Monday, December 31, 2007

What I'll remember (maybe) ...

Posted By on 12.31.07 at 12:01 PM

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Still scrambling to catch up with the year-end releases—out of the reviewers' loop, I pay my own way, just like y'all—so my annual list of "favorite" movies (not "best," since what do I know about that?) will have to wait till later in the week. But favorite individual scenes/motifs from 2007? Now that's almost doable ...

Up a tree. In Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, Nicole Kidman's character gets stuck in an old red oak overlooking her family's Long Island seaside property. The symbolism's patent, the character's anxiety palpable—yet considerably more emerges from the physical world itself, in the comfortable pulpy textures of the trunk, the spread of the branches, the beckoning oceanic view: equal parts terror and transport, intimacy and infinity, with a radiant blue envelope of sky and water that seems to go on forever. Something like bliss on a crisp fall day, out on the scary subliminal edge of feeling—except you have to go beyond the literal script to find it. Also another peak moment in the foliage: the mist-shrouded finale of Sharon Lockhart's structuralist, meditative Pine Flat. Is there an actual tree in that billowing murk or only the ghost of same? With so much ambiguous hide-and-seek to puzzle over, it's almost impossible to know.

Passages to India. Benoit Jacquot's The Untouchable has been slagged for its allegedly too touristy, pittoresque scenes of subcontinental misery, and while there's obviously a point to rooting out cultural tin ears, in this case it seems almost completely misplaced. Why shouldn't The Untouchable be touristy? It's offering you a tourist's point of view, in the person of Isild Le Besco's Jeanne, as overawed as she is lost in the "exotic" Bengali undertow, the effects of raw immersion in a putatively "alien" world. I can't think of another film that captures the giddy push-pull of this so seductively, the conflicted urge to plunge ahead without a map, everything simultaneously disorienting and new. That Jacquot shoots it all with incidental "natives" staring into the camera simply adds to the strange confusion, the insinuating sense that our heroine's being constantly observed. For a while she seems even to attract her own stalker: same anonymous orange shirt bobbing in and out of frame; that this small ripple of tension ultimately dissipates doesn't negate the selective paranoia it induces. Runner-up along the Ganges: Mohsen Makhmalbaf's Scream of the Ants—more accusations of tourism, but to me it's an entropic descent, like a full cultural meltdown. Best not go there, just stay wherever you are ...

Trouble in the casbah. Don't you just love the way Julia Stiles's hair swings in one direction as the rest of her goes another during the big "woman in distress" chase sequence in The Bourne Ultimatum? Almost anonymous as she ping-pongs down assorted Tunisian alleyways and corridors, except every so often she'll turn to face the camera full—just so you know it's her, I guess. Almost pure formal abstraction in a film that would rather do away with actors and characters altogether—as well as, arguably, the most interesting thing about it.

Obviously there's more but unfortunately I haven't the time ... so why not fill in the blanks with some examples of your own? 

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