Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Week in Review - 2/11/08

  • La sentinelle (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 1992)
  • En jouant 'Dans la compagnie des hommes' (Playing "In the Company of Men", Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2003)
  • Etz Limon (Lemon Tree, Eran Riklis, Israel/Germany/France, 2008)
  • Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript, Woyciech Has, Poland, 1965)
Desplechin's La sentinelle & Playing "In the Company of Men"
It occurred to me within the last couple of days, that my experience with the cinema of Arnaud Desplechin somewhat mirrors my discovery of the music of REM. I first heard them in 1992, when Losing My Religion was blitzing the airwaves. At the time, I was losing my religion and, though the song has nothing to do with that, it took on special meaning for me. Yet when I first heard it, I couldn't work out if I loved it or hated it. I now understand that REM's music is so densely multi-layered, working simultaneously on different levels, and it was so unlike any music I was accustomed to, that I was unable to digest it immediately. In fact, I heard the song some 40 or more times before I started to realise that I absolutely loved it. It became my favourite song for many years, and REM remain one of my favourite bands.

It's too soon to say that Desplechin will have a similar effect on me, but I get the sense that his work is so dense, so complex, so unique that I have no common reference points, no easy way of digesting everything that is projected on-screen. Having seen two of his films last week, I was a bit more prepared this week, and I felt more at ease with his work. At ease? It's not something you really feel for Desplechin's films, but I can't think how better to explain myself.

La sentinelle is an elusive film (aren't they all?), Playing "In the Company of Men" less so. I enjoyed them both, but like last week's films, I feel I need to see them again to digest them. I like Desplechin's films, I'm fascinated by them, but I can't say yet that I'm at the point I got to with REM. I do not yet love them.

Lemon Tree
Superficially, this is the type of film one typically sees at the Como. It's a fairly standard piece, a David versus Goliath, with a Palestinian widow going head-to-head against the Israeli Defense Minister, who orders the latter's 50 year old lemon grove be demolished in case it provides cover to terrorists. What raises it above the normal pulp is that it represents a shift in Israeli cinema that allows for a bit more honest introspection. It questions the morality of modern Israeli security policies such as the building of the wall (reminiscent of Berlin, and everything that wall represented), forced evacuations and destruction of Palestinian properties. The film didn't completely win me over, but I was impressed by its honesty. It's worth a look.

The Saragossa Manuscript
An absurdist piece, reminiscent of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and made around the same period. I like absurdist cinema, but this one is very long, and it really demands repeat viewings to digest it all. It contains stories within stories within stories, and not meant to be understood. One character even admits to being confused by the convoluted stories himself. It was OK, but I can't see myself rushing to watch it again anytime soon.

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