Archive for July, 2010
With “Des hommes et des Dieux”, Xavier Beauvois has explored with extraordinary nuance and poignancy the lives of the seven cistercian monks of Tibhirine in the months preceding their abduction by Islamist fundamentalists in 1996 and subsequent assassination (though it is not clear who in fact is responsible for their death). Beauvois has signed an exceptional film that does not linger on the violence, though it of course inhabits the film, but rather inducts us intimately into the regulated lives of these brothers and their harmonious existence with and commitment to the muslim community of the Atlas mountains. As political tensions rise and immigrants, professors and youth are slaughtered, the monks are compelled by all sides to leave. The brothers’ inner struggle as they have to decide whether to abandon the monastery and the community plays out in the turbulence of their features, the distress of their prayers, the disquiet of their gestures. The actors’ performances are nothing short of miraculous and the sequence where they listen to Swan’s Lake during their evening meal is perhaps one of the most eloquent I have ever seen.
Beauvois’ plea is a sober but urgent one. One that aims not to place blame on political or religious attitudes, nor to elevate the lives of these monks as martyrs above any other life lost, but to conjure a vision of willful peace, passion for life and real courage. Courage that does not steel the spirit stoically against the perils of life but mourns life’s precarity and accepts fear as the expression of a dignified attachment to the living, and in fear learns to face death.
The Illusionist is a tender but sorrowful affair. Melancholic souls should probably beware and venture with caution. But do venture. This is a trip in times past. An homage to Jacques Tati, the original scriptwriter. An elegy for lost arts, revived solemnly and gloriously by Sylvain Chomet’s heartbreaking and deliberately antiquated animation style. Ultimately however this is a mournful tale, one of a disappearing man, of sadly many disappeared men :
Summer is the season of festivals in Paris, of all things festive really. The quais de Seine morph into sunbathing destinations, terrasses are replete with gleeful young bodies and the seeping heat mercifully saps every parisian’s energy to complain about anything ; the city brightens and suddenly all the neighborhoods feel less remote. It’s infectious really. It begins with the music festival and tailing it, the film festival where with the purchase of one ticket you’re granted entry to all things dark and silent and flickering for less than the price of an espresso… I chose to begin with Mathieu Amalric’s La Tournee, a new burlesque theatre celebration which had won the Prix de la Mise en Scene at Cannes. The film is a winsome and obviously offbeat tale of a burlesque troupe peregrinating along the edges of France, avoiding the Parisian capital. The film works similarly, suggesting in passing deep loneliness, regret and failure in the lives of the characters but evading altogether the dramatic depth and development of these unresolved characters. It succumbs instead to the vital and oblivious entertainment of feathers, and bubbles and exhibition. As if life depended on it. Amalric is remarkable, a composite of vulnerability and despicability. As the troupe’s mismanaged manager he is outstanding and the girls are delightful to watch both off and on stage, but the story is… well, it lacks a plot. There is neither conflict nor resolution. The film hovers in kind of permanent vertigo between the flamboyant spectacle and the disconnected lives. Still, the opening and closing credits earn it one hell of a nod, and quite honestly, I forgot all things important the moment a refreshingly uninhibited vision of voluptuousness sang soulfully to a piano rendition of Steven Tyler’s Dream On, so yes, I forgive its lack of depth.