Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I'm Going Home

The back and front images adorning the 2003 Image Entertainment DVD release of Manoel de Oliveira's I'm Going Home form a familiar effort to sell expansive cinema in reductive, normative terms. On the front we see an older man, laughing, accompanied by a young boy that we presume to be his grandson, while on the back we see them joyously playing with remote-controlled cars together. The image of them playing with the cars is one of the most important in the movie, but the whole DVD package exudes a cornball heartwarmth that's hardly an exact representation of the contents inside. It's not necessarily a completely inappropriate or dishonest image, as the distance between generations is one of the film's themes, but the young boy only appears a handful of times and the relationship between he and his grandfather is largely incidental, at least in narrative terms. The film centers squarely on the experience of aging theater and cinema actor Gilbert Valence (Michel Piccoli) after the death of his family in a car accident, a situation that allows de Oliveira to investigate one of his central themes (at least in his late work): the intersection of and clash between tradition and modernity.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Beaches of Agnes

I like The Beaches of Agnès (Agnes Varda) for its modest qualities, and for its intoxicating approach to cinema, memory, life, and love as something like a puzzle. The film, a cinematic self portrait of director Agnès Varda, is ultimately impossible to firmly categorize. It's at least a start to say it flits between documentary/remembrance and fiction/invention with ease, and Varda carries with her reminiscences a gentle wisp of modernism that's refreshing in a film culture oversaturated with ironic pastiche. The film sneaks up on you with its profundities: it's like having a casual conversation with an old friend, or perhaps, given Varda's age, an especially thoughtful grandmother; then, at some point in the conversation, suddenly hitting on two or three things that seem to explain some very important part of the trajectories and textures of your entire life. The film combines footage and photographs from Varda's past along with scenes from her earlier movies (and those of her husband, Jacques Demy, whose relationship with Varda gives the second half of the film a loose structure, although not an exactly linear one, given that his death hangs over much of the film), and also contains present-day footage of the aging auteur. This is probably as good a film as Varda has ever made, and certainly the most moving autobiography of a film director I'm ever likely to see. I know it's the best movie I've seen so far in '09.