mid-century maunderings for men who know better
Here is another ad that I watched at least fifty times: ‘Keep it classy’. Now, you know anything that says: keep it classy is going to be the antithesis of classy. Even the word classy lacks class. I don’t know if you are familiar with the term: vanity plates, but when I was a kid, that was what we called personalised number plates. The kind of thing someone with a red Ford Escort RS2000 with twin Weber carbs and bucket Recaros might have. Someone who might be called a lair in the seventies, but who would, by the eighties, be called a wanker.
A quartet of ethnically diverse youths in tracksuits enter an undercover car park. They look like they’re just finished some exercise. A car alarm sounds. Three of them start doing some kind of ersatz street dance to a fake hip hop soundtrack. Then a selection of number plates bearing the word classy appear on the screen. To his credit, one of the quartet is looking at his gyrating companions with contempt. End.
Meaning: If you want to be classy, like those kids throwing it down street-style in the car park, pay thousands for a number plate that says: Wanker. This ad makes you grateful for your Bose QC15s.
I couldn’t help but think of Make way for Tomorrow (1937) when I was watching this film. You may not have seen it. You have probably seen the Japanese remake Tokyo Story (1953). Things to Come is nowhere near as devastating, although things get pretty tragic. Throughout, you admire Nathalie’s resilience, integrity and sense of independence as just about everything in her life falls apart. This film avoids the older woman/younger man cliché so deftly that you almost don’t notice the romance not happening. There is a certain triumph in the resolution that is not necessarily happy, but definitely won’t have you weeping in heaving waves of distress the way Make way for Tomorrow does.
This film is described as a retelling of a story from Ovid’s metamorphosis which smooth modernist has not read. Now, Kafka’s metamorphosis is another matter. smoothmodernist could easily enjoy a simple rendition of that novelette. A man sees a woman and follows her. That’s it. Ovid’s metamorphosis does have conflict, drama and consequence. This film does not. It is winsome and moody. There is kissing. If you like seeing footage of cities, streetscapes and a man following a woman you might like this.
A doomed caravan is juxtaposed with a fleet of motor vehicles speeding across the desert. This film is punctuated by swift brutality that often forces the plot to pivot and set off in an opposite direction. It is unclear whether there is an end to the journey. Power shifts continuously and the protagonists court disaster with each change in plan.
At first it seemed like the actors were having to make it up as they went along because the director had taken the script and gone home. Then it became obvious that this awkward, stilted, jerking Frankenstein of a film was that way on purpose. The actors seem uncomfortable and are unconvincing. The premise (that Hitler was a Promethean monster at birth and that bad parenting propelled his ascent) is slender at best. The final scene is absurd and deliberately obtuse. Understand that each film you choose to see at a film festival is also choice not to see four or five others. You enter each session hoping you’ve made the right choice, wanting to enjoy the film. As stated previously, I have excellent radar and am rarely disappointed. But I am, like you, easily seduced by cinematography, art direction and certain performers I am partial to. Thus it was that after watching the trailer and reading the precis, I booked a ticket to this film. What can I say? I am not perfect.
Some people like to read the book first. I used to be unequivocal on that score. Sometimes the movie is so remote from the source that it makes no difference. Other times it is a travesty that will burn your cheeks with hot tears — in which case, you should read the book after seeing the film. This unmelodramatic film is faithful and yet significantly different from the three Alice Munro stories it is based upon. I am a devoted reader of Alice Munro. If she were to appear at my door saying:
“Hi, I’m an elderly Nobel Laureate. I’ve just moved next door and my windows…” I’d be scaling that ladder faster than a press-ganged butcher’s boy. When you love an author’s work, part of you is with child to see a motion picture adaptation and part of you hopes nobody in the movie business ever finds out about them. This film is very sad. Tragic. I mean it. Really, be prepared. However, it is a romp compared to the stories. You can read them in the book: Runaway. That’s a bit of a clue there.
How curious that such a fine imagining of Alice Munro’s work is wrought in a different language to hers. Is it not fascinating how literature traverses the language spectrum, and that it can be enjoyed and adapted in differing tongues?
Peter has a farm and is not happy. Hints abound as to the cause of this unhappiness. There is an intimacy between the filmmakers and their subject that prevents the audience from getting the essential distance necessary to make their own judgements about Peter. There may be more to this than meets the eye. There may be less. The film appears to be about a drunken curmudgeon who has driven his family away and threatens to commit suicide each time the film crew comes around. It turns out that this is exactly what this film is about. I don’t mean to be flippant. There may be no truer representation of the hardships of farming life than this. This film brings the reality of such a life unvarnished and unadorned to the audience. It is hard to feel sorry for Peter. This may be the filmmakers’ intention.