Monday, July 13, 2009

Smile Time - Be Kind Rewind; After Life

I've been having several half-ideas which could be fleshed out on paper, but I haven't gotten them done just yet. I'm going to start trying to write something at least once per week, so look for something on Mondays. We'll see how it goes.

I have something of a reputation for preferring depressing movies. It's not necessarily because I actually prefer them, I think, but rather that I think that it often makes for more effective storytelling which breaks out of the tension-climax-resolution-happy! clich├ęs. I may roll my eyes at a tacked-on happy ending, but I'm perfectly content to watch a movie which makes me smile.

Be Kind, Rewind, which was released within the last couple of years to a resounding thud, was just such a movie. Mos Def and Jack Black play video store employees who manage to delete the contents of all their videos. Their solution, such as it is, to the requests for movies which come in, is to reshoot the movies DIY and rent them to the customers the next day. The concept is a dangerous one, particularly with Jack Black ready and waiting to mug the movie in mediocrity, but it was written and directed by Michel Gondry. Gondry takes a DIY approach to his films and music videos. He does special-effects heavy flights of fancy like The Science of Sleep or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, while refusing to use CGI, leading to White Stripes music videos done painstakingly with LEGOs:

A famously playful DIY director making a movie about playful DIY movies of famous movies is ripe for a Baudrillardian analysis, particularly when Black and Def remake a documentary, When We Were Kings (Black is Ali). Yet the movie neither falls prey to pretension nor slapstick. It's exuberant, joyful, funny, and endlessly charming. Just watch the first remade (or "Sweded") movie-within-a-movie, Ghostbusters:

Perhaps it's the DIY concept which makes Be Kind Rewind so charming, as it has that in common with the Japanese film After Life. But where Be Kind Rewind has the initial plotline of a generic slapstick underdog comedy, After Life has a sweet, comforting story built around death.

The film is set in an isolated high school, staffed by twenty or so men and women in a very corporate environment. They have constant meetings, worry about meeting their quotas, and so forth. Then their clients are introduced, and the setting is further revealed. All of the clients are recently deceased, and the school is the first stage of their journey, where they pick out a memory that they wish to relive for the rest of their existence. The staff then uses their meager resources to recreate the scene. One man, a would-be pilot, wants to experience his first flight. The clouds are recreated by cotton balls dangling from a wire on a pully, a decidedly Gondry-esque touch.

Some dramatic tension is generated for the movie when a few of the clientele either cannot or will not choose a memory from their lives. This leads to revelations about the staff of the facility, which leads to either fascinating plot twists or unbelievable coincidences, the latter of which drags down the ending of the film. But the charm of the sequences where the memories are chosen, scripted, and most of all, produced and filmed, are what make After Life so memorable. It, like Be Kind Rewind, is in many ways, about the application of imagination to memory.

There aren't many clips from it online, but one, and a trailer, can be found by looking for it under its original name, Wandafuru Raifu. In this one, an adorable older woman talks about her memories of dancing and her older brother.

1 comment:

Renaissance Poet said...

After Life (which, I was told, literally translates as "Beautiful Life"), introduced to me (and therein Rowan) by my poetry prof Truong Tran, actually inspired a sad poem rather than a smile. We didn't watch the whole film in class (due to time constraints) and were told to write a poem about a memory that encapsulated not our life, but our poetry project (which will become my master's thesis). The "smile" for me was the act of writing rather than the finished art piece (movie or poem). I think Michel Gondry would approve.