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Showing posts with label New York Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Stories. Show all posts

Monday, 7 August 2017

Maudie - or Maudit ?

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

7 August

Some observations, partly by Tweet, about Maudie (2016)

You are determined to put a stain on this family name !
Aunt Ida

This film, however based in reality, could only work on the level of parable -
and it unnecessarily laboured even that
Jacob Apsley

Some film-references :

* Being There (1979)

* Big Eyes (2014)

* Caravaggio (1986)

* Forrest Gump (1994)

* La belle et la bĂȘte (1946)

* Mr. Turner (2014)

* New York Stories (1989)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Certain Women (2016) : When flatness of affect turns leaden, and less could have been more

This is a critique of Certain Women (2016) – as against what it could have been

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 March

Spoiler alert - to talk of the film, as here, it is almost necessarily full to the brim with them

This is a critique of Certain Women (2016) – as made, as against what it could have been (work in progress)

There is an approach in cinema, which is almost as much a state of mind for us, as viewers, as for the depicted places and persons, that is best characterized by citing Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (2011) – though, for those with no patience or feeling for mood and reflective space, Sokurov’s much, much shorter Mother and Son (1997) will seem more of an endurance than around three hours ?

In Certain Women (2016), no such ethos is evoked, but there is a flatness of affect to it from the very opening shot :

A train heads towards the bottom left-hand corner (and, there, the plant that is the only thing in focus). (Even the table-top mountain – and unmoving clouds – look as if unrealistically let into the background to the rail-road in the foreground, and the expanse behind it [i.e. done unconvincingly in post-production].) Then, of sorts, a mood is generated, but not pervasively, by a man dressing post-coitally, extreme right and in another room, and a woman seen just from below her knees, putting on socks – it is the height of trying to create a frisson of dullness around Laura, despite taking time in her lunch-break for an affair.

Laura (Laura Dern) goes on to be, if she were to have survived in the profession for any time, an implausibly malleable attorney (and Fuller, doing the manipulation, a claimant – they are still called plaintiffs in the States – to resist and reject whose demands, with dignity and justification, she seems quite unused, unsuited, and unskilled). The lingering question why Fuller feels aggrieved may deliberately only ever be given in snatches that are interrupted, and so partial, but, then, this is because the story decides to foreground the element of unreasonable expectation / unreasonable acquiescence – just as the opening image does the train, in motion – and leaves the looming question how he actually could have compromised his injury case for peanuts*.

Maile Meloy, in the stories that are Certain Women’s basis, may have evidenced better understanding of real law (practice and procedure), rather than the pretend variety that litters film and t.v., but it is not here. The boring fact of the matter (i.e. the mountain that, after the fact, has not so artfully been grafted in behind) is that attorneys specifically need and have the protection of standard protocols (because, for one thing, their professional indemnity cover would insist on following them) for dealing with clients who ill-advisedly wish to accept settlement offers that, without being as derisory as this one seems to have been, no one with a duty to advise them could recommend accepting.

That may be uncharitably against the unrealism of scenarios with a client and an attorney, and it could equally miss something in the kindred setting of Nebraska* (2013) to ask for strict verismilitude, but making a compromise with the tenable has to be for good reason (not just that it is simple to make up and fake). Whereas this story, told with unutterable flatness as if it is a virtue, and with Laura even being casually manipulated by the law-enforcement officers to endanger herself for no good reason, made one long for Steve Coogan’s take on such matters in Alan Partridge : Alpha Papa (2013) : yes, Laura is one of these ‘certain women’ of the title, and she has a particularity, but it is only of not being persuasive that she could, if twisted thus, survive in legal practice, when client-work is ever full of inter-personal traps.

Even so, the story, even in its own terms, is just as much about Fuller, which means that the film has hindered its own credibility, by making scant sense of Laura’s role as his legal adviser (none of which is much assisted by off-hand remarks from one or two others, who suggest some merit in his feeling aggrieved). Even if one shelves Laura, sitting on the floor in the middle of the night and reading out his case-file to him, onto the level of the symbolic, doing so effectively side-lines issues of whether she did right by him, if the court and she in any way wrongly facilitated a settlement that precluded considering the effect of a prognosis where a provisional award for damages was likely to be better : good law, but a poor story - which should counsel against not adapting the story in film ?

The second story takes up some more screen-time (it would have been interesting to have noted how much the first and second occupy in relation to, and before we get to, the third – after two indifferent segments, one with production values that are not just per se better, but wholly quite other, with qualities of performance / presence / poise, cinematography, editing, sound-design…).

Put more briefly, some awkwardness, along with much more flatness, in a couple’s buying (or being given), some building-stone from a man of 76, whose connection to them is wholly unapparent. (Everyone calls the material sandstone, but it little resembles what that term usually refers to, and more resembles granite ?). The wife (whose wife is she, i.e. who is he ?¹), Gina (Michelle Williams), is the moving force behind asking if they can buy it – yet, at best, it seems to be acquired for no better reason than, as she reasons to herself, if they did not take it, someone else would, because there is somehow too little left, of what was once a school-house, to do much with.

(Apart from a bit of bogus ambiguity whether Albert, the 76-year-old, feels cheated, a story about precious little, although someone somewhere must believe that it said more : it is as if, on a recommendation that one increasingly doubted, one newly started watching New York Stories (1989), but Scorsese’s incendiary opener ‘Life Lessons’, with Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette, had just been substituted by another segment as trite and unchallenging as what follows it, Coppola’s ‘Life without Zoe’.)

What we hear said plenty, but in emotionally largely even terms, is to care for Gina, because she does so much for them (e.g. negotiating this pile of building material, with which little can be done ?). Yet the only moment in the whole section that really spoke of anything that seemed felt was when her husband¹ makes a long reverse down to the gate, which she has opened for him, and. in doing so, he talks to their daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) in a monologue…


From a review by Leslie Felperin for The Hollywood Reporter :

Yet while there’s no doubt this is the work of a filmmaker entirely in command of her craft, there’s something a trifle academic and dry about the whole exercise, and slightly lacking in narrative cohesion given the nature of its origins. Unlike, say Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or other films adapted from collections, this feels like three discrete works laid alongside one another, like pictures in a gallery, not a triptych.

Post-script :

There is now another perspective to share, after chatting the film over, with someone who – on another day – just happened to have seen the film (this is the stuff of being at The Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge (@CamPicturehouse) – not just during Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest)).

After agreement that the second story seemed (for want of the words used at the time) inadequately substantial (though leaving the interlocutor keen enough to read the original short stories), there was more interest in Laura, and less being distracted by the plausibility of her career in law : the suggestion is that she is a small-town lawyer, used to small-town matters, and that, when she took on this this compensation case, she had found herself out of her depth, and thus her inability to parry the demands from Fuller results from something different. Maybe…

To some, the title also appears to offer another way of understating the word ‘certain’, beyond that familiar in some forms of narration (or one could naturally say ‘certain types’), such as ’Now there were certain Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. Reading Certain Women this way would imply that one can ascribe acting decisively to the behaviour of the women, and – except to the extent that most films depend on something happening – might one look for that quality of certitude in vain ? (It is only essential to find if, if one wants to say that each woman acts with certainty, and that there doing so is important to the film. Words [from a review ?] that are being used to promote the film begin 'Three strong-willed women'.)

End-notes :

¹ One forgets, but state or federal law takes the usual position further that a full and final settlement should not be accepted when the prognosis has not resolved, but an interim payment : here it appears that an employer that makes a payment in settlement binds the employee against the person who might have been sued. It is vaguely enough there in the story, but really skated over.

² As in the past, IMDb, lets us down here : the last character in Laura’s story is Amituana, it then lists Gina, her daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), Albert (Rene Auberjonois), but not Gina’s husband, as the next character is The Rancher (Lily Gladstone), and that is the third story…

However, as looked to be the case at the time - but how does one confirm it (in a Montana ID parade, one big man with a big beard, briefly seen, looks much like any other) ? - Neil White (@everyfilmneil) clarifies, in his review : The lawyer's hook-up (James Le Gros) turns out to be the husband of a businesswoman (Williams) who goes on a weekend family camping trip and visit to an elderly man they know.

³ It would be good to have confirmation of this perception (as screen-time is not always possible to judge accurately), but the running-time of the third story may nearly equal that of the other two combined : with reprises of the latter feeling as if they have been tacked on at the end to provide a sense - not a very good one - of a frame. (Plus locating in Laura's law office in the place where Lily Gladstone's character, in the third story, drives to and makes speculative enquiries).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)