background, he tries to create something real in his art, not just capture what he is asked to. Esme's work goes largely unrecognised. Angel becomes obsessed with Esme and his paintings and eventually they marry and with all Angel's money from her novels they move in to Paradise house together, complete with servants and all the trappings. Angel has everything that she ever wanted, Paradise house is hers and is great again and she is married to the love of her life. Angel's dream turns sour, Esme has an affair, and later kills himself. After his death Esme is recognised as a great artist, Angel slips into obscurity - she even finds herself being interviewed about Esme's work after his death, nobody is interested in her novels anymore. One night Angel finds herself outside in the snow looking for her kitten and eventually dies from the cold.

What makes Ozon's film so great and original? The style of the film creates a continued uncertainty. We see everything how Angel imagines/sees it, through her rose tinted and innocent eyes. We have the link from her beginnings as a writer, sat in bed after catching a chill from being out in the snow by Paradise House, to her death from a chill chasing a cat in the snow outside Paradise House. To me it feels like Angel never leaves her bed, she ages but she never grows up. Her experiences never seem real, she gets what she asks for and realises what that means. She never really experiences anything but herself. Like film itself Angel's childhood dreams are trapped forever, she cannot truly grow up and what is left behind does not change, even in her dream she is born a nobody and dies a nobody. Her husband Esme also tries to escape the life he is born into, he chooses to live in poverty and to suffer in order to make his art, to go to war, to have affairs. He wants to feel what life is and not escape it.
Esme is born a somebody and after his death he is not forgotten. Esme is also trapped forever like film, he is unable to find real recognition until he has escaped the film by taking his own life much like his art.

Judging by many of the comments on this film it seems Ozon's work is a success, he has made a film for today about today and for those of us who love it, we see what Angel sees in Esme, a great artist. For those of us that loathe it, we see what the world sees of Angel once the dust has settled. Whilst Ozon says he is making something in the here and now it's also something that draws on his experience and love... I suppose if you prefer celebrity and blockbuster to cinema and its history then you will have no interest in Angel.