Thursday, March 24, 2011

Certifiably Boring

An intellectual is going to give a speech in Italy on his latest book, which deals with artistic originality. 

William Shimell, an opera baritone in (ha) real life, plays James, the intellectual. While he is giving the lecture a French woman, Elle (Juliette Binoche), and her son talk to each other via sign language, which gives the scene both its tension and distraction.

She then takes James on a trip to a small Tuscan village where people get married by the bucketloads in a beautiful church.

As they talk, though, he changes his position on what he wrote. Who says an original work of art is the original? Who says the model sitting for the artist isn’t more original than the work itself? What’s so bad about copies anyway, especially if they lead you to the original? And who says a copy or fake can’t have its own innate beauty?

This is not the position of the book and he rather arrogantly says, well, he’s got to think about the next book he’s going to write. Typical intellectual.

But who are these people? Well, it’s supposed to be a big revelation, but they’re actually a married couple. Visually there’s an amazingly long shot in which they drive and we look at them as well as the reflection of the landscape in which they're driving. All very deep.

So it's not surprising to learn that Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has a bit of a thing about cars. You can sit in the comfort of your automobile with someone and you’re not facing each other, he says, you’ve got an amazing front and side view (especially in Tuscany), you can talk, and so on.

After visiting the church where they obviously got married they go to a restaurant and have a bit of an argument. He is forgetful, we have learned, so he didn’t remember their 15th wedding anniversary the night before. He fell asleep. Things change, he half barks. And he did not snore.

Elle is upset and clearly trying to save their marriage. She entices him into the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. He goes into the bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror, darkly, while two church bells ring in the background.

This is supposedly symbolic of their getting back together again, though the director leaves it anticlimactically open to interpretation. The one point he does make, however, is that if we were more tolerant of each other – this from James, who is better at having ideas than practising them – we would not always feel so alone.

But I have to confess I nodded off during this show, which insists on not using film's plastic possibilities to make its point, rendering it ambling, peripatetic, dull. Afterwards one old duck said to another (their husbands probably long gone if not non-existent), well, now they’ve seen it. Little chuckle.

So there you have it. A real film in the real world, but then it’s also only a Certified Copy of the original, which is not very original itself - if you get my meaning.

Neil Sonnekus

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