Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Latest Link for the Day, With Additional Comments

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - My latest article for is mostly just a flimsy excuse to try to review two movies at once: Chantal Akerman's 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman and Sam Mendes's 2008 non-masterpiece Revolutionary Road.

The former is just about to complete a weeklong revival run at the Film Forum, in a brand new 35mm. print. I saw it this past Saturday for the second time; my first time was at a screening of a 16mm. print at Rutgers. You would think a 201-minute movie that features the barest minimum of plot and drama and focuses mostly on an unremarkable Belgian housewife's daily habits over the course of three days would be duller the second time around, after the initial shock of a first viewing has faded. Believe it or not, however, it's just as hypnotic and devastating the second time around as it is on the first. Hopefully this weeklong run will signal a Criterion DVD in the future (although there is a DVD box set of this and other Akerman films available from Belgium which I keep meaning to pick up)---although I wonder if a concentrated theatrical experience isn't somewhat essential to the film having its proper effect.

As for Revolutionary Road: I probably might have found it more affecting if I hadn't read Richard Yates's 1961 novel, which pulses with psychological anguish and humanity in ways Sam Mendes's relatively sterile adaptation rarely approaches (with the exception of those shock-to-the-system scenes with Michael Shannon, deservedly nominated for an Oscar for rising above the deliberate tastefulness). This may well be the best one could have done in adapting a novel as reliant on inner psychology as Yates's book is, but the elisions---the main characters' backstories, for instance---mostly make this seem like yet another of these smug Hollywood "soulless surburbia" dramas that have become all too prominent these past few years. Seriously: what's the point of films like this one, American Beauty, Little Children and others except for middlebrow filmmakers to crack wise---while maintaining a "serious" veneer, of course---about the middle class of which they were once a part? (Not that you could actually get a sense of personal involvement from any of these movies...)

To look on the bright side, though: even though I'm not rooting for her, clearly Kate Winslet was nominated for the wrong movie.

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