About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscar's Last Catch

In the last week before the Oscars, I caught up with one Best Picture nominee and a couple in other categories...

I walked out of Amour, the nightly regarded French film from director Michael Hanecke which has five nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actress.  It is a very clinical look at an aging couple.  There is no suspense about the wife's fate.  The movie starts with police entering the couple's apartment to find her body beautifully laid out on the bed surrounded by flower petals.  And then the rest of the movie takes us back to the start -- she blanks one day -- and then forward.  That one day is a harbinger of her continued deterioration, needing a cane then a scooter and etc. etc. we know how it ends. I just read that the script was 69 pages, not much more than an hour of film time, but the film ends up over two hours log because things take longer when you have lead actors in their 80s.  Very worthy, except turning 75 minute films into two hour movies?? Clinical is OK, the recent film Contagion was very clinical.  But this is clinical without human interest.  There isn't a before for the couple. What did they used to do?  Family and friends are hardly heard from, a chid briefly, a neighbor who helps bring in groceries, an aide who gets fired. Depressing is OK, a movie like Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter I wouldn't rush to recommend because it is so depressing, but it is a beautiful film with heart that I shy from before it stings.  Old is OK, the star of Sweet Hereafter, Sarah Polley, directed a wonderful film called Away From Her that I would recommend.  Thanks to movies like that, and thanks to things in my own life -- my parents are in assisted living now with mobility issues -- there isn't actually anything new here.  Except for how clinically and unemotionally and tediously things are done.  I should have left twenty minutes sooner than I did.  I am curious what happens to the husband at the end of the movie, but I wasn't so curious as to want to stay another 40 minutes.  I can't separate my feelings about the performance of the lead from the overall clinical nature of the proceedings.  I may not be a bad performance, but it has no heart.  Nor does any frame of this movie. [I was so long in seeing Amour because it was playing in Manhattan at theatres I don't like going to, happily it was at the very nice Landmark Kendall Square in Boston when I was there for Boskone.]

No is a nominee for Foreign Film, where it is widely expected to lose to Amour.  Too bad.  This Spanish-language movie is about a plebiscite in Chile intended to authorize eight more years if the Pinochet dictatorship. The opposition is given fifteen minutes of advertising time for 27 nights to promote the No vote. A young ad exec played by Gael Garcia Bernal is hired to work on the campaignHe has to persuade over a dozen opposition parties not just to unite behind one campaign but to submerge their desire to use the campaign as a vehicle to air the sins of the dictatorship. Instead, they get a song "no me gusta" to speak to young audiences on what they don't like about Pinochet ands jingle to tell them that happiness is on the way.  Easentially, the movie is Argo in Chile, a charismatic younger actor in an uplifting side story from a dictatorship, probably with some of the same artificial frissons of excitement. Did the regime threaten the young exec's son, or did the ad team head out from HQ with six fake copies of the next night's ad? Like Argo, it works.

The Gatekeepers, a Best Documentary nominee, interviews six former leaders of the Shin Beth, the Israeli anti-terrorism intelligence agency.  It is the kind of worthy documentary that gives documentaries a bad name.  Six talking heads occupy most if the screen time. Much of the rest is drone footage if cars driving down Gazan streets.  So visually not much there; movies are a visual medium.  The ultimate thesis is that Israel needs to engage its enemies more, lest as the closing lines say it wants to win every battle bit still lose the war. Powerful messengers for this, I kind of agree, but the movie has no persuasive power.  It is the ad campaign that No rejected.

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