Friday, January 21, 2011

Let Them Eat Gab!

Werth: Wise! 

Wise: Werth! 

Werth: So, the Golden Globes were last weekend. Have you been making a dent in your awards season movie viewing?

Wise: I saw Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere

Werth: NY 1’s Neil Rosen would scold. 

Wise: I actually really liked it.  I think her movies can be something of an acquired taste, but once you fall for them, you fall for them hard.  One of her most interesting films is her version of Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst as the titular doomed queen.  

Werth: She’s not the first director you would think of for a period film... and you said ‘titular’.

Wise: Most of her work is very contemporary, sorting out the strange mores and odd habits of modern life, but she brings that same sensibility to Marie Antoinette.  The movie is a strange pop fantasy of a costume drama with an 80s New Wave and Post-Punk score and a cast that looks more like teen comedy than the usual line-up of Shakespeare-trained Brits either wolfing down the scenery or being so staid you can hardly feel a pulse.  
Marianne Faithful plays Marie Antoinette’s mother, the Empress of Austria; Molly Shannon and Shirley Henderson play gossipy ladies at court; Steve Coogan plays the Austrian ambassador who helps Marie negotiate French politics; Rip Torn plays randy Louis XV; and Jason Schwartzman plays Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette’s inept husband who inherits the throne of France long before he’s ready to be king. 

Werth: I kinda wished Louis got bit by a radioactive bug and then Marie made out with him while he hung upside down.

Wise: Sadly, that doesn’t happen, but they do have an interesting chemistry together playing young teenagers married almost the day they meet and without any idea how to deliver the much-wanted heir to the throne of France.  As the years pass, they develop an affectionate and very real relationship so the final scene of them being whisked away from Versailles and toward their eventual doom is quite affecting. 

Werth: Pauvre, pauvre Marie and Louis. 

Wise: There are a couple romantic scenes between Marie Antoinette and Count Fersen, a Swedish nobleman who leaves to fight in the American Revolution.  He’s played by Jamie Dornan, a former Calvin Klein model who unfortunately gets a little lost under his wig despite all the smoldering he attempts.  But the rest of the cast is great mostly because they are so different from the usual period line-up.  The costumes look very authentic to the time, but somehow they move a bit more freely and the actors seem enhanced by what they are wearing rather than buried by it.  

Werth: I liked the visual use of candy and, of course, cake throughout the film. Some shots made the costumes, shoes and sets look edible.

Wise: The film is a real visual delight, filled with sherbet-y colors and fanciful patterns, plus the production had unprecedented access to the real palace at Versailles which gives the film an opulence a Hollywood sett could never deliver.  But it’s not just a feature-length music video.Coppola favors long, silent takes while the camera trails the actors.  And even when there is dialogue, she uses it less for exposition, and more as part of the soundtrack.  There are occasional scenes where one actor speaks English while another replies in French.  
It might be disorienting at first, but I think Coppola is more interested in emoting a story than in telling it.  I don’t know that she’s a filmmaker for everyone, but I think if you’re able to succumb to her vision the rewards are immense.  

Werth: Jamie Dornan’s rewards are immense.

Wise: Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “succumb.”  What’s your pick this week? 

Werth: If we’re going to talk about pre-Revolution France movies, I have to say my favorite, guillotines down, would be 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons.

Wise: I kind of had you pegged as a fan of Dirk Bogarde in A Tale of Two Cities

Werth: I prefer my ToTC Ronald Colman-style. From the moment I saw Dangerous Liaisons as a teen in my dear friend Leanne’s basement, I was spell-bound by the artful human manipulation depicted. Vincent Canby in the New York Times perfectly describes it as a "kind of lethal drawing-room comedy." Set in France in the 1780’s, Dangerous Liaisons features the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont—

Wise: Somebody stayed awake during French class.

Werth: —as they conspire to not only help each other get revenge on past lovers, but turn their clever ill deeds into a game where the reward will be a one-night only re-kindling of their old romance. However, the unexpected happens, and the Vicomte (played with eel-like charm by John Malkovich) violates his own love-worn philosophy by actually falling for the woman he has agreed to ruin. It becomes a sexual tug of war with powdered wigs, corsets and bustles and by the end of the movie, no one is left standing.

Wise: It’s like High Noon—but with bodices.

Werth: Christopher Hampton who wrote the screenplay (based on the play he adapted from the original Choderlos de Laclos novel) turns words into stylish, deadly-accurate weapons. The dialogue is as charming as it is vicious. And the cast is superb: Malkovich; Michelle Pfeiffer as his stunningly vulnerable mark; a young, lithe, sexually awakened Uma Thurman; bitchily ignorant Swoozie Kurtz; worldly 1950’s film veteran Mildred Natwick; and the grand dame overseeing this human chessboard is Glenn Close.

Wise: She doesn’t boil rabbits in this one.

Werth: She doesn’t have to. Her tongue seduces and flatters you in one instant, then emasculates you the next. Close’s ability to create a human device—a female calculator—is fully realized in Liaisons and her final scene is one of the most devastating breakdowns in cinema. As great as Jodie Foster was in The Accused that year, I still feel Close’s performance should have won her the Oscar®.

Wise: You neglected to mention the fine acting of Mr. Keanu Reeves.

Werth: I very much appreciated his ability to bring his character Ted into the 18th Century—a task he repeated in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula.

Wise: And now that we’ve circled back to the Coppola clan, I think it’s time to bid adieu.

Werth: Au revoir mes Film Gab lecteurs!

Wise: You really did stay awake in that French class.

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