· The Finical Filmgoer ·
If, like me, you are single - and a gentleperson of some refinement - you may frequently find yourself feeling a bit lonely. Not that I do, mind you - but you might. In the absence of an Adoring Other, lonely ladies and gentlemen can find themselves engaged in a melancholic search for activities, hobbies, rituals, careers - even, dare I say it, obsessions - to fill the hollowed-out, some might say caverneux emptiness within. Have you ever wistfully cleaned and buffed the antiques on a Saturday evening? Perhaps you've tearfully organized your IRS receipts for the past 8 years alphabetically, that type of thing. Lonely persons have been known to purchase zippable plastic wardrobe bags, into which they've individually zipped their entire wardrobes, all to avoid "moisture" or "a possible invasion of moths". Chilling, but not unheard-of, I can assure you.
The reason M. Chariot does not engage in any such nonsense is that I am in possession of one of the most compelling film libraries imagineable - a library to which I have turned for nourishment again and again, a picture-show repository which has invoked chills, thrills, mirth and sadness, all of the comedy and tragedy of a rich and full and meaningful life - despite having absolutely no one whomsoever to share it with. Yes, that's right. On a Saturday evening in M. Chariot's cloistral apartments, you might very well find the author languishing - alone - on an olive green velveteen fainting couch in front of a gleaming HDTV, resplendent in top hat, smoking jacket and Chinese silk pajamas, surrounded by several tables of scrupulously hand-polished porcelain bibelots, sipping Senna Tea (zestfully seasoned with a thimbleful of Gin) and gripped through-and-through by The Art of Cinema. Absolutely no room for 'loneliness' during these artful interludes, no indeed!
As such it has occurred to me that single gentlepersons may greatly benefit from my Talkie Treasure Trove, my Bloated Box o' Bijou as it were, and I have thus decided to submit, intermittently, a selection of favorites for the discriminating internet perusalist. And so here, without any further adieu, cavalierly uncategorized and in no particular order, my first installment in an exclusive melánge of the Best of the Best! All the thoughtful, lonely gentleperson needs is an account with a meticulously maintained film archive (á la Netflix or Blockbuster) and a link to M. Chariot's Cinema for the Lonely. Do kindly let me know if you find any of them amusing, won't you?*
Antonioni's L'Avventura (1960)
If you have never seen the luminous Italian actress Monica Vitti in a film, you simply must rent this one. Imagine Faith Hill with a Neapolitan profile, a Catholic (as opposed to Protestant) guilt complex and an earthy, almost boyish exuberance. L'Avventura, translated in English to mean The Adventure, is the story of a woman (Vitti) who joins her best friend, her best friend's lover, and a gaggle of wealthy Italians on a boat trip near Sicily. The best friend mysteriously disappears during an excursion to a barren island in the Mediterranean. The remainder of the film examines Vitti's search for her friend, as clues point to the possibility that she left the island on a boat and is spotted, via missing-persons newspaper reports, here and there on the mainland. Vitti is intermittently joined by the misplaced woman's lover (Gabriele Frezetti), with whom she falls in love against her better judgement.
L'Avventura and La Dolce Vita were released in the same year and have similar themes: both focus on the emptiness of the very wealthy and a fruitless search for sensual pleasure. Antonioni's film captures the milieu with unique style: oddly framed camera angles, full depth of focus in every shot, a meandering pace and virtually no music. The film does not have a plot in the conventional sense, and to me seemed like two stories in one. Essentially, it is the study of a woman drowning in an emotionally bankrupt social strata. Lonely, gentle readers will no doubt see their own emotional bankruptcy reflected in this brilliant Italian masterpiece.
Les Revenants / English Title: They Came Back (2004)
One morning, 10 years worth of the dead emerge from the cemetery of a Canadian town. They are not zombies with rotting flesh and murderous intentions, but look much like they did before they died, except perhaps a little blank, dazed, enigmatic. Nonetheless, they are - inexplicably - alive again. The authorities round them up and set up temporary quarters on the outskirts of the town, a refugee camp if you will. Scientists observe them and try to figure out what happened, and what to do.
The dead are carefully studied. A significant percentage are, of course, elderly. They all seem to have experienced memory loss. They appear healthy, though their body temperature is 5 degrees lower than normal. The bewildered townspeople are told that they can visit their loved ones, but are not forced to take them back: it is understood that an enormous personal and emotional adjustment will have to be made, and that in some cases it may be impossible.
Slowly, the dead return into the community. Some are given their former jobs back. We are presented with three stories. A wealthy elderly man whose wife has returned. A young woman, whose husband died in a car accident and is now returned. A middle-aged couple, whose child has returned. We follow the range of emotions: confusion, joy, fear, anxiety, ambivalence. We watch as the dead slowly attempt to adapt to living once again, as if coming out of a coma.
But the dead are up to something. At night, they wander into the streets, to congregate in secret.
Les Revenants is a strange and chilling film, not a horror story in the usual, but in a more psychological sense. In many ways it is a realistic examination of what might happen if such an extraordinary event were actually to occur. But there is an eerie, feverish dream-quality to it, a sense of dread, imbalance, of menace. Much like the eerie, feverish dream we know (all too well) as loneliness.
Ma mère (2004)
A 17 year old student comes to visit his beautiful mother (Isabelle Huppert) and father in their luxurious home on the Canary Islands. There is tension all around: we soon realize that the boy has been raised by his grandmother, in Catholic schools, seemingly due to obscure problems in his parents' marriage.
Suddenly, the father dies in an accident on a business trip. Neither the boy, nor his mother appear to have any feelings for him whatsoever. She tells him to clear the father's things from his office, and to throw it all out unless he finds something of interest. The boy uncovers a vast collection of pornography, which catapults him into an erotic swoon. He furiously urinates on the office furniture, then collapses in fervent prayer.
Lounging about the pool and in various states of undress, Huppert needles her son for being a religious stick-in-the-mud, for not taking part in the pleasures of life in the resort town. Wearing tight, revealing dresses, she goes out nightly to the local clubs, and finally concedes to bring the boy along. Slowly, disturbingly, she reveals herself to her son as an intensely sybaritic narcissist, in the manner that only French women, in particular Huppert, can be. Not only that, she is utterly and unrepentantly sexually depraved, and her depravity is shown to be the reason why her son was taken away from her. But he is back, and he is in love with her. She proceeds to take him down a path that can be described as the raping of an innocent.
Ma mère is based on a work by the pessimistic Georges Bataille, the "metaphysician of evil." The story also very much brought to mind The Sexual Life of Catherine M, by French art critic Catherine Millet, and various novels by Michel Houellebecq. There is much nudity, and various sexual acts are presented. It has been widely panned as over-the-top, a Euro conceit, and I can assure you the film will not be everyone's cup of tea. But being somewhat familiar with the, er... territory, I was fascinated with Huppert's performance, her desire to elucidate the blank, erotic radiance of a remorseless, lonely hedonist.
Let me start by saying I have never been particularly interested in Mira Sorvino's oeuvre, and as such I was not expecting much from this feature. But Mimic proved to be one of the most heart-poundingly frightening features I've ever encountered. Imaginative plot, great acting, arresting special effects, spine-tingling score. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, of Cronos, Hellboy, Blade II and The Devil's Backbone.The story revolves around a solitary young scientist (Sorvino) who tinkers with cockroach DNA in an effort to stop a deadly disease outbreak in NYC which is killing children. When the plague is defeated she becomes an international heroine; but within three years, a bizarre -- I should say, shocking -- insect mutation emerges. This film literally made crawl my spotless white flesh. Utterly ghastly, grotesque, repulsive proceedings that will scare the living bejebus - to say nothing of the loneliness - right out of you! Consider yourself warned.
Soupçons / English title: The Staircase (2004)
Poor half-wit that I have become, addled by prescription drugs, libations from the very top shelf and meaningless affairs with cold, angry, yet incomparably beautiful women, I was expecting this documentary to be about Scott Peterson, the man who murdered his pregnant wife in 2002 and dumped her body into the San Francisco Bay. Turns out it is instead about Michael Peterson, American author who claimed to have discovered his wife's body at the bottom of a staircase in a pool of blood in their home in Durham North Carolina in 2001. They're both named Peterson; a pardonable mistake, certainly, in light of the grave indiscretions on display. And yet despite my feeble-minded imbecility when it comes to mayhem in the news, I discovered The Staircase to be an utterly gripping, 2-disc documentary - from Academy Award-winning French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade - and was so overcome with an obscene fascination that I was up practically half the night, watching the entire series in one sitting. Lonely? Me? I hadn't noticed - and you won't either!
Take courage, lonesome reader. Sweet diversion is on its way! For there are more installations of M. Chariot's Cinema for the Lonely to come!
*Particularly if you are a lonely, single gentlewoman possessed of a stunning decolletage
Finical Filmgoer Reviews:
~ Discriminating commentary after the ad, below ~