Posts Tagged ‘siblings’

TELL NO ONE (Ne le dis à personne): Canet, 2006. Fr.

I recently saw an old post on the best surprise lesbians in mainstream films and TNO cropped up.  They were referring to Kristin Scott Thomas’ Hélène and her relationship with the protagonist’s sister Anne. The writer was celebrating the fact that the women’s marriage is utterly unremarkable- it isn’t a plot point, none of the characters have to ‘deal’ with it, there is no great moment of exposition. After Ellen also had this to say.

So I got to thinking, why are they gay? Did the writers just think ‘meh, why not?’ But then it became increasingly obvious that, in order for the narrative to succeed as it does, they had to be that orientation.

Main man Alex is best friends with his sister-in-law ; they lunch together and have an easy rapport. True, he could easily have been great friends with a brother-in-law, but the dynamics are different in exclusively male relationships. Had there been two men meeting to covertly discuss online activity, it would have seemed exclusive and conspiratorial- a cabal of masculinity- to Anne’s detriment. Their exclusion of Anne would have taken on, whether inadvertent or not, a patina of chauvinism, of male superiority, which the characters and situation do not warrant. These are educated, sophisticated, middle class Francs; the gender war is not of their world.

So why not have him be best friends with his brother’s wife? Well that’s problematic on two fronts: If Alex is spending so much time alone with a straight woman then, whether intended or not, there will always be a suggestion of sex. We will question the pair’s motives, instead of focusing on their engagement with the central mystery. Knowing that both parties are assured in their mutual lack of attraction allays the anxiety of their alliance and prevents any shadow of doubt over Alex’s devotion to Margot.

Then there’s the matter of the conspiracy around which the film centres. ***SPOILERS below***

Would Margot have confided in a brother-in-law in the way she trusts Anne? I’d wager not, not least because a man most likely would not have reacted in the same way. Obviously this is a generalisation, but a more likely male response would be to lead with force in the first instance, rather than waiting to plot an elaborate entrapment. Anne’s lack of action, and years of silence I cannot explain in terms of gender behaviour though. It is significant that Alex never comes to Anne during the film, though he trusts Hélène implicitly. He also knows Hélène can keep this information from Anne easily, and without guilt.

So, by logical deduction, Alex’s confidante must be the wife of his gay sister. (Well technically, he could ally himself with the husband of his gay brother, but that would preclude that casting of the estimable Kristen Scott Thomas and again, would bring a machismo to the film that would not benefit the characters or the story.)

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Love In Thoughts/ Wäs Nützt die Liebe in Gedanken (von Borries, 2004. DE)

The defining image of Love In Thoughts is that of  a butterfly delicately balancing on the trigger guard of a cocked revolver. “Dear Universe,” writes our protagonist and thus begins a hazy elegy to youth and summer and a maligned land, suspended in a historically condemned time, where it is easy to forget young people who played no part in the last war and had not yet anticipated the next. Young people who must still come of age, regardless of politics, where the wealthy and the privileged still occupied unsullied, beautiful spaces.

This film is a visual poem, a dreamy recollection of a bygone age, in a land caught like a fly in amber. The written poetry, which weaves throughout-binding together snapshots, clearly loses something in translation, but the point is still clear- what is the value of a life lived in ideas?

Noble theories and poetic notions have their place, but they are a dream and the poet is a sleepwalker.

The delicate balance between the thoughts and actions of impetuous, idealistic youth mirrors the wider situation in Europe- precarious equilibrium; before the full might of the Soviets is reached, before a resentful Germany is sunk into a crippling depression. (more…)

Welcome To the Dollhouse (wpd. Solondz, 1995. US)

I love this film.

Some people think it’s harsh, but it’s funny because it’s true. Many of us know that ‘fly buzzing against a window’ sensation; the endless procession of tiny humiliations and defeats that was senior school (or Junior High, or whatever your national equivalent is for thirteen year olds.) From the ironic, lingering zoom in to the idealised, patriarchal American family portrait, to our first view of Dawn in an almost mesmerising tracking shot of her long walk through the school cafeteria in search of a seat, and the irrational abuse thrown at her by even the other bullied misfits, to culmination in the awful, jangling discordance of her brother’s band scoring the cutesy Americana of their sister’s ‘ballet’; every moment of the first five minutes of Dollhouse proclaims everything you need to know about Dawn Weiner’s life and Todd Solondz’s world view. This is no testimony for the nuclear family and a Middle American childhood.

Shit happens. He says. Mainly to you. Live with it. The rhythms of editing in Dollhouse are as important as the actors’ comic timing. Though Heather Matarazzo’s perpetually bemused, bespectacled mouth breather does chip in at the opportune moment almost every time.

Dawn’s ongoing battle with her parents and her obnoxious siblings will strike a chord with anyone who has a) a family b) a bit of pragmatism. (more…)

SONG OF SONGS (Appignanesi, 2005. UK)

I vaguely recall reading a good review of Song of Songs round about the time of release. I was paying attention to Natalie Press back then; after the critical success of Wasp and a respectable showing in My Summer of Love she was looking set to become something of a darling of the British indie crowd. It had a very limited release however and after finally catching it on iPlayer I can see why. Press is perfectly acceptable in her performance, all the actors do the best that could be expected with the source material, but the whole enterprise just begs the question ‘why?’

Billed as a domestic drama exploring the tensions between an Orthodox Jewish family when the matriarch falls ill, SOS is in fact nothing so routine.

While it was interesting to see the rituals and behaviours of Jewish orthodoxy (for example the stock character of the estranged son who rebels against his upbringing is recharged here in the articulate and complex David who, despite his rejection of the Orthodox creed, compulsively adheres to the proscribed ritual hand washing)- not often portrayed or described in popular media- this claustrophobic play is imbued with a sense of unease that had me squirming in my seat twenty minutes in.

Despite a lean running time of eighty-one minutes Song of Songs rapidly becomes infuriating. I’m no stranger to glacial development, but here we are endlessly subjected to two steps forward, one step back. The implied sexual tension which repeatedly builds between siblings David and Ruth is undermined by distracting, but presumably deliberate, loss of focus before being diffused yet again by a slow and baffling fade to white.

The film is riddled with odd behaviour and obscure, if not opaque motivations, including the brother moving back into his family home, ostensibly to tutor his sister, ‘deprogramme’ her of religious indoctrination if you will, but concealing his presence from their ailing mother who is crying out to see her alienated son before she dies. The course and purpose of David’s instruction is impossible to second guess and somewhat sadistic and Ruth’s submission to him symptomatic of her inability to place herself within the insular Orthodox community of London.

In all this film is deeply unsatisfying and fails to be either shocking or profound. The queasy denouement is a moment which should probably have come halfway through, if at all. The final scene was frankly incomprehensible. If you’ve got a flatmate with dubious personal hygiene whom you cannot entreat to shower under their own volition, perhaps showing them Song of Songs will do the trick. Otherwise, steer well clear.