Thursday, May 6, 2010

Putting the pieces together

I was saying to a close friend that there is a form of drama in which the story has ended before the narrative begins, and that the narrative drive is all about the slow release of information. I was speculating that it began with British playwright Harold Pinter in the 1960's, and he astutely pointed out that it may have begun with Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, which was a little bit earlier than Pinter.

I've Loved You So Long (2008) belongs to this species; at least, in part. It tells of a woman who has been through terrible things and done a terrible thing and is now recovering from the consequences of all that, going through the awful process of re-joining us "normal" people. I confess I was interested in seeing the film because the lead, Kristin Scott Thomas, who is English, acted her role in French (her real-life husband is French). It makes sense for her character to be half-English, as it helps justify her taciturnity and self-possession.

There's a wonderful uncomfortable dinner scene in which the host expounds on filmmaker Eric Rohmer, maintaining that Rohmer is as important as classical dramaticst Racine. This is like an English-speaking person comparing Woody Allen to Shakespeare. I am happy to say that his friends (mostly French) all dismiss this inflated comparison. But it is an interesting choice, because Rohmer's characters talk and talk and talk about themselves and their relationships and their inability to do and say the things that will make them happy. Thomas's character also cannot relieve her unhappiness, but she refuses to talk about it or to demand anyone's pity.

I can scarcely remark on cinematic technique in the film--it appears relatively invisible. As is common in this genre, scenes are framed in medium and long shots, with two or more people in the shot so they can play the scene together without being interrupted by the director cutting from shot to shot. That, and the central character's reticence make the film like a good, brisk, dry French wine, rather than, say a robust, fruity Italian. What is truly remarkable is how packed the film is with incident and detail which make it consistently engaging and absorbing, even though there is scarcely any story as we usually conceive it.

And it is one of the best illustrations of the truth that real change is most often, incremental, often invisible when it is happening, but readily apparent when it has been completed. A good movie if you happen to be a grown-up or plan to be one someday.

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