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Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I'm continuing on with my Netflix/On Demand movie watching (still trying to conserve money) and last night I watched Olivier Assayas's Late August, Early September and Blindness. I had seen Late August... before, but though I remember liking it, I couldn't quite remember it. But seeing it again, all the pleasure came rushing back. This is a type of film I usually only see coming out of Europe, mainly France. It's not about anything but people relating to one another, strong character driven stories, non-genre, what's often called adult dramas in the U.S.

What I find frustrating in watching films like this, is that I don't usually see the same sort of films being made in the U.S. or if I do, they just don't seem to be anywhere near as good or insightful (of course, there are exceptions and the French also make their fair share of bad movies, so I am talking in generalities and personal feelings that could be seen as prejudiced). Woody Allen is probably our foremost practitioner here, God bless him.

All Late August... is about is a man who is struggling with three relationships, actually four if you can't the character himself. He's someone involved in the writing biz, but doesn't really write himself, but does odd jobs connected to writing (like encyclopedia articles on living writers or ghost writing a politician's biography). The three relationships he caroms among is his ex-wife who still loves him, his new lover who he doesn't love enough, and a writer who has never written a successful book and is considered a difficult read who can't connect with the audience. The writer is especially someone who causes the hero consternation because the hero feels that that is the life he should have lead, but didn't. But in the end, that's all the story is about.

Why don't we make such stories in the U.S.? Or if we do, why aren't they as good or ambitious as the French?

Some theories, which will have to remain theories because I don't know for sure, and these are just coming off the top of my head, improvisationally without a lot of forethought:

There must be an audience for them in France.

Perhaps the way French movies are financed, maybe not all of them have to deliver a considerable profit. There may be a part of the French film industry in which huge profits are not the primary motivator.

This may also mean they don't have to be pitched the same way here. After all, the way movies are made and sold here, it seems to be easier to get a movie based on the pitch line "a man is bitten by a radioactive spider and turns into a superhero" over a pitch line of "a man struggles with his relationships with an ex-wife, a new girlfriend and a failed writer the man is jealous of".

French morality may allow for a more open expression of sex and relationships and allows the writers/directors to take more chances (I'm sometimes amazed in writing groups and in talking with people who do coverage how prudish Americans still are).

There could be plenty of other reasons, but when I want adult drama, I rarely look for it in the U.S.

I also saw Blindness, which didn't get very good reviews and it's one of those movies where one can tell exactly where it stops working and that is when Danny Glover has to explain a lot of the plot via exposition. The characters, which were not that interesting in the first place (with the exception of a thief played by Don McKellar--who also wrote, go figure), never quite recover after this.

The project is the odd combination of the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (who did the wonderful City of Men and The Constant Gardener) and the Canadian Don McKellar, who I remember from the incredible Last Night (which he also wrote and directed) and the incredible series Slings and Arrows.

The idea is brilliant. People, one by one, start going blind. But as interesting as I found the first part, I never bought it. I had no problem with the idea of the government panicking enough to round up people and put them in quarantine--what I couldn't buy is the way the quarantine prison was run--it made regular prisons seem like gardens of Eden. But this is not what happened during the flu epidemic of 1917, during the AIDS epidemic, during Legionnaire's Disease. People may have been quarantined, but except in a few cases, they were not treated like animals. None of this made a lot of sense or was believable, which meant that a lot that happened afterwards was quite believable.

However, the idea was so strong, it does sort of carry one through to the end.

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