TIFF — Day Two (plus day 3 and early day 4 grades)
Three more short reviews, with vague spoilers for all three films, and some fairly explicit ones for BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS and LOST IN TRANSLATION.
THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ (Ted Kotcheff, Canada, 1974, 8)
This film, Canada’s first international prestige success, starred a young AMERICAN GRAFFITI-era Richard Dreyfuss, and shows some of his early cheekiness (before he became A Great Acting Institution) and even made good use of Dreyfus’ showboating ways. Duddy IS a showboat — a young working-class Montreal Jew always trying to make connections and impressions for the purpose of social climbing, and Dreyfus gives him a kind of annoying laugh (think Tom Hulce in AMADEUS cranked up to 11) that never ceases to be at least somewhat endearing in its roguish charm.
The film is like Duddy in many ways — a bit too eager to show off its plumbing knowledge, but one too many dog poo reference is a small price to pay for the very funny gag at the end of the opening band march. In another era and class, Duddy would have been someone like Julien in THE RED AND THE BLACK — each rises through the ranks of society through a mix of roguishness, moxie, charm and ruthlessness, except that Julien’s contempt for society and its unwillingness to accomodate him as he sees fit is closer to the surface and more explicit.
It’s there in Duddy, just more thoroughly sublimated. In what has been a theme these first few days, DUDDY KRAVITZ suffers from Adaptationitis — the swelling of a film beyond its capacity to develop by the need to get every subplot and every supporting character in the novel. It results in rushed, telescoped plotting. The McGill snobs at the beach get their comeuppance too quickly and too precisely symmetrically, and the roulette wheel scam is reversed in the very next scene. In addition, there’s the dean whom Duddy persuades (don’t ask how) to reverse the decision to expel his brother Lenny (really) from medical school. The dean appears only once after that (too) short sequence, and merely to be told off by Duddy for no reason that makes much sense in the context of the film.
But to every cloud, there’s a silver lining — one of those strictly-unnecessary supporting characters, A Prestigious Film Artist, gives the film its best sequence by far, one of the funniest films-within-a-film ever made (and, seperately, it gives us another look at the young, dumb Randy Quaid). But this Bar Mitzvah film ranks alongside “Springtime for Hitler” from THE PRODUCERS and “The Shrinking Lover” from TALK TO HER for sheer demented fun.
BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS (Stephen Fry, Britain, 2003, 8)
Another adaptation with the Itis Disease here (there was one more on Day 3, as I write this on the middle of Day 4), It’s the film’s (bounteous) blessing and its (mild) curse in telling its story of the newest of new money — the bright young things, the “dot.com billionaires” of late-30s Britain and the tabloid journalism that fed them and consumed them. Like with DUDDY KRAVITZ, it produces a somewhat telescoped third act — World War 2 takes, like, 5 minutes of screen time. There’s also some subordination of plausability to allegory (e.g., the symbolically-named central character Adam buys back his love from her cad of a husband for *all* the 37,000 pounds he eventually gets his hands on) and to running time (the old major is killed *immediately* after handing over the money to Adam).
Still, this is Evelyn Waugh’s VILE BODIES they’ve got a hold of, and, even though I have no idea how faithful an adaptation this very funny and bright film is, it clearly has all of Waugh’s Catholic wit and anti-modernism and at least some of his Very Politically Incorrect Opinions Therein. I would be stunned if you see another film this year or for many years to come where pansy-like homosexuals are more plainly used as a symbol of decadent, sybaritic vice than this one. Even some tortured Catholicism is here. One of the two “author’s message” speeches is a jeremiad given by a revivalist preacher with some touring angels pure as the untouched snow, who are both in some ways a figure of fun both to the Bright Young Things and we modern descendants in today’s audience. But she tells it like it “tee-eye” is. So there’s plainly enough of the novel there (though I have obviously not read it, but now really want to) to merit a strong recommendation, when combined with the typically fine Scepter’d Isle cast (seemingly every other British actor has a part, even John “yes, I’m still alive … gimme my first cocaine role” Mills).
Acting honors go to the previously unknown-to-me Fenella Woolgar in the role of the ditziest of dumb party-girl blondes, who gets the two best scenes in the picture, the racing car scene and the other author’s message scene — where she speaks the only moments of self-knowledge in the film. At a dread-full price.
LOST IN TRANSLATION (Sofia Coppola, USA, 2003, 8)
This movie deserves some kind of award as the first movie about two bored people, their boredom and their attempt to connect in friendship that is never itself boring. As THE VIRGIN SUICIDES showed, Coppola is a director interested in moods, auras and feelings — there the tactile quality of the sun shining on Kirsten Dunst’s hair and how it can make you feel so incredibly sad; here the neon lights of the Tokyo streets and in its bars and karaoke clubs and how they can make you feel so incredibly alone. And looking for companionship.
So yes, LOST IN TRANSLATION, is somewhat slow and light on the plot points, but that doesn’t really matter for two reasons — Coppola has two great performers that can do the acting equivalent of the Miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes. Is there anybody alive who can get more laughs out of fewer muscle movements than Bill Murray? A longtime master of deadpan underplaying, about 40 of the first 60 minutes of this movie (quite a few such moments are in the trailer) are basically Murray reacting to this alien world into which he had been thrown. We can be grateful that he’s cast opposite Scarlett Johansson, who, while not a comic, has a marvelously opaque face that can suddenly come to life with the quickest of gestures.
What’s also admirable about this film, plotwise, is that it takes the time to develop the relationship between the two. They’re first shown together in an elevator and share a meaningless catching of the eyes (while a funny visual gag is going on elsewhere), then a hello, then a brief conversation, then … etc., rather than the quick roll in the hay that the romantic comedy template, which LOST IN TRANSLATION follows in some ways, leads us to expect. There’s a long conversation between the two that takes place while they lie in bed together, fully clothed. In fact, this is fundamentally a film about a man and a woman (both married) who create a friendship without sex. In fact, the friendship is in some senses premised on its chastity. The movie’s one sex encounter (it’s not really a sex scene — we see the pickup and the morning after) is a fall for Murray that Johansson finds out about and in a few seconds, as noted above, her face says it all. She’s at the hotel-room door and when she overhears the giveaway, she gives a knowing-but-low-key “I know what you’re hiding, big boy” half-smile. Then when Murray closes the door, it turns into disappointment — “I thought you were better than that.”
One more thing — the people who attack this movie as racist (and you know who you are) because of a few accent jokes need to ask themselves — have they seen a non-Japanese movie that portrays a Japan as richly varied as the country shown here (while maintaining the otherness essential to any “innocents abroad” movie like this one)?
Also, just to get Word of Mouth out — here are my grades for Day Three and the first part of Four. And don’t worry Vadim, I will be writing a capsule for all of them.
MATCHSTICK MEN (Ridley Scott, USA, 2003, 6)
CHOKER BALI (Rituparno Ghosh, India, 2003, 3)
CRIMSON GOLD (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2003, 8)
ELEPHANT (Gus Van Sant, USA, 2003, 1)
BRIGHT FUTURE (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan, 2003, 6)
ONG-BAK: MUAY THAI WARRIOR (Prachya Pinkaew, Thailand, 2003, 9)
THE MAYOR OF SUNSET STRIP (George Hickenlooper, USA, 2003, 7)
TIME OF THE WOLF (Michael Haneke, France/Austria, 2003, 8)
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