lunedì 8 marzo 2010
Kafka on the shore
I seriously considered for a moment the idea of calling this post A SINGLE MAN who had AN EDUCATION as a GHOST WRITER, but then I changed my mind, because I know which is the only movie I really want to talk about, and this is the new Polanski movie. I have seen these three pictures basically the same week and I have to say that, having spent half of my life seated in cinemas, there was no doubt, for me, about the greatest one.
Still, I want to say something about the other two.
An Education is the most disappointing movie I have seen in a while. I sincerely don’t understand all the fuss about this mediocre film. This is a TV movie of good quality, but nothing more. Nick Hornby and his screenplay? It is better to read one of his books. Carey Mulligan, the biggest surprise of the season? C’mon guys, she was right for the role, but let’s talk about her in few years and we will see what she has been able to do in the meantime. Peter Sarsgaard? He is so devoid of charisma that the only reason why Mulligan could be so fascinated by him is attributable to her young age and her lack of taste. In other words, rent the DVD and spend a couple of nice hours looking at it, if you really want to.
A Single Man is a different case.
First feature film by fashion designer Tom Ford, the movie is based upon a (splendid) novel by British writer Christopher Isherwood. Chapeau to Mr. Ford, because this is such a good movie to be his first one, and chapeau to Mr. Colin Firth, who’s always been a great actor but here has the chance to prove it in a very subtle and complete way, but… yes, there is a but. Everything is so studied, in this movie, so planned that, in the end, the story, the characters and their feelings are suffocated by this cold perfection. This is the story of a man who has lost his partner, the love of his life, this is the story about a man who’s desperate, and you can’t feel it.
And well, I’m very sorry, but this is my favourite novel by the writer who, for ages, has been my favourite writer so, Mr. Ford, you’re not very lucky because I'm very picky here: George didn’t live in a house published in Architectural Digest – December 1962, he used to live in a house so small that he and his partner were obliged to touch each other every time they met in the kitchen. And yes, even if obesity wasn’t as bad as in the years 2000, there actually were some students having weight problems, they weren’t all top models in that California campus.
But hey, please keep going, I’m curious to see what’s coming next, Tom.
In Polanski’s world, on the contrary, perfection is just there to be destroyed. Perfection is not of this world, he seems to say, and since we are all human beings, we know it, we understand it and we feel it. Ewan McGregor, and I’m obliged to use the actor’s name because (cleverly enough) he has no name in this movie, is a ghost writer who has been hired by a big editor to write the memoirs of a former UK Prime Minister, Adam Lang. Lang lives with his wife and few collaborators in a remote American island, off the Eastern seabord. Soon after McGregor arrives there, Lang is involved in a big international scandal: he is accused of war crimes (apparently, he accepted CIA's tortures over some suspected terrorists).
Besieged by journalists and people protesting against him, Lang feels trapped. When he leaves for Washington, McGregor decides to stay on the island, where he discovers disturbing secrets (his predecessor in this job has probably been murdered, Lang is very much involved with CIA). In which kind of dangerous situation did he put himself? He will soon (too bad for him!) find out.
Polanski is the Kafka of cinema.
A brilliant one. He doesn't need that much to show you how tricky life could be.
He just needs one scene: McGregor (how good is this actor? he is so amazing!) seated in his working room, inside a house made of brick and glass, near the sea. From the inside, you can look outside, at the shore, at the beach: it seems there is so much freedom in a space like that. But then, suddenly, you feel trapped. You feel anxious, because there is something extremely scary in this apparently peaceful land, and you want to run away from it. McGregor surprises in the garden a working man putting inside his wheelbarrow pieces of wood that the wind a second afterwards throws away again. He laughs, and we laugh as well, as an audience, but are we so sure that this is so funny?
It is not, and after a second we ask ourselves a simple question: which is the reason of all this?
Because it is quite clear: we are all little insects that sooner or later, after having spent our lives doing more or less useless things, will be thrown away in the same way...
This is one of the main themes of Polanski's filmography, and it is not that weird if you think about his life, an extremely difficult and controversial one: born in Paris by Jewish-Polish parents, Polanski moved to Warsaw at the age of three. Not a very good moment to do so. His parents were both deported, his mum died in a concentration camp, he saved himself hiding from the Nazis in an incredible way. Years later, he became a filmmaker and moved to the US together with his wife Sharon Tate. He was succesfull and happy, for a while, but in August 1969 Tate (8 months pregnant), was killed by Charles Manson. Devastated by the event, he started having troubles with alcohol and drugs. In 1977, Polanski was accused of Samantha Geimer's rape (a 13 years old girl) and left the States before receiving the final sentence.
This is the reason why he has never been back to the US and also the reason why, very recently (while in Switzerland to receive an award), he has been put in jail again and he is now at house arrests.
As it was often the case, his real life reproduces his biggest fears, the ones that (as Kafka in his books) he always tries to exorcize in his movies.
Some years ago, at a private screening here in Paris of The Queen by Stephen Frears (my job has very often lovely side effects), I was lucky enough to be seated very close to Mr. Polanski.
I rarely heard somebody laughing so much and in such a loud way watching a movie.
He laughed like a person who knows that it is better to enjoy the present moment, to enjoy what we have while we are having it.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring….