Sunday, 13 January 2008

Me and subtitled movies

Passive? Dumbed-down? Moi? I was pulled up short yesterday, when I realised my viewing life is jam-packed with Big Brother, its offshoots, and high-end/high-concept DVD drama sets (American). The last movie I saw at a cinema was a CGI cartoon - Beowulf. Ooh, dragons. The last subtitled film I saw and enjoyed immensely, without major martial arts stuff happening, was the the amazing Pan's Labyrinth directed by Guillermo Del Toro. And before that, a massive span of ten years since I saw the wonderful Ridicule which has a high old time dissing English "humour" and showing us how period drama should be made.

A new friend, let's call him "Babe", attempting to save my immortal soul from my cultural nose-dive along with the rest of the nation, presented me with a DVD of Celine and Julie Go Boating, a French film made in 1974 and directed by Jaques Rivette - in French! I mean, it's not in English or even American. I bet no-one gets shot or says "fuck" and "shit" every thirty seconds. Just the occasional "merde" which sounds so much classier - I suppose that's why our ancestors chose Anglo-Saxon, 'cause we rough types at the edge of the continent needed the catharsis and Romance is too romantic.

At three and a half hours, it's a terrifying ordeal for a girl like I to contemplate. The last marathon viewing I did was the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. And my mind even wandered with that. (Although I challenge anyone to follow the convolutions of the third movie. And if they did, kindly post bullet points here.)

But I've looked it up (on the net, natch!) and I see it's influenced Desperately Seeking Susan, and I reckon I can spot a bit of Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures in there, possibly the best female folie a deux movie evah!

So fellow culture-vulture Louise and I are planning an afternoon and evening (three and a half hours - remember?) of Celine and Julie.

As it's a lo-o-o-ong movie, I reckon it'll require an early start, and plenty provisions - it's gonna be a lengthy ride. It'll probably go like this:

Convene 1pm - have something to eat. Then movie.

1.45pm - something to eat to accompany the movie.

2.30pm - something to eat. Possibly Sara Lee cheesecake eaten straight from the freezer to allay subtitle anxiety. More movie.

3.15pm - we'll be feeling a bit peckish so something to eat plus film. Break open the crisps for a snack - must keep blood sugar up. Need fat to stay warm.

3.50pm - my eyes will be getting tired from reading the subtitles so some chocolate to freshen them up.

4.30pm - well, that's coming up for teatime, innit? Something to munch and watch the movie. Maybe cakes. People before profiteroles!

With breaks and reveries and checking up on the blogs we'll be hitting the halfway mark about now, so a little more refreshment and more movie.

By the end we'll be wanting dinner so we'll need a meal of some description. Perhaps a light roast. (Not in the Scottish politician/English footballer sense, I hasten to add.) And a bit later something hot to keep Louise warm for the journey home. My mother used to heat a brick in the oven and shove it in a sack when I had to go out into the cold and horrid. So we can do that.

All in all, I'm expecting a fab day's entertainment.


Louisefeminista said...

So no fight scenes or special Darnit!

Well, I will need to keep myself hydrated. I will bring that bottle Cava and we should drink a toast to "Babe"...!

This time I will be wearing thermals!

babeuf said...

Salut, Madame Miaou, ça cartonne? Samedi soir, on a bien kiffé. Hé, Louise, ça gaze pour toi?

Céline = MM
Julie = LF

Julie, follow the white rabbit, and see where she takes you.

Forget the cake and crisps. If you're ever going to get inside 7 bis, Rue du Nadir-aux-pommes, boiled sweets are what you need, like this:

But once you're in, for as long as you take the ghosts seriously, you'll be stuck with them. They'll try to drag you down, but don't worry, Céline, you've managed to escape once already. And then the ghosts, for all their outrage, won't be able to touch you.

OK, enough cryptic clues. Not a single word of that will make sense until you start watching. And if it still doesn't make sense afterwards ... ben, supposez que je suis raide-def.

babeuf said...

So the link got chewed up. Let's try it this way:

Madam Miaow said...

We are the missing link between Celine and Julie, and Thelma and Louise.

There's even Brad "Babe" Pitt ...

babeuf said...

Well, try imagining a secret director's cut of Thelma and Louise where the car sails safely over to the other side of the canyon. And even better, the other side is a land where the oppressors have been defeated. (Although it was an alternative ending to May 68 that they had in mind when they made the film.)

Madam Miaow said...

Eeek! No spoilers.

I'm looking forward to our voyage (with a French accent).

splinteredsunrise said...

Mmm, why not try Kusturica's Underground? A fantastic picture if a bit on the long side. Big epic sweep, lots of action and pathos... a little lost in the subtitles as the Serbo-Croat gets a bit salty from time to time, but that's probably unavoidable.


Phil said...

Re: "high-end/high-concept DVD drama sets (American)"

Have you given The Wire a go yet? If not, it's a must. You will not find a better drama. Guaranteed.

Madam Miaow said...

Still looking out for it, Phil. Hoping it'll turn up on cable. Please do let me know if you see it scheduled anywhere.

Thanks, Splinty. Didn't know Costa Rica had a Tube but will try it out.

Must move on from Japanese horror.

Anyone seen Burnt By The Sun?

babeuf said...

Splinty said: Mmm, why not try Kusturica's Underground?

A fine recommendation, Splinty, and thanks for reminding me of it. Hope you're well on the way to full recovery.

A fantastic picture if a bit on the long side. Big epic sweep, lots of action and pathos... a little lost in the subtitles as the Serbo-Croat gets a bit salty from time to time, but that's probably unavoidable.

Every blog needs an expert on salty Serbo-Croat. I propose, Madame Miaou, that you appoint Splinty as your consultant in this area forthwith.

Louisefeminista said...

Sounds too intellectual for moi. Can't we watch some shoot 'em up film...? Please, pretty please?

Talking of shot 'em up, I really really would recommend, 13 Tzameti (France/Georgia production).

Madam Miaow said...

Tsk! You'll be writing about make-up and boys, next.

D.B. said...

Sounds good to me. On the rare occasion I end up watching foreign language films, I usually enjoy them more than most American/English ones I see. I agree though that the subtitles demand more concentration.

Did anyone happen to catch any of the recent 'Unveiled' season on More 4? Five films exploring "the politics of love and sex in the Arab world." Who could resist?

I only managed to catch two, both French: Viva Algeria which was excellent, a story about 3 independent-minded women trying to negotiate their way through life in a religiously conservative culture. Definitely the better of the better of the two, very poignant and tense but fun too thanks to Lubna Azabal as Goucem, a feisty and sexually empowered young 20-something.

And the other one I saw was Un Homme Perdu which was, quite frankly, porn. My gaawwd. How I enjoyed it, not just for obvious reasons (ahem) but because it opened my eyes to a side of the Middle East I hadn't realised existed. It's all a bit pretentious, but interesting. Basically a French photographer goes On The Road Jack Kerouac-style, shagging his way around Lebanon, Syria, Iraq etc. accompanied by a Lebanese refugee who is distant, confused and sad throughout.

So, er, yeah. If you ever fancy some "erotica" but need a political/artistic pretence, I recommend the above...

Louisefeminista said...

"You'll be writing about make-up and boys, next" a matter of fact....I

Madam Miaow said...

Yes? And ...?

Madam Miaow said...

D.B. Oo, er. I like it when intellectuals depict sex. There's always something so miserable about it that it's always good for a laugh. Leaves the rest of us to have fun.

babeuf said...

d.b. said: a feisty and sexually empowered young 20-something.

Ah, "feisty" You should have watched Daria in the 90s - they tore that word to shreds there. So what does it mean? Maybe something like "You fight back, girl, but not nearly enough to make me feel threatened". A bit like the Spice Girls. Feisty. And where did that get them?

d.b. again: Basically a French photographer goes On The Road Jack Kerouac-style, shagging his way around Lebanon, Syria, Iraq etc. accompanied by a Lebanese refugee who is distant, confused and sad throughout.

Now why would this refugee be "distant, confused and sad throughout". Perhaps at having to make ends meet by accompanying a Western sex tourist looking for exotic kicks, without being able to say anything against that?

d.b., you're web-site shows you've got spirit. But some of you is stuck back in ... well, 7 bis, Rue du Nadir-aux-pommes. Try to get out.

Sorry if I've cast a cloud over a cheery thread, Madam Miaow.

Madam Miaow said...

Oh dear.

Yes, you've nailed the underlying meaning of feisty very well. But I feel this wasn't DB's intention. (Correct me if I'm wrong, DB.) I thought he meant it as someone who wasn't cowed.

Un Homme Perdu is described on one cinema website as being about, "... the sulphurous and secret East." Well, that's half the problem, isn't it? We're there on screen as exotic "Other", not existing in our own right, but to represent something mysterious, most certainly sexually repressed, in western man; a means for white intellectuals to get their jollies and then return to the pristine lily-white fold of the family which remains unsullied.

But there's a down side as well.

Substitute Gary Glitter for the handsome photographer and you'd probably have something closer to the true picture.

Now, about that invitation to model for National Geographic ...

babeuf said...

Madam Miaow said: Anyone seen Burnt By The Sun?

Missed that earlier. Yes, MM, it was wonderful. The blissful summer day at the dacha, until the time for killing comes. Mikhalkov not only gave the victim great human depth, but also the killer, without for a moment tempting us to take the killer's side.

He lets us see that the killer hasn't been turned into mindless cadre, longs for the old days, but still fulfills the demands of the system. And he makes us feel the horror of pumping a bullet into the brain of someone who loves and is loved. That gunshot undoes the brutalizing effect of the hundred previous gunshots we've experienced on film.

Mikhalkov, surprisingly, was regarded as a tame establishment artist in Yeltsin's Russia - not the meatgrinder that Stalinism was, but a meatgrinder nonetheless. Still, he showed more humanity in this film than he did at all the state dinners and galas he attended.

Thank you for reminding me of this film, Madam Miaow. I think I should watch it again soon.

Madam Miaow said...

Someone taped it off the telly for me but then someone else taped over it before I watched it. I definitely want to see it after what you just wrote, Babeuf.

splinteredsunrise said...

Another one I really love, and I haven't seen this for years, is Take Care Of Your Scarf, Tatjana. The touching tale of two ebullient Russian women hitching a ride with two morose Finnish men. It does take a certain sensibility, but I like it.

Madam Miaow said...

"The touching tale of two ebullient Russian women hitching a ride with two morose Finnish men."

Yes. Just the sort of thing to float Louise's boat. Isn't it Louise? ... Louise? ...


D.B. said...

babeuf: relax my friend! You might fancy yourself for a slot on Newsnight Review but don't get carried away. Fair enough, though, some of your criticism of my earlier comment is fair game.

I know "feisty" can sound patronising but the reason I used it was that I think the character Goucem is self-consciously "feisty", particularly in the context. The film is about 3 women: Goucem, her mother and her friend. Her mother is a strong, independent figure who fights to re-open a dancing club and relaunch her career as a singer/dancer; her friend is a prostitute who is knowledgable and comradely but ultimately quite vulnerable; Goucem on the other hand is a half-way house, just as strong and vulnerable but also more flippant, more fun-loving, more sceptical about changing the world and more anxious to have fun where/when she can. She won't be cowed and she will take risks but only so far. She isn't as deadly serious as the other characters, is self-conscious about the situation she is in, and is a dedicated and caring friend when the sitation demands it. But she also cheekily lies to her boss about being late every morning ("My mother's leg is broken again"), she gently taunts her friend about being gay (but supports him when he breaks down over it) and is only too happy when ditched by a boyfriend to gain revenge by going to a nightclub to flirt and pull and end up shagging someone round the back of the club before bidding him farewell.

So, er, that's what I meant by feisty. I could probably have chosen my words more wisely. Moving on...

Now why would this refugee be "distant, confused and sad throughout".

Well I never said he shouldn't be "distant, confused and sad throughout" and nor did I say it was a mystery why he might be. Reason being, i didn't want to give away too much of the story, because that's what the film is about. The very first scene is this guy being chased through a warzone in 1985. We then meet him "20 years later" as he is arrested for kissing a veiled woman in an alley; the French photographer is arrested at the same time for trying to secretly photograph them. That's when they meet and go "On The Road" together. The French photographer goes around taking photographs of himself and his lovers in action, while the Lebanese guy is seemingly troubled by the morality of it all. Most of the sex is consensual, although there is one occasion when the Frenchman becomes agressive and photographs one woman against her will.

In the end, the photographer wants to find out what happened in this man's life to make him the ghost that he is. He does this by paying women to have sex with him to gain his confidence and get his story. The Lebanese guy resists for so long but then has a night of passion (for which he can't forgive himself) in which he spills his heart out.

I'm in danger of writing an essay here and giving the whole thing away. My main criticism of Un Homme Perdu was the poorness of the script, which doesn't really adequately explain enough about the characters' backgrounds, nor resolve their conflicts. And from a strictly narrative point of view, er, there's just too much sex. The French photographer ends up looking for and finding the missing (presumed dead) wife of the Lebanese refugee and guess what? Within a day of meeting her (5 mins screen time), they're getting down to it in her flat, without a care for the poor bastard who doesn't know his wife is still alive! At this point it becomes like soft porn.

But then, I also think it raised some interesting (if ambiguous) questions about sexuality and sexual repression. I can't quite put my finger on it, but perhaps it's about how there are different factors in sexual repression and different modes of patriarchal power. It contrasts the macro with the micro: the conservative religious culture and the state apparatuses which repress sexuality as compared with the selfish, sexist western liberal who thinks he is enlightened but, by the end of the film, realises he isn't.

Finally, Madam Miaow I take your point about the potentially simplistic, ethnocentric Orientalism of such films. It applies more to Un Homme Perdu than the other Viva A.

At this point I have to confess my own ignorance. What I liked about Viva Algeria is that I got what felt like a genuine insight into an aspect of Algerian youth culture I was blissfully unaware of: the clubs, the blaring Arabic dance music, the kids, the nightlife generally. It's an eye-opener because, to some extent, we're brought up here to think of everywhere "East" as some kind of alien dystopian hellhole where the people have no agency whatsoever. This film reminded me otherwise, which, as I say, I'm embarrassed to admit that I needed.

Madam Miaow said...

Cheers, DB. That's fair enough.

I also think you were absolutely right in your first post in taking the rise out of the way "intellectual" sex is considered more acceptable than raunchy sex and can be, in some cases, a sneaky way of allaying the guilt of deriving pleasure from such filthy practice.

Could have been worse, though. Imagine the English making it. With Hugh Grant as the photographer.


babeuf said...

Thanks, d.b., I won't underestimate you again.

But at least my comment prompted you to prove what you could do, and that was well worth reading. You were just unlucky that I hadn't read anything of yours before and so I couldn't calibrate my irony meter.

Louisefeminista said...

"Yes. Just the sort of thing to float Louise's boat. Isn't it Louise? ... Louise? ... "

What? Sorry, I wandered off and got distracted. But am back...

What's that? Two Russian women hitching a ride with two morose Finnish men. Does it have any stunts, special effects and explosions?


splinteredsunrise said...

Does it have any stunts, special effects and explosions?

It's a Kaurismaki movie. Is it likely to have stunts and explosions? Most of them barely have dialogue ;)

D.B. said...

No problem babeuf. You're right, that tough love you gave me in the earlier comment paid off!

Isn't it nice to a civilised discussion without bickering and insults. Left Bloggers should all be like us.



DAVE BONES said...

a very fattening film.

we watched Beowulf the other day. That was hilarious. A friend of mine who saw it at the IMAX said that the 3D technology employed there was just made for Angelina Jollie in this movie.

Madam Miaow said...

Hi Dave,

I saw Beowulf at the local cinema and only realised halfway through that it must have been made for 3D. Most annoying. I'll have to do the IMAX.

Sweeney Todd was great.