As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

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COPIE CONFORME: film as a Rorschach blot

Posted by Hedwig on August 9, 2010

Warning: SPOILERS herein (not that they really spoil the movie, in my humble opinion, but YMMV)
Disclaimer: Rambling, run-on sentences, etc.

From the advance reviews from Cannes, I knew that Copie Conforme centered around an ambiguity: is the central pair a long-married couple pretending they’d just met, or are they two people on a first date who play at being a troubled married couple? It seemed clear to me after the movie that it was the former. When I turned to the friend I saw the movie with, however, and said “well, that wasn’t THAT ambiguous”, she immediately agreed… and said “yes, I mean, obviously they’ve just met”.

Furthermore, my former colleague Ronald, whose opinion I greatly respect, described Juliette Binoche’s character in his (Dutch) review as a woman on the verge on a nervous breakdown. My takeaway? That William Shimell’s character was cold, distant, and kind of a jerk.

Of course, different people seeing different things in the same movie (or any work of art, in fact) is the rule rather than the exception. One could even say that art that can only be interpreted one way, or that can inspire only one specific emotion, is hardly art at all. Still, maybe because Shimell’s character is said to be interested more in the perception of art than in the art itself, and also because of the vast difference in the interpretations, it struck me as an interesting aspect to focus on. What if the ambiguous nature of the film is intentional, a deliberately equivocal canvas for us to project our interpretation on? Something like one of those optical illusions where you can see either one of two images, but never both at the same time?

If we accept that the movie functions as a sort of cinematic Rorschach blot, the next question is: what does it reveal? It seems that my interpretation would mark me as a cynic, but then again, in the alternative take on things, the two central characters are the cynical ones. Do Ronald and I disagree on the characters because of our respective genders, because of a facet of our personalities, like a fear of commitment versus a fear of abandonment – or, hopefully, because of something less facile? And there is, of course, another alternative: maybe it’s because we side with a certain protagonist’s views on the value of copies that we side with them as a person, too – though I cannot say if this applies to me, since I haven’t quite made up my mind on the matter.

As for the “truth” of the relationship, it might all be much simpler than all that. After all, with so little to go on (the only “concrete” clue, the outside perspective provided by the son, points to the second option), what made me so convinced? Probably mostly a failure of imagination: improvising a courtship seems, to me, much simpler than convincingly acting like you’ve had over a decade of recriminations between you. I also can’t imagine why you would even want to imagine that when everything’s still full of hope – while I can imagine trying to re-capture the thrill of the beginning.

Whichever your take is cannot give a conclusive answer about your stand in the copy vs. original debate, since it cannot equivocally be determined which is which – and that, of course, is kind of the point. All we can say is which WE – or I should say I – think is more credible as an original, which feels copied.

Maybe a second viewing, later, will change my mind – but the movie will, of course, still be the same. In any case, I’m fairly sure I’ll be as fascinated as I was this time: it’s a wonderfully shot, wonderfully acted film full of twists and turns about two complex people engaged in a complex, constantly evolving dialogue about art and relationships – how could I not be?

P.S. It is tempting, of course (if only since it’s the movie of the moment) to draw comparisons to Inception. However, I think the ambiguity there is cheap rather than interesting: since a happy ending would have felt/been undeserved, and a straight out “he’s still dreaming!”-conclusion would have been both a cop-out and not entirely supported by the rest of the movie, Nolan wisely decided to leave everything in the middle. It’s telling that not only do I not have an opinion on which option is “correct”, but I couldn’t care less.


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Scrutinizing Statham

Posted by Hedwig on July 30, 2009

The boyfriend has two big man-crushes. The longest standing one is on the Gubernator, but currently the most prominent one is on the guy who’s already been anointed the new big action hero: Jason Statham. I’d seen a few of his movies b.BF. (Lock Stock, Snatch, The Italian Job), but with him I’ve also dived into some of his less… reputable flicks, most notably the Transporter, The Transporter 3, Death Race, The Bank Job and now Crank.


The odd thing is that Ah-nuld and Statham are quite different. I want to say they’re like the immovable object versus the unstoppable force, but that’s not quite right. The main difference is that while Arnold is strong and seemingly invulnerable, Statham is less imposing but incredibly kinetic. It’s no coincidence, I think, that so many of his films revolve around some kind of clock or count-town. While he always seems reluctant at first, once he starts going he’s always in motion, always racing. The scary thing about Schwarzenegger in the Terminator was that he was unrelenting: you could outrun him for a while, but he’d never stop coming. What scares Statham’s opponents is that you never see him coming, and you never know when he’s going to show up. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Punisher: War Zone

Posted by Hedwig on April 22, 2009

Time for good intentions, once again: write something, anything, even if it’s just one sentence, about every movie you see. Might have picked a better time than the day after the b/f’s birthday, but there you have it.

One of the many great features of the Onion A.V. club is “I watched this on purpose”, wherein a staff writer watches a movie (s)he knows will probably be terrible, but which holds a certain allure anyway. In the most recent one (concerning Max Payne, ironically also a movie about a guy who goes nuts after his wife and kid are killed), there was a very true quote, courtesy of Josh Modell:

Action movies can be stupid, and that’s okay. Action movies can be completely implausible, and that’s generally a plus. One thing action movies should never, ever be is boring

.. and that’s basically what’s wrong with The Punisher: War Zone. I can’t quite pinpoint why it’s actively boring instead of just a serviceable, entertaining-enough action flick. Ray Stevenson has the right head for the part, Jigsaw has the promise to be a funny-enough villain… But, aside from a few moments (there’s a nice touch with a shotgun), after a while the fight scenes began to drag and even the b/f thought it was mediocre (pull-quote: “wow. This makes me realize that Taken was actually pretty ok”).

Tomorrow: probably a rom-com like He’s just not that into you. What can I say, I’m picky (and attending a “ladies’ night”).

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In Bruges

Posted by Hedwig on December 6, 2008

I saw In Bruges for the second time tonight, and I was once more left very impressed by its structure, more so even than the first time. There isn’t a wasted word or action here: everything comes back, everything has a consequence, and nothing – however unexpected – happens without being foreshadowed.


It’s quite amazing. There are lines about giving ketamine to a dwarf that you assume are a joke but turn out not to be, a recurring theme about suicidal midgets is very relevant thematically, and even the ridiculous dialogue about a war between blacks and whites has a purpose,  leading to a revelation that explains Ken’s allegiance to Harry.

In Bruges is a fairly bloody movie, and I was a little afraid the swearing would turn my mom off (she doesn’t mind grisly murders, but doesn’t see the use of  excessively using the f-word), but this movie shows that you can be crude and violent but literary and carefully crafted at the same time, and she loved it (the beautiful pictures of Brugge helped). I tend to stick away from naming anything ‘pomo’, but this absolutely is, without losing its heart (or should I say conscience) in hip posturing and needless references, and now that I’ve seen it again, I think I have to list it among my favorites of 2008 so far.

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Brideshead Revisited

Posted by Hedwig on November 3, 2008

I haven’t read Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I haven’t seen the acclaimed miniseries with Jeremy Irons. And while I knew something about the book’s anti-catholicism and the bare outlines of the plot, I had somehow – unfairly – dismissed it as yet another period drama. A “costume drama”, to use the Dutch expression: lots of nice dresses with little underneath.

But I learned it with Atonement last year and now again with Brideshead Revisited now: you can do some pretty interesting things within the frame of a period drama. In both cases, interestingly enough, the characters function more as ideas (in the Platonic sense, I would almost say) than as people of flesh and blood. And in both cases, a romantic spine, if you will, is used to tell a story of something entirely different: the dangers of subjectivity in the former, and the dangers of organised religion in the latter.

I don’t want to make these films sound dry and dull. They’re not. Atonement is vibrant especially in its first segment, in no small part because of the great score, and Brideshead is surprisingly funny and evocative. I think Patrick Malahide (who played Charles’ father) was under the impression he was in a comedy, and while his scenes jar a little with the rest of the movie, they’re painfully funny. And the “idyllic” period, with the drinking and the dancing and the occasional chaste kiss, is gorgeously filmed and makes you understand Charles’ motivation completely.

It helps that he’s played by Matthew Goode, who I certainly don’t mind looking at, and who imbues Charles with a hard shell under his seemingly laid-back, charming exterior. And it helps that he has the wonderful Ben Whishaw to play against: he’s almost goes over the edge from time to time, but his Sebastian is a truly tragic figure, that you can’t possibly dismiss as just a spoiled brat. And Emma Thompson plays the ruthless Lady Marchmain so sharply that you can imagine her haunting her children even after her death.

I didn’t love Brideshead as some, but it did take me by surprise, and I am now looking forward to seeking out the book and the miniseries. And I’ll be careful, in the future, to not be so casually dismissive of period dramas.

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Caos Calmo

Posted by Hedwig on October 25, 2008

Calm Chaos: the sea we see in the first shot illustrates the title perfectly: it’s forever moving, moving chaotically and even violently, but at the same time the overall impression is one of calm. It’s soothing. Or at least that’s our initial impression, especially in combination with the cordial frisbee throwing of two somewhat older brothers on the shore. But beneath that surface danger lurks, as we soon learn: two women are in danger of drowning. Each brother saves one… but when they return to their vacation home, they find out that while they were saving two lives, that of the wife of one of them abruptly came to an end.

The rest of the film, which unfurls slowly and with a remarkable lack of melodrama, is about how the man and his daughter continue their lives. The daughter goes back to school. And her father brings her… and starts hanging out in front of the school until she’s done. 

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Into the Wild

Posted by Hedwig on September 15, 2008

What a beautiful film. Not sure if it’s good, to be honest, but beautiful? That cannot be disputed. Sean Penn uses every trick in the box, and with them he made a film that -in principle- tells a linear story but that feels much less simple than that, much more metaphoric, poetic, maybe even transcendental. Read the rest of this entry »

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Melinda & Melinda

Posted by Hedwig on September 6, 2008

To deepen my knowledge of Woody Allen, I probably should be watching his older films and not the recent, mixed-review getting ones. Well, tell that to the video store near my parents’ place. I think they have a grand total of 30 films older than, say, 1998, and none of those are by Allen.

So, me and my dad, browsing through, decided to Melinda and Melinda. Our alternative was The French Connection, but we wanted my mom to watch along with us and figured the Allen would stand more of a chance. And? Well, we all sorta kinda liked it.

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Posted by Hedwig on August 3, 2008

CAUTION: post written after severe thesis frustration, quite a few rounds of movie hints and about a bottle of rosé.

Somehow, I was afraid I would be underwhelmed by Pixar’s latest production, like I was by Andrew Stanton’s previous directorial effort, Finding Nemo. I was afraid that, like with The Dark Knight, I would have had to defend my lukewarm response, my lack of enthusiasm. I needn’t have feared. Read the rest of this entry »

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Watching a Movie with Mom & Dad

Posted by Hedwig on June 29, 2008

My mother joined us here yesterday, and since I’ve been introducing her to Tarantino (she’s going to teach a course on art history in September, and also has to teach a little about modern film), Death Proof, a movie I love and my dad really likes as well, was on the menu. We watched it in two segments: the Texas part yesterday, and the Tennessee part tonight.

The verdict? She pretty much hated it.

And don’t just chalk that up to her being a mom – she’d dislike that excuse as much as Abernathy. I watched scenes from True Romance (the opening and the infamous Walken/Hopper scene) and Reservoir Dogs (the opening diner scene and the scene in the car) with her, and Pulp Fiction in its entirety, and she really liked all of that.

But cars getting banged up? Such a waste, and what for. Such bad manners, to demolish a car that isn’t even yours (I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but that’s the gist). The car chase will probably figure in her dreams. And all in all, she thought the story was too thin, and she just “couldn’t do anything with it”. It didn’t speak to her, and she found it unpleasant to watch.

I kind of understand it. While Pulp Fiction is chock-full of references, it has a very clear, complex and very ingeniously structured story of its own. I personally find Death Proof fascinating on its own, and I think it has a rich text as well as a rich subtext, but it’s a much more elementary tale. Much sloppier, too: my dad had added, in memory, a scene in which they return the car and retrieve Lee, but in truth the film ends abruptly at the cathartic high point, leaving a few threads totally unresolved.

I’ve been thinking about why I like Death Proof a lot these past few days, because of how flat Vanishing Point fell. Kaj left an elaborate defense on my previous post, and he makes some valid points. Vanishing Point does, indeed, have an interesting existentialist subtext, but what I stand by is that the text is very dated, unsatisfying, and yes, boring.

The DJ, for example, is yet another annoying instance of the “magical black guy”-cliche. The driving was nicely grounded, true, but it got VERY monotonous and repetitive, and car noise Kaj loved so much grated on both my dad’s ears and mine. And on one point I will strongly, unrelentedly disagree with Kaj: he says “the dialogue, well, compared to Death Proof, it’s not that bad.”

Excuse me? I know Tarantino has been accused of diminishing returns, and I know many critics found the girltalk annoying and mindless in the extreme. But while the dialogue in Vanishing Point is excruciatingly on-the-nose and corny (want to show someone loved the main character? Have her say “I love you, I love you, I love you” over and over again), there’s a rhythm to the girltalk in Death Proof, an ebb and flow and a melody that’s just amazing to listen to. And the actresses, especially Sydney Tamiia Poitier (who is totally believable as a radio DJ) and Tracie Toms, make it sing.

Is the subject matter bland? Yes, absolutely, and most probably on purpose. Is it naturalistic? Not even remotely, nor is it meant to be. But through the meaningless, sometimes maddeningly inane dialogue, we get to know not only these characters (who are all, except maybe for Zoë Bell, archetypes) but this world and its rules. Rules deliberately tweaked, slightly, from the standard slasher-movie tropes: girls who withhold sex aren’t automatically immune (but mommies, even unmarried, are, in an interesting contradiction), and we have here not just a reversal from victim to aggressor, but one almost explicitly from sexual victim to sexual predator (“Oh, you know I can’t let you go without tapping that ass… one…more….TIME!”).

I tend to go on about this movie, don’t I? Enough for tonight, in any case: I have a glass of rosé waiting for me, and I want to enjoy my last evening here in la Douce France.

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