a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cross-cultural alliterative names + two others

Tony Takitani (Jun Ichikawa) [B-]
[SPOILERS await you] Haruki Murakami's prose is so specifically deadpan, so effortlessly delicate in its withholding of emotion, that if you would push it one way or the other, it would immediately feel like ordinary melancholia. If you really want the see-saw to fall hard on one side, the best way to do this is to drown his hypnotically flat prose in gentle piano, lingering long takes, and hushed, unaffected voice-ever -- which is excctly what Jun Ichikawa has done with his noble but failed attempt to translate Murakami to the big screen. A film adaptation of his works -- even a three-page tale, in the case of Takitani -- would seem almost a crime, as he currently has no cinematic equivalent and, frankly, doesn't need one. (Though I hear a stage production of The Elephant Vanishes was pretty good.) Wong Kar-Wai might be his closest cousin, but he has little of Murakami's plays with narrative (people hijacking the tale to tell their own, sometimes for 40 pages) and prefers to wrap his protagonists' descents into protracted, bottomless melancholia in pure mood, where Murakami goes for a stark, freakishly pitiless bent that's purely in the realm of prose. So, Takitani's a failure as a Murakami translation, but marginally affecting as its own beast. After the realization that Ichikawa wasn't going to match his source, I wound up digging the wall-to-wall exposition, wherein the characters never themselves speak, or the way the film is structured as a single 75-minute flowing minor key symphony, seamlessly moving from the aforementioned plaintive piano to T. Monkish jazz then back again. And it behooves me to say that once Takitani gets into the segment where the middle-aged introvert and his much-younger, materalistic wife obsess over the humdrum -- shopping sprees producing an entire room of clothes -- it almost does feel like one of the author's tales come to physical life. The final stretch is incredibly sad -- with a coda that, like some of his works, could exist in one of the character's heads -- but it's more because Murakami wrote it that way, not because the film itself has effecitvely built up to that point. Basically, it would be best seen if you avoid reading any Murakami prior -- but why would you want to do that?

Saraband (Ingmar Bergman) [B]
It's so fun to be back here! I've not much to say about this semi-sequel to Scenes From a Marriage, except that it's even less of a follow-up than 2046 is to In the Mood For Love. Ullmann and Josephson's ages don't match up and, furthermore, they don't hash it out. (Their scenes together, particularly the final one, suggest a private compromise between older exes -- no secrets, past pains now sort of a joke, the relationship literally warts and all.) Calling it an autobiographical reunion would be dead-wrong, seeing how Ullman has done little in the last decade but serve Bergman's needs. In any case, that never comes up as their reunion isn't even the focus. Instead, it's a modest regurgitation of Bergman's pet themes and take-no-prisoner details -- a blunt reminder that no one crosses lines quite like Bergman. The father-daughter relationship is so incestuous it's hardly ambiguous, and the film-long parade of two-person scenes vascillate between warm optimism for human relationships to the opposite. Had he tossed this off in the '70s, it would've been a mere blip -- solid, worth savoring, but nothing to get too excited about. Right now, it's...well, it's the same thing, ultimately. Switch to DV largely seamless.

Ali G Indahouse (2002, Mark Mylod) [B-]
This movie is monstrously stupid. But I liked the part where Ali G combatted a charge by his stern opponent in a televised debate by alleging that he once sucked off a horse. To which said opponent went into a dry explanation about how this had in fact happened but it was a terrible accident and then politely withdrew from the race in embarrassment. Also, this goes father than even Dude, Where's My Car? in the pervasive-gay-jokes-as-subtext dept., in that Martin Freeman and another of Ali G's friends wind up actually fucking eachother and when asked, they say, yeah, it's not that bad and can you give us a couple more minutes? At no time does it capture the frequent brilliance of his shows -- "Song 2"'s brother-in-law, essentially -- but it sells out with a relative lack of pain. Quit your whining, Mr. Show guys, basically.


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