Thursday, March 11, 2004

Long one today, friends, as I wasn’t up to getting my impressions of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (n.b. not ‘Dielmans’) down after Tuesday’s screening; and now I’ve seen The Captive as well, so if I don’t dive in now, I’ll never catch up.

First of all, see Dielman onscreen if you’re ever presented with the opportunity. I cannot imagine trying to watch this at home on video. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, I’m afraid much of what I say will slide right by; but I’m not under any obligation to give a complete or cohesive accounting in this space. (Am I?) I wish I could imagine exactly what the experience would be like if one didn’t already know the ending, which I won’t give away (though, insofar as you now know that there is something to wait for, my apologies.)

I have to comment on the screening itself. (1) Fellow sitting two seats from me read a paper during long intro by UCLA curator, then grumbled something like “Finally,” when she finished. Fine – I empathize; sometimes ‘introducers’ go on so long you’d think they’d directed the damn thing. (E.g. that guy who puts together the annual noir series at American Cinematheque.) Then, as the film is starting, two late arrivals slide in right in front of him –grumbles something like, “Always happens…” Again, fine, though this isn’t so bad at UCLA b/c the theater’s fairly well raked; LACMA’s much worse. But: once the film starts, same put-upon fellow beings flossing his teeth with a great deal of audible clicking and sucking for (I checked) the first 20 mins. of the movie! I’d have said something snide, but there was something appropriate about this, given the film’s own subject matter – Jeanne’s washing, Neighbor Guy’s flossing away, works for me.

(2) Well into the 2nd hr (of a 200 min. film), one reel starts out misthreaded – first it’s canted on the screen, then a delay, then it’s doing that in-and-out-of-focus bit like the top of the screen is a clothesline and the image is a slowly flapping sheet, then another delay, with the announcement that the projectionist is figuring out the problem – and that he’ll begin the reel from the beginning! Remember that we’re mostly watching someone dredge veal cutlets and polish silverware. Outcry from a by now divided audience. I’m all for the repetition – I have a special place in my heart for projection screwups, which I always seem to be present for in the case of lengthy, indifferently preserved European art films (notably Celine & Julie Go Boating, which took something like 4 1/2 hours to get through at LACMA once, and Greenaway’s early The Falls, which I’ve still never seen the last 40 mins. of.) One guy shouts “If you can’t take it leave” – some, of course, do, though I must say that you really have wasted your time, in this case, if you watch an hour and then give up. (Not half the room-clearer that Godard/Gorin’s Letter to Jane is, though.) During the pause, I told the curatrix to “hang in there.”

(3) The usual laughter in odd/wrong places – to the extent that Akerman is trying to drive you nuts, this didn’t really bother me. (“Shussh – it’s Art!” would be missing the point.) Though why one dishwashing scene in particular dishwashing scene got this response, I’m not sure – I think Akerman/Seyrig/Mangold do an amazing job of making a mute image (a housewife’s back) speak here.

The above will have to stand in for a lengthy discussion of the movie itself. Farber/Patterson, surprise, make many of the right points – noting the connection to Belle de Jour and Two or Three Things…, quoting Mangold’s “a Forties story filmed by a Seventies camera.” (Or, as I thought at one point – if Mildred Pierce was actually about making pies.) They’re also right, I think, in citing Vermeer. A few points are notable b/c they’re not mentioned in the criticism I’ve seen (though I haven’t read either major book on Akerman, so I’m probably going over well-covered ground here).

--- The only ‘action’ in many shots, esp. in the living room, is the play of car lights from the street outside on the furniture. We know from the exteriors, and the street name in the title, that this is a busy thoroughfare. This is never commented on, but it seems an additional torture.
--- Also nicely unemphatic – the wedding photo (one assumes) on her vanity table, which we never see very clearly.
--- In the mind-bendingly long meat-loaf-kneading shot, the raw meat itself becomes intensely watchable, almost sculptural – I feel a subtle reference here to your grosser forms of body/performance art, cleverly folded into the quotidian limits of the movie. [Seems plausible given CA’s NY-avant connections.]
--- Early on, it seems like the movie might respond to a certain kind of literary-allusive reading, what with the son’s recitation of a Baudelaire poem and the bits of opera on the radio. Aptly, and I’m guessing intentionally, this sort of material drops out entirely after a while, as the events and tone grow blanker and less inflected. (The average shot gets longer in the last 1/2 hour as well.)
--- Where the hell do mother and son go at the same hour every evening? Just a constitutional? I thought at first they might be attending mass – I can’t tell if there’s supposed to be a time-gap here.
--- The structure is very canny – we see Day One from a certain point on, all of Day Two, and Day Three up to just a bit after Day One ended. This gives the impression that even more of a life has been shown than actually is.
--- Two things don’t work for me. (1) The scene with the baby – wherein Jeanne ignores it while it’s crying, and then goes and disturbs it every time it settles down. Anti-maternal (she’d probably love to slap her son around a bit) and quite funny, but it makes it a little to obvious that she’s come undone. (2) The son’s habit of trying to start a ‘deep’ conversation once he’s tucked in; why doesn’t he have a damn thing to say otherwise. Especially obtrusive on the second night, when he starts heading in a birds-and-bees direction, inc. comments on orgasms. Just about the only really forced sequence in the film, to my mind.

In any case: Talk about your critique de la vie quotidenne. Here is a movie that entirely lives up to its reputation for being exasperating, compelling, and utterly assured for any director, but dismayingly so for a 25-year-old. For all it's radicalism, formally and otherwise, it's definitely, you know, a movie. It also retains considerable bite -- this may well be what your mother-gradmother-wife are actually doing with their day-after-day-after-day. Except for the sex-worker bits.

Tonight -- The Captive (2000), Akerman’s modern-dress adaptation of Vol. 5 of Rememberance of Things Past. Good after-movie conversation (Joseph, Rita, Chris, Dawn, Jim, Shoshanna – this is just so I don’t forget people’s names) about differences, both in story and ‘point,’ between this and the book – my Proust is in Unpacked Box #18, so I’m not equipped to go into this right now. (Stranger in line for tickets asking no one in particular, “So, who’s read the book?” Smug.) Except – I like how Marcel’s various illness are translated as Simon’s ‘allergies’ (he dreads ‘pollen’); I missed the whole ‘mussels, mussels, alive-o’ section of the book – and, more importantly, the point where Albertine finally breaks and exclaims, “Why don’t you leave me alone and let me get my pot cracked!”; and, of course, Marcel would not have been likely to heroically attempt to save anyone from drowning. Otherwise:

--- There are 24 years and many projects between these films. Still, after three straight nights of interminable static shots and intense formal rigor, this felt more conventional than it probably is. I mean: There’s plain old shot-reverse-shot going on, p.o.v. shots, extra-diegetic music, the whole shebang. Compared to Dielman, this is Lawrence Kasdan.
--- But: The sequence just after the credits is interesting in this regard. It’s shot-reverse-shot, except the ‘other party’ is just the home-movie that Simon rewinds and reruns, trying to read the subjects’ lips. At the end, the shadow of his head enters the frame, which is co-extensive with the home-movie image. I’m not going to put this well, but I take this to be a comment on the conventionality of the cinematic language used in the remainder.
--- Early car-following-car sequence is a direct homage to Vertigo, right? Though this film is about unsuccessful/disastrous attempt to accept, rather than transform, the beloved.
--- Why do the whores in the park look the chorus line from a ‘80s revival of Sweet Charity?
--- Hard on the heels of Dielman, it seems strange, almost dishonest, to see domestic things ‘just get taken care of,’ as they are in most movies. Also in light of JD, Simon/Marcel seems pampered/oblivious in just the manner of Jeanne’s son.
--- Note that JD, this, and Man with a Suitcase all include scenes where the focal character is unable to write.
--- Interesting line: “As you know, I have no memory.” Is this in Proust? Nice moment, in that one knows that the character will eventually acquire one. (Also correctly Proustian in presenting the character’s literary pretensions, at the time of the events narrated, as nothing more than that.)
--- “They tell me it is not the same – but what is not the same?” Spoken out of self-torture re inability to understand lesbianism. Tres Lacanian. As Joseph pointed out, this concern doesn’t seem very contemporary – nor do various young women’s passive acceptance of Simon’s creepiness.
--- There’s someone in the credits (a ‘mechanique,’ whatever U.S. film-crew job that is supposed to be equivalent to) named Christian Metz. Surely not….
--- Akerman still loves her ambient sounds, and her hallways.

Not quite entirely off-topic: Someone was reading what appeared to be a UCLA library copy of A Lover’s Discourse when I took Bree out to coffee at the bistro-y place on Vermont this afternoon. (I think I wanted to go there because of the café in Dielman, site of one of the movie’s most attractively composed shots.) Entirely off-topic: Pleasantly warm evenings, finally. Noted actual floral aromas between my house and the corner store. Of course, I also noted a filthy but otherwise inviolate corndog lying in the gutter.

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