March 19, 2013
Sometimes a mesmerizing movie is one that leaves you uncertain as to what you just saw. Jellyfish (Meduzot in Hebrew) — a 2007 Israeli film, fits that category.
This dramatic comedy, or is it comic drama — see what I mean? — is based on a story by Shira Geffen. The subject matter is the frustrating lives of three women living in Tel Aviv. On the one hand, they are all lonely and downbeat — “resigned” might be the best term — but at the same time there is a spark of humor and warmth in the connections among them.
Batya, played by Sarah Adler, works somewhat ineptly in a dead-end job at a banquet hall. She is fired by her boorish boss, thrown over by her boyfriend, and neglected by her high-profile mother. Not unexpectedly, Batya isn’t in a good mood most of time, but her life is charmed when she encounters a mysterious mute little girl (Nikol Leidman) who wades out of the sea with a flotation tube around her waist and no other visible means of support, notably parents.
Things don’t go much better for Keren, played by Noa Knoller, a newly married bride whose Caribbean honeymoon is derailed before it starts when she breaks her leg while trying to climb out of a locked bathroom stall. And Joy (Ma-nenita De LaTorre), an immigrant who cares for a disagreeable old woman, is lonely for the son she left behind in the Philippines.
Clearly, a strain of melancholy runs through this film, but in the end it is not a downer. While it portrays the weightiness of everyday urban life, it also explores the undramatic but positive things that can touch people when their lives intersect.
November 22, 2012
When we took a bus tour of London many years ago, the guide pointed out that all the iron work outside the apartment windows was painted black. She said this practice dated to the reign of Queen Victoria, who was so distraught by the death of her husband, Prince Albert, that she called for the paint job as a sign of mourning. That sounded a little hokey to me, but it made a good story.
Victoria’s mourning for Albert, who died in 1861, was no joke, however. The queen was plunged into a lengthy state of depression, and lived a comparatively isolated life for a British monarch, although surrounded by her children and official household. One person who managed to pierce the shell around the queen was John Brown, a Scottish servant. Their relationship is the subject of the 1997 film “Mrs. Brown,” which stars Judy Dench as Victoria and Billy Connolly as Brown.
The queen had retired to Balmoral Castle after her husband’s death, and Brown — who had a long-standing association with the family — was sent there principally to care for her pony and accompany her when she chose to ride.
From the start, Brown showed the queen none of the truckling deference she was accustomed to. In fact he spoke to her rather bluntly, addressing her as “woman,” and said exactly what was on his mind. This appealed to Victoria, and she started to rely more and more on Brown’s advice, and he more and more took control of the affairs of the castle, and particularly of anything that had to do with the comings and goings of the queen.
This development along with Brown’s abrupt personality and penchant for drinking irritated pretty much everyone else in the household, especially Albert Edward, the prince of Wales, the queen’s son and later King Edward VII. Meanwhile, there was mounting pressure for Victoria to become more visible to her subjects — pressure that included a movement in Parliament to deinstitutionalize the monarchy. At first Brown supported the queen in her resistance to this pressure, but his change of heart on the matter led to a crisis in their relationship.
To what extent, if any, there was a romance between Victoria and John Brown is still a matter of conjecture. Certainly folks at the time thought there was something afoot, and that’s why the queen was derisively referred to as “Mrs. Brown.”
Although certain aspects of the story are fictionalized in this account, the movie basically portrays real events. The film was made by the BBC for television, but instead it was released as a theatrical property and made a lot of money. The performances, including Anthony Sher’s turn as a foppish Benjamin Disraeli, are outstanding. Judi Dench won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Oscar.
December 19, 2011
I don’t think I’ve ever disliked Alan Alda in a role, his role in the 1988 film “A New Life” is no exception. But this film has the added advantage of having been written and directed by Alda, so it is shot through with his wit and his sense of timing.
In truth, “A New Life” is a piece of fluff, but the combination of Alda and his art with a cast that includes Hal Linden, Ann-Margret, and Veronica Hamel give the fluff enough substance to keep it interesting.
Alda plays Steve Giardino (who makes up these names?), a Wall Street trader whose gearshift is perpetually in overdrive. Among the things he neglects are his wife, Jackie, played by Ann-Margret. Jackie finally has enough — or, more accurately, not enough — and she and Steve split. Both are disoriented in the single state, and Steve is further confused by his stock-market colleague Mel Arons (Hal Linden), a profligate who tries to prod Steve into a similar way of life. Jackie eventually takes up with a much younger and overly attentive sculptor, Doc (John Shea), who is a waiter in real life. Steve settles in, or so it seems, with a medical doctor, Kay Hutton (Veronica Hamel). The truth in this movie is that stable relationships are not easy to come by, and both Steve and Jackie will have more work to do.
This is a delightful ensemble, as the names of the actors promise. Linden is especially entertaining as a kind of Mephistopheles figure to the confused and somewhat naive Steve. “What are you making such a big deal about happiness for?” he asks Steve. “Look at me. I trade all day against guys who would cut my heart out of an eighth. I drink too much, I eat rich food, I make love to women half my age. You think I’m happy?”
(He grins) “That’s the advantage of being shallow.”
Fans of such Alda-esque dialogue will find it throughout this film.
Look for Alda’s daughter, Beatrice, in the limited role of Steve’s adult daughter, Judy.
December 16, 2011
“The biggest disease today,” Mother Teresa is supposed to have said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” Mother Teresa may have been referring primarily to the kind of people she ministered to, people who are poor and disfranchised, but the problems she identified can affect people of all kinds. Three people who are suffering from the “disease” of feeling cut off from any human community are the princpal characters in The Yellow Handkerchief , a 2008 film loosely based on a story by Pete Hamill.
These folks are Brett Hanson (William Hurt), who has just been released after a six-year term in prison; Martine (Kristen Stewart), a 15-year-old girl who has wandered away from her inattentive, single father and her friendless life; and Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), a Native American teenager who is on an aimless odyssey. Martine hitches a ride with Gordy after being rejected by a boy who had taken advantage of her, and Brett, who meets the pair chance, joins them on the first leg of his trip back to New Orleans to find his former wife, May (Maria Bello). May, a beautiful but solitary woman bound to the waterways of New Orleans, had married Brett after overcoming what might have been more sensible instincts, and he divorced her as a way of freeing her after the incident that landed him in prison.
This was an odd trio in that Gordy was attracted to Martine, who regarded him as eccentric and immature, and Brett — although he was protective of the teenagers — considered them only as a means to an end, namely returning to New Orleans to find out if May would accept him after the callous way he had left her. As they continue to travel together, however, the three gain more and more insight into each other’s psyches and problems and find that in their isolation and their desire to be “a part of something” they are more alike than they had imagined.
This film was shot against the background of post-Katrina Louisiana. Besides being visually interesting, the grim landscapes and the devastation provide metaphors for loneliness on the one hand and a longing for rebirth on the other.
In spite of Hurt’s persona, this is a true ensemble piece in which he, Stewart, Redmayne, and Bello give credible and sympathetic performances.