The late Kryzysztof Kieslowski of Poland directed and co-wrote in the early Nineties a film trilogy named after the three colors of the French flag—blue, white and red—which was intended to express something about the virtue-ideals represented by those colors. Blue, dealing with liberty, was so atrocious I can’t believe any critic could like it, but of course there were critics who did, and if they liked that, they most certainly would like White, concerned with equality, which was better. The only thing I liked about White was some of its humor; all else was ridiculous. That a loser of a husband wants to show his thoughtless ex-wife that he can achieve equality of a kind with other men was a good premise, but how fatuously and awkwardly it was presented.
Slightly more pleasing but still not acceptable is Red (1994), about the nicest virtue-ideal of them all: fraternity. Regarding this one I can at least say there is more than just one quality about it I like, but it is hardly cheering to see customary absurdity in plotting. Red is even more effectively filmed than, and just as nonsensical as, White.
In what lies the fraternity? Here is what I enjoy most about Red: it lies in a friendship between a 20-odd-year-old female model and a 60-odd-year-old retired male judge, which friendship is just that—a friendship—there is nothing sexual about it. They simply take an interest in one another, and rightly so from a cosmic perspective. The model, you see, is destined to hook up with a man who completely resembles the judge when he was young, but this is the film’s biggest groaner. Last I checked, life doesn’t work like that.
With his dignified face and quiet manner, Jean-Louis Trintignant plays the judge, and with her friendly face and mature-young-lady manner, Irene Jacob plays the model; both are appealing. So are the visuals, replete with shades of red never allowed to engulf the other colors, never too opulent. And what suppleness in the directing! Kieslowski was a middling artist, but in White and Red a remarkable moviemaker.
(In French with English subtitles)
Derek Cianfrance, writer-director of the second-rate Blue Valentine, has a respectable film in The Place Beyond the Pines (2013). The three-part chronicle proffers Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a virile stunt motorcyclist who finds out the tiny son of ex-lover Romina (Eva Mendes) is his, and thus he longs to support the child. Whence comes the money? Luke starts acquiring it by robbing banks, but Robin, the pal who assists him, is alarmed at Luke’s inordinateness. The cops don’t like it either: A policeman named Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) goes after the robber. As it turns out, Avery’s story has to do not just with Luke but also with Luke’s son, once he becomes a teenager, and with a bevy of corrupt cops.
The movie runs 2 hours and 20 minutes, and after more than half of that time is over, the script turns thoroughly schematic and relies too much on coincidence. Yet it holds us, and is meaningful. Cianfrance is an artist, one who doesn’t always make good choices, but an artist nonetheless. There is a more skillful representation of people in this film than in Blue Valentine. The story takes place in Schenectady, New York—in an America where people’s lives are regularly running off the rails. They resort to crime and drug abuse and one-night stands that produce babies. Hence it’s a running-off-the-rails that ought to lead to humility (to humble penitence), but often it is only the glaring error of an honorable man that leads to humility. Such is the case with Avery.
Who will make up an honorable America in the future?
A deaf married couple, Peter and Nita, resist the idea of providing their deaf little girl, Heather, with the cochlear implant she asks for. To Peter’s brother Chris and his wife Mari, both of whom can hear but who also have a deaf child, this is a form of abuse. They intend their baby son to receive an implant regardless of opposition from Mari’s deaf parents (that’s right: Mari has nonhearing parents AND a nonhearing son). The reason for Peter’s and Nita’s reluctance is that they don’t want Heather to miss out on the “deaf culture,” erected by the deaf community, they patently prize. Eventually Heather is affected enough by her parents’ opposition to say she doesn’t want the implant after all.
There are a lot of charming children in this documentary by Josh Aronson—titled Sound and Fury (2000)—but charming children is not what it’s about. It is about the fear of new technology, in this case fear issuing from those who have perforce understood deafness, not hearing, all their lives. Yet now they encounter something that may make deafness for the next generation extinct. Presumably it is also about selfishness, not to say possessiveness toward not only deaf culture but deafness as well. Sound and Fury is a revealing film. Aronson has a great subject—families and cochlear implants—about which he is a neutral observer. Nor does he use a narrator. Anyone interested at all in this New Millennium development and controversy ought to view this well-done, theatrically released documentary. You won’t find it uninvolving.
Postscript. Heather now has a cochlear implant.
Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961), set in the late 20s, is about “the dangers of [sexual] abstinence” (Stanley Kauffmann). It’s abysmally stupid.
The screenplay is flimsy and hyperbolic. (It was written by Kazan and William Inge; the story is Inge’s.) It is inexplicable for Warren Beatty’s Bud to break up with Natalie Wood’s Deanie, the girl he loves but who unhappily resists having sex with him. It is absurd for Pat Hingle’s Ace, Bud’s father, to do . . . well, everything he does.
Hingle overacts, but I don’t think Wood does. Her hysteria is probably right, no less than her gracefulness—and her beauty is assuredly right. The look of the film is lovely, but the film itself isn’t. It’s an unholy mess. . . William Inge is the author of such decent plays as Picnic and Bus Stop. Splendor, in which Inge ineptly plays a minister, is merely a homosexual writer’s cloak for expressing the desire to escape erotic inhibition. This desire is sad, and we can sympathize with Inge even as we recoil from his movie.
To me, the family-friendly movie Life with Mikey (1993) is entertaining, primarily because Marc Lawrence’s script is studded with nifty one-liners handily uttered by Michael J. Fox and Nathan Lane.
This is the one about an affable but lazy good-for-nothing (Fox) who used to be a popular kid TV star and now co-owns a talent agency for children. His negligence toward the agency dissipates only upon his discovery of a brainy female scamp with claws, whom he wishes to turn into an actress. For a while Lawrence makes this scamp, Angie, a liberal’s paragon of virtue, but happily the twaddle does not last. Angie becomes a little more believable, even if there is no real substance to the film’s happy ending. Fox’s life, after all, is supposed to be going “downhill.”
James Lapine directed and, although he did okay, he allowed Christine Vidal to play Angie mechanically. The other child actors had a better sense of what to do and may have therefore needed little guidance.