Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Burn After Reading; Army of Shadows; Irma Vep

Having finished Battlestar Galactica (and I may post about the ending, presuming I can control my laughter) the Renaissance Poet and I have moved onto movies.

First up was last year's Burn After Reading, which I had desperately wanted to see ever since catching the trailer, which made it look like a new Big Lebowski: "Hey, it's a wacky Coen brothers comedy about people doing dumb shit for money!" I was somewhat disappointed in watching it, as it wasn't a genial comedy about blundering losers like The Big Lebowski, but rather more of a tragi-comic farce along the lines of Fargo - a film I admire, perhaps, instead of really enjoying. Still, Burn After Reading isn't without significant charms. George Clooney's charisma manages to turn a serially philandering sex-and-sex-toy addict into a likeable character, and Brad Pitt appears to enjoy himself immensely as an idiotic sidekick, well outside the normal confines of his usual Big Time Movie Star roles.

I'm a sucker for resistance stories, and who better to resist than the Nazis? So I was excited to check out the unearthed classic French Resistance film Army of Shadows. The Renaissance Poet's francophobia kept us from watching it for a while, but I finally convinced her in a moment of weakness/procrastination.

Army of Shadows
is a stark character study of what would make a successful resistance fighter, and the end result is rather unpleasant. The hero of the film looks like a middling bureaucrat, but he is posessed with an opportunistic survivalism. Whenever he, or any other character in the film, displays anything other than survivalism, such as loyalty, heroism, love of family, or any kind of hesistance, they are punished. And perhaps most tellingly, the Resistance of the film spends far more time attempting to weed out traitors than it actually does successfully fighting the Nazis.

Ironically, the film was critically panned in France for its apparent Resistance sympathies (the director, Melville, was in the Resistance) at a time when Gaullism was at a low point in popularity. I'm not sure how people who actually saw this rather depressing movie came to that conclusion. Army of Shadows was perhaps not as excellent as I had hoped, but it is an intellectual success, if not an entertainment success.

One of the sources from which I'm picking out movies to watch is The New Cult Canon series at the Onion A.V. Club. Many of the films on the list are ones which I consider favorites (The Big Lebowski, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), and several other were interesting and well-worth seeing (Donnie Darko, Pi, ...uh, Manos: The Hands of Fate). So I was interested to check out Irma Vep, which appeared to promise some fun postmodern excitement.

It didn't deliver. Going back and rereading the writeup from The New Cult Canon, it appears to be about the film I saw. But it just never grabbed my interest. It appears to be more of a playful intellectual film for movie critics and movie makers. It has some assorted charms: Maggie Cheung plays a marvelous blank slate that every other character projects their desires onto; the wardrobe lady who befriends is a charming, charismatic, possible junkie; and the ending is so audacious and bizarre that it's almost impossible not to laugh. But those moments never really seem to cohere into a strong story.

The writeup indicated that Irma Vep is in many ways a spiritual successor to French New Wave cinema, which may help explain what I don't understand about it. I know little-to-nothing about New Wave, which is something I should probably rectify if I want to write about movies.

Next up, a far more entertaining set of films: Primer; Battle Royale; Chungking Express; and maybe A Better Tomorrow.


Renaissance Poet said...

I'm not a francophobe. I dislike some French, but I'm not afraid.

Renaissance Poet said...

Not to mention the paper I'm giving at the PAMLA conference is on the Roman de Silence, a French medieval romance. And I also love the Romance of the Rose, most everything by Chretien de Troyes, and brie.