Archives for posts with tag: genre: romance of the modern age

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“When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing.”

– Saul Leiter

Manhattan in the 1950s: a metropolis of fog and early-morning commutes; grey days of rain thudding on the pavements and stray cats surveying from the fire escapes; overcoats and umbrellas, tartan sensibilities and Rockefeller glamour, and through the faded drizzle of it all, the flash of a fur coat and carmine lipstick. Very much a seamless component of the urban landscape, yet unmistakeably distinct from her surroundings, Cate Blanchett’s Carol is as captivating as the subject of Edward Hopper’s “New York Office”. Hopper’s gift lay in capturing the still-life moments of the city: that moment in which the animation of urban life is briefly suspended, haste and unrest come to a standstill, revealing rare and unexpected beauties. Similar to Hopper’s paintings, Carol is not so much a film, but an observation of the rare intimate moments of life: an absent glance, a feather-light touch, a forgotten word…While its exquisite attention to detail renders the film ever-so slightly overly mannered, its documentary-like portrayal of a mutual fascination and courtship make for an unhurried and ruminative viewing.

The influence of master photographer Saul Leiter is undeniable, and perhaps even a bit of David Hamilton and Frank Oscar Larsson: a muted tapestry of city life as though seen through a gauze veil, forging an intimacy between the viewer and subject through masterful use of the grainy Super 16 film. The excellent screenplay wastes no time in establishing exposition – we are in the middle of an ongoing narrative almost immediately, at once immersive and organic. Like voyeurs, we simply observe the daily lives of the characters as they happen, who need hardly go into detail establishing their narrative significance.

It is, perhaps appropriate then, that the camera and the act of photography plays a central motif in the film. Therese’s interest in the camera is her conduit into Carol’s world, one that is slightly removed from her own and entices with the promise of the unknown. The incrementally intensifying nature of the relationship between the two women is both subtle and satisfying, punctuated by lingering looks and gestures. Their relationship is not ‘forbidden’ in the traditional sense of societal pressure as the inclination would be, but rather by the characters’ own reticences and insecurities. When they at last come together, the film carefully avoids the cliche of making a political statement, but merely follows the action where it leads, as natural as you like. There are no explosive moments, and instead the film revels in the quiet moments that seethe with latent intensity and longing. Things are not said, but implied. Indeed, the relationship is instigated by the forgetting and returning of gloves – there is much to be said about the reserved yet erotically charged language of gloves in Victorian society; as in dropping a handkerchief, leaving behind one’s gloves was clearly a flirtatious indication of romantic intent.

Carol is a careful and considered film, very much a mirror of the social circumstances in which the relationship takes place, cautious yet brimming with passionate reserve. It is lazy and reductive to denote it as a ‘lesbian romance’ (as Highsmith herself would have no doubt loathed), but rather the spark of a chance encounter that is blown into something more. It is the story of connections and strangers, that curiously erotic moment of locking eyes with eyes with someone with little thought for how one’s world might be transformed from that instant.

LOVE-IS-STRANGE

Love is Strange is a lazy Sunday morning. It is reading a book on the windowsill in the early pale sunlight before the world has awoken. It is quiet contentment, gazing out at a season of spring in Manhattan, watching the city stretch and yawn before resuming its usual motions.

Love is Strange is a Chopin prelude: simple, moving, and as Molina’s character states, in no need of embellishment. Although he speaks this quite late in the film, it is an entirely apt analogy for the tone of the film itself; this romance requires neither dramatics nor ostentation. As with any relationship lasting nearly forty years, the casual and comfortable intimacy is one that has no need of clumsy proclamations or insecure assurances – being and existing is simply enough. The very real vulnerabilities of old age and navigating the awkward logistics of separated living are not lost, but rather act to reinforce the realism of the couple’s bond, and how, despite it all, physical separation is no match for the underlying strength of a relationship as Ben and George’s. In the vein of the best of Altman, Allen, or Rohmer, Sachs has created a beautifully authentic and understated portrait of love in its later years, with all its complications and rewards intact.

Breathe-In

“Music speaks,” says T.W. Adorno, “because it is pure of language – it communicates not through its expression or content, but through the gesture of speech.” He speaks in reference to Beethoven, the subject of whom was a topic of philosophical discourse on musical aestheticism in several fragments. The combined works themselves are an astutely constructed, almost sentimental delivery of thematic, syntactical, and form-based analysis of Beethoven’s music and its relation to societal structure and particularly the works of Hegel. Nevertheless, the core of Adorno’s observations are rooted in the visceral emotionality of Beethoven’s music – despite barely alluding to ’emotion’ literally, he clearly positions the works of Beethoven amongst the achievement of German literary classicism in the early 19th century. Beethoven speaks of humanity not through words, but through the musical phrase. His music expressed a sort of longing, an expression of the “Weltgeist”, or world spirit that was a reflection of humanistic themes in the works of classical philosophers. That is to say, Beethoven’s music was a direct conduit to the human heart in all its frailties, a mouthpiece for the inarticulate, and a representation of human potential.

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“There will be today, there will be tomorrow, there will be always, and there was yesterday, and there was the day before…”
– Lev Tolstoy, War and Peace (1869)

A cool, gloomy evening calls for a cool, gloomy retrospective of an equally atmospheric film. In Only Lovers Left Alive, the true stars are the cities, Detroit and Tangier, which act as silent observers and reflective surfaces of our svelte and sophisticated vampire couple (Swinton and Hiddleston). On the one hand, Detroit: a once thriving metropolis, now a derelict icon of urban decay in post-recession America. On the other, Tangier: an exotic-tinged refuge of the inconspicuous, lit dimly by streetlamps and candlelight in a mysterious vibrancy. Each is a second shadow to Adam and Eve, respectively, trailing along threads of isolation and vampiric weltzschmerz, wherever they go.

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Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
…………..
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

– Edna St Vincent Millay, Sonnet XXX from “Fatal Interview” (1931)

The art of Boris Torres featured in the opening titles of Keep the Lights On it stunning. It evokes both the homoerotic subtleties of Henry Scott Tuke and the modern, almost voyeuristic realism of Gustave Courbet, combining to read as a Gauguin-like chronicle of gay culture in the twentieth century. Like the art, the film itself is a chronicle, spanning the utterly passionate and devastating course of a decade-long relationship. Significantly, it takes place in Manhattan, straddling the years before and after the millennium, thereby securing its place in the anthropology of gay culture during this period. That being said, it is a story about love and relationships: how they endure, how they fail, and ultimately for Erik and Paul (Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth, both outstanding in their nuanced and complex performances), how the two are not always compatible.

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Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”
– Le Corbusier

When one is young, summer lasts forever. It is a restless and carefree cat-like creature, stretching and coiling lazily in the tall grass, infused with a Dionysian love of youthful abandon. Mia Hansen-Løve places her latest film directly amidst the clear sky and drone of cicadas, conjuring a hazy atmosphere of summer love found and lost in a manner that is both sexually candid and sensitively insightful.

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I was seriously debating whether or not to post my thought on this film at all. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that Sarah Polley, who in her first directorial effort gave us Away from Her, an exceptionally sensitive and mature film, also gave us Take this Waltz, possibly the most infantile and trying film I’ve seen in some time. The difference between the two is startling, and furthermore, entirely disappointing.

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