Friday, 29 January 2016

Gang of Four | Jacques Rivette, 1988

An actress studies, touches, and reveres a downsized copy of Raphael’s St. George (c.1504), one of two early paintings by the artist depicting the legend of Saint George slaying the dragon. 

This was originally posted on my Tumblr just after seeing Gang of Four for the first time in April 2015. It was also my first experience with the work of Jacques Rivette, and to say Gang of Four showed me something in cinema that I'd never seen before would not be enough. I think about this film, and this filmmaker, all the time, and I hope one day to be able to express my admiration for Rivette in words. Right now, however, all there is to say is that cinema is all the better for having him.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A brief scene in Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy. A man has just finished his shift at a grocery store and is waiting for somebody to pick him up. Earlier in the day, his insistence on prosecuting Wendy for stealing a can of dog food led to both her arrest and an extended separation from her dog, Lucy. When she returns to the store, hours later, the dog has disappeared and the man is about to go home. As Wendy frantically searches, the man barely acknowledges her, and when his ride arrives he walks straight past her, gets into a car, and leaves without a word.

This has been a traumatic day in Wendy’s life, but this man is totally unaware of the pain his actions have caused her. Her life is a minuscule part of his own, running together momentarily before diverging again. But by returning to him, Reichardt makes him accountable. Seen outside of work, he’s no longer just an employee following procedure. He’s a human being who made a choice. A choice that changes nothing in his life, but one that changes everything in Wendy’s. She’s left with nothing. He just goes home.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

An image from Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet, in which a young plumber hangs a spoon taken from her father's restaurant from the frame of a print of Edgar Degas's 1876 painting L'étoile, depicting a young, jubilant ballet dancer on stage as the imposing, turbulent presence of a man dressed in black threatens to overwhelm the theatre. In this house in North London, the mother’s lingering over a shelf of trophies while polishing indicates she was, at one stage, a dancer of some prestige, and that dancing is still very dear to her; in the film’s opening scene, she is seen teaching a children’s dance class. The spoon, conversely, is taken from the restaurant after its presence on the kitchen floor caused the father to slip and break his leg; he later jovially describes the spoon as “evil”. But this spoon, much like the painting, is more than a simple souvenir or decoration. Placed together, as they are by the daughter, they represent dreams that never panned out; lives filled with pain, disappointment, and regret. But rather than hide from this sadness, these objects are given pride of place in a home; a family home. Perhaps not an ideal home, or even an ideal family, but a family and a home nonetheless - and isn’t that enough reason to celebrate? Like the dancer in the painting, gracefully persevering through the darkness with a determined smile on her face, or the “evil” spoon, facetiously brandished as a weapon and taken precisely as seriously as a spoon should be, why not look on the bright side? A fake laugh is still a laugh. Living is its own reward. Life is sweet, after all.