I don’t know you so well, friend, but here goes…
And I have no idea what you’ve seen… and what you haven’t. So I didn’t want to leap into the deep end, nor patronise, and of course, you’ve seen The Guest and Waltz With Bashir and The Last Picture Show and Chinatown and Possession and Talk To Her and Mystery Train and Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People and The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach… right?
1. Morals. Doing the right thing. Neoliberalism. I have a pseudo-Bechdel Test for realism in cinema that is quite simple: Do we have a sense of the day-to-day activities of our characters, and our world? Waking, sleeping, eating, worrying, planning, like in real life? It’s amazing how few films possess this. Two Days… is perhaps the epitome of this sort of hand-to-mouth cinema, of the simultaneous struggle to see in the next day under the heaving weight of all the painful days that have preceded it. And somehow, despite the seeming mundanity, there’s that perpetual flinch that maybe we’re more in the eye of a storm than we realise. A bitter storm. A desperately humanist film with a remarkable performance from Marion Cotillard, who shimmers with a will to continue, in those notorious Dardenne Brothers’ tracks, that she struggles to believe herself. The fright of real tears, man…
2. Smart people… Discuss. A richly emotional epic that was actually made in direct post 9/11 New York. These kind of films, often quite rightly, are dismissed as White People Problems movies. The key is self-awareness, and inevitably, its naughty cousin, self-consciousness. Much in the same way we learn about ‘dead white men’ because they’re the bedrock of the institutions and philosophies that govern our days and desires, nailing the condition of what one can wonkily call The White Liberal Condition calls into question many facets of a White-Defined-Planet. From social interaction to academia and theory, from sexual repression to cities as workaholic caverns, from the strident young to the pompous atrophied. And what are our major Western cities but factories for such product? Yet far from dry and analytical, this film is fiercely, defiantly alive in its intelligence, its smarts strewn across an almost ceremonial urban symposium on the privileged mind set loose in the big, bad world. Smart, intelligent, clever and wise, especially when, perhaps, we’re not but insist that we are.
3. Acutely squinted Middle European tales of struggle. The tonic of whimsy and wonder amidst the distant, ever-beating drums of a war that will only ever sort of come. That fleeting sense that when leaping that greasy, sprawling puddle, wouldn’t it be amusing, and curiously apt, if one were to fly instead? That strange feeling of higher, perhaps absurd, purpose consuming the naked foibles of the extraordinary everyday. 60s Czech cinema. Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen’s Ball work as a strange couplet, but I’ve gone for the latter, the wincing epitome of laughing otherwise you would cry. Perhaps it’s always sort of both? Would do we talk about when we talk about love? Well, in Communist Czechoslovakia, what do we do when we walk about life? A grand farce, but ain’t it all?
4. Couples, man. Love like poison. How can The Dead be so frenetic? Why is it that someone who knows all my secrets can be a mystery to me? Is there, in our colder moments, the acknowledgement of something morbid, anti-life, about our seemingly comfortable embraces, that vainglorious attempt at creating life in another person only to see our weaknesses and vulnerabilities glare back? Did you see Boyhood? I can’t escape an aptly crude reviewer saying the film should have been called ‘Twerp’ instead. That’s a life? Well, watch the films of Maurice Pialat, still, crazily under-recognised in this country, from the incomprehensible isolation of youth in L’enfance Nue, to the too-ripe vitality of a big kid who knows too much in A Nos Amors, to the graceless shadows of middle-age spread and the pathetic hiss of fading mortality in The Mouth Agape… and there… that’s a life, in all its worried dignity.
5. See number two. Add disco, satire, middle-upper neuroticism, wonderfully-mannered talk, and an odd sense of hope. It was either my pal Hal Hartley, hipper, more modernist and deconstructive, a rarer beast, or Whit Stillman, the twinned poets of the over-privileged, the over-educated, the over-indulged, the fireworks of the whipsmart and the cool, and the night sky that lingers after the bang and the burn. The life, non-life, and times of Brilliant Young Things. I feel Stillman is more in tune with this zeitgeist. Maybe we need to be a little more Hal Hartley, he whispers insouciantly, as Spike Lee glares in the background? Like disco itself, music created to aid the frigid hips of sexually-inarticulate white folk, Stillman posits that behind the silly artificial gestures and pre-rehearsed moves of those gilded few Born to Know, there exists a tenderness, a way out, for them, for us, for everyone. But I’ve gotten dour. This film is a joy. It has its disco and its silences too.
6. That phrase: Too much of a good thing. You know, it kind of works for most things. Too much of a bad thing and it all becomes daft. Too much of a sweet thing can chisel a bullshit-averse cynic from the pinkest candy floss. Too much of a settling into the reveries of desire and touch and Romance and life attains the fever of a dream. Our friend David Lynch understood this, that we experiment and play with life at the edge and its images in vain hope of ascertaining a centre, a gravity, that was never really there in the first place. It always was a trip. Especially Home. Away from the small town divinity that Lynch eats, each and every day, for breakfast, this is the impossibly exotic velvet that lies bewitchingly Elsewhere in our luxuriant collective consciousness. It’s funny, incidentally, how often film dips into modernist literature when it wants to get luridly, kinkily, but weightily, decadent. And this time an actual novelist gets his go! Charlie Chaplin, mate of the Genesis, perpetually watching wordlessly on in Tyrone’s nervous sex dreams, once said that the saddest thing he could imagine was getting used to luxury. And likewise, it’s funny how the saddest eyes seem to peek beyond the most extravagant make-up…
7. Cool is nothing without character. And character little without environment. And environment needs an atmosphere. And that atmosphere should speak something of our desires, but also our confusion. And when cool walks through this heady scene, we shouldn’t quite know what’s being hidden behind the strut or the glasses or the shtick: Did Cool remove itself from the noise, or is Cool out-of-time somehow, lingering like a statue from the greater certainties of the past, or waiting for us to catch up, if we ever will, in the vanguard of the future? At any rate, the best Cool, be it James Dean or Alain Delon or Ryan Gosling or Anna Karina, cares so deeply it dare not let its care be flaunted. And then when the time comes to… lose one’s cool… it all makes an odd kind of sense.