Cinema Fest

Weekend of film watching.

Last week’s Halloween mid-week open bar festivities were awesome, but alas I burned out before the weekend came. A nasty head cold has come my way. So the weekend was entirely made up of watching films, listening to music, making soup, and cleaning the house. Those are actually a handful of some of my absolute favorite things to do, but usually I don’t get to devote whole weekends to doing such since I try to oh, I don’t know, leave the house, see other people, drink too much, etc.

The first film I watched this weekend was Broken English, with Parker Posey and directed by Zoë Cassavettes, daughter of the formidable John and my favorite American actress of all time (Sorry, Audrey Hepburn, but you’re still my favorite icon) Gena Rollands. Gena has a small role as Parker Posey’s mother, one of the highlights of the film.

Posey plays Nora, a pushing forty New Yorker with a boring job at a hotel. Nora is rich (family money) and unhappy in her lovely one bedroom West Village apartment. She fucks action movie stars (the really hot neighbor of Brenda’s/S&M freak in a season of Six Feet Under, Justin Theroux, who is sporting an ill-advised Mohawk in this film), drinks too much red wine, fails to eat (and is thus 100 pounds or less), wears Barney’s Co-Op faux hipster threads, shops with overly critical mom, does yoga with her best friend (who’s unhappily married), and complains constantly. She is, in addition to those distasteful characteristics, a neurotic mess.

Nobody could have played this role better than Posey, who was the it girl of the late 1990’s indie scene. Her character is literally “Party Girl” (does anybody else remember that movie?) 15 years later. She’s still beautiful but full of self-hatred. popping Valium every time her insecurities start to hit her. The first 15 minutes of the movie are her trying to get ready for her best friend’s wedding anniversary. She drinks, smokes, looks languidly into the mirror, takes a Valium, and tries not to freak out. It’s one of the most realistic portraits of what it is like to be emotionally wrecked and know you still have to go out and save face.

That scene withstanding (one that is entirely held by Posey’s acting), the movie is not a good film. However it captures a lifestyle in New York that is very, very prevalent–the self-loathing, trust fund baby, semi-alcoholic, semi-anorexic single woman looking for love. I think all single women in New York fear being that…I know I do. I mean the trust fund part would be nice, but the problem with the trust fund is it enables you to be apathetic enough to still have a crappy job when you’re 35, a job which gives you no fulfillment, because you never really had to work.

And it’s not so much the single hood factor that is so scary, but it’s the burnt-out factor of having been on the dating scene for 15 years in NYC. 15 years of dating metro assholes, freaks, emotional wrecks, dudes hung up on their ex girlfriends or perennial man sluts can just make you never want to get in bed with anyone ever again.

Painful as it is to watch such a woman in action on film, addled by the deadly NYC dating scene and her own emotional instability, I have to say, it is the most commendable aspect of the film. It is the second half where the movie makes a huge turn—and by becoming a lovely fantasy it really loses the point. Nora goes to a party of a coworker, who amusingly calls her for days beforehand just to get a headcount on who will be there. The party, held in a loft with bad art and full of assholes, sucks. After a drink, Nora is ready to go home. But then, voila! A hottie French sound-technician/musician (art girl fantasy alert!) Julien shows up. He is captivated by her and won’t let her go. “One more drink, Nora. I want you to have a drink with me.” Ahh!

Julien goes on to woo her all night, despite her nervousness and reluctance to fall into his “I want to key-sis you, Nora, for yoo ahr so ver-ee pri-tee” seductiveness. Instead of just taking him home, they drink all night, hang out with her gay neighbor, smoke pot, and don’t do anything physical. She passes out, while he watches her all night. And thus Julien comes into her life. He refuses to leave her apartment and wants to hang out with her even though she won’t sleep with him (something Nora can’t understand). They fall in love; they take bathes together; he looks deeply into her eyes more than once.

Interestingly, the actor Melvil Poupaud who plays Julien is actually in his 30’s (thank you http://www.imbd.com), but he plays a man who is clearly supposed to be in his mid-20’s. I recognized him from the Merchant Ivory film Le Divorce (he was Naomi Watt’s cheating husband). In Le Divorce he was a grade A cad, but here is utterly charming—with a whiff of melancholy to him that makes him uber-desierable to the woman with a little depth. His style is pure Euro (trash)—from the Justin Timberlake-esque hat he wears to the constant smoking to his “Nora, I like being wit cho so much” puppy dog attitude. I mean hey, I’d do him. Any woman would. He’s the essence of the illusion an American woman might have of a young Euro.

Now, Poupaud is a major actor in France and reminds me a bit of Jean-Pierre Léaud, the French New Wave star (Masculin/Feminine, 400 Blows, Day for Night). As Leaud did in Masculin/Feminine, Poupaud pulls off a similarly lovesick boyishness. In this film, Ms. Cassavettes, though, was clearly trying to portray the fantasy of every woman who has watched New Wave films in her youth. I’m not sure I buy it.

Alas.

The standout scene in this film is when they are dining together, Nora all the sudden has a panic attack. She has just seen an ex-lover and when talking to him, she failed to even introduce her new lover, Julien. This interaction and her immaturity/stupidity in dealing with it send her in a complete freak-out. She runs out of the restaurant, tries to get Julien to leave her alone, and then when he doesn’t, she ignores his caring attitude and runs to get her pills from the bathroom. He tries to stop her. She screams, “I’m not going to kill myself—I’m just having an anxiety attack!” He asks her if he wants her to leave. She says, “No, but you’re not going to get any action.”

Broken English

This is an utterly realistic reaction for her character. Nora realizes her fantasy is coming true and instead of being able to enjoy it, her nerves force her to question it, turning her into a feeble wreck. Posey does this very well—the mixture of anger and fear, the repulsion at herself, the pulling away from Julien while simultaneously wanting him to stay and take care of her.

The rest of the film, eh, take it or leave it. Julien sticks around even though she’s shown him her crazy. Then he must go back to Paris. She is lovesick. She quits her job. She and her best friend, played by Drea de Mateo, go to Paris they take to find Julien (and must deliver mysterious packages). While in Paris, there are lots of cheesy shots of the ladies shopping, getting drunk, etc. But it also picks up on the fact that French men do absolutely adore American women and will do everything to charm them. Now that is a stereotype, but as a 18 year old I experienced it when traveling, so I can’t say it is entirely NOT true and just a cultural myth.

I wanted to skeptically hate this movie, but I did find myself caught up into Nora’s fantasy French artsy man/boy plotline. This made me a little angry, because the New Wave films almost always disappoint you by setting up a fantasy and then, often literally blowing it to pieces (Breathless, for example). This movie was not at all even indicative of New Wave, but I still felt like a realistic portrayal of a woman was smashed by this cliche plotline. Not that I didn’t like to look at Poupaud.

My last thought is that I wanted her to let go of Julien when he leaves. I wanted her to say, ok, that’s that and then, well, maybe go to therapy. One thing that is both a positive and negative aspect about New York (depending how promiscuous you are) is you can go to a party/club/bar and meet some pretty good looking Euro and he’ll probably come home with you and he might not even sleep with you. Euros are weird like that. I guess they want the American/New York experience and like the company of pretty women. So, having an affair with an absurdly attractive traveler in New York for a few days is actually feasible. It’s the whole, “I have to go look for him in Europe because he’s the love of my life” scenario that isn’t. Affairs with Euro men come and go and are easy. But you don’t follow them to Europe, no matter how pathetic/rich/bored you might be.

My second film endeavor of the weekend was Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! an early Almodovar. I don’t have nearly as much to say about it, except it’s not as good, or, rather as smashingly excellent as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. That is hard film to live up to though. Tie Me Up! Is still example of how edgy/raunchy/eccentric/funny Almodovar’s work is. Most of his films fall into a genre that he takes and makes his own. All About My Mother is his “woman’s film” ala Terms of Endearment; Bad Education is his ode to film noir; Women on the Verge is screwball comedy; Live Flesh is more serious drama; Volver is a ghost story, etc. Some of his films I like better than others, but undeniably, Almodovar is always a treat to watch. Also, the early ones such as Tie Me Up! feature a brilliant and absolutely sexy as hell (although often a bit nerdy) Antonio Banderes. Banderes is the Penelope Cruz of the 80’s—he did his best work in Almodovar’s films, in Spanish, and was sadly stereotyped in American films as “Latin.” With the exception of playing Tom Hank’s lover in Philadelphia, he’s never really done anything serious in the U.S.


*Antonio sports a silly wig…

The last film I was able to finish watching was Hoax, about the fake Howard Hughes biographer Clifford Irving who pulled perhaps the biggest literary hoax in history. It takes place in the early 1970’s, pre-Watergate, and poor middle-aged writer Irving can’t get a book deal after the failure of his last book to sell. His editor is Hope Davis, who is the absolute dead-on portrayal of a power hungry woman in publishing. Fuck Meryl Streep’s kitschy Anna Wintour—this is the real thing. She’s slimy, smart, and the minute she sees big dollars her eyes go bing! She’s gonna be Judith Reagan. And this is before Judith even existed.

Anyhow, the movie is clever. It also features a very good performance from a usually very bad Richard Gere. For me, the most interesting detail though was that Hope Davis and the other actors who portray the higher-ups at McGraw Hill are pitch perfect portrayals of the real industry types. I’ve never seen a better portrayal of the book publishing industry on film before. This movie didn’t get enough recognition or very good theater turnout, despite good reviews. If it had come out about 10 months earlier, when both the JT Leroy and James Frey Million Little Pieces scandals were still fresh, it may have done better. As I know, it’s always about timeliness in media.

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