Stop me before I filmblog
I do not like movies that have no particular reason to be a movie. Many things are just stories, some things are just politics, and that is fine. So, case in point here: Turtles Can Fly. This was in from the Netflix queue when I went over to Denise’s. I was underwhelmed.
It’s what I would call a Sundance movie. Not because it has anything to do with Sundance itself, but because that’s a genre, really, and a market segment, if you want to be really cynical about it. And Sundance movies bother me because of this: they’re always just stories and politics. They’re not told on a screen because they need to be, they’re told on a screen because if you want to buy something that lets you feel good about how well you can understand what a fictional character is feeling and how enlightened your politics are, a movie takes up far less time and (as long as it follows the rules) imagination than a book.
Like all Sundance movies, this one was self-congratulatory and emotionally manipulative and had a sort of pre-chewed moral that went well with your fair trade cappuccino.
What really killed me was that there was an easy way for it to be something actually visual, which is what I’m always looking for. Something where it matters how the images are composed because they reflect and reference whatever it is that gets composed inside the film (story, politics, a moral—I’m not opposed to these. Really.), and vice versa. The kid (the main character) is named Satellite, because that’s what he does. There’s a satellite dish that he can use to pick up TV channels from out in... civilzation, I guess, is what is implied, he knows a bit of English, and so forth. This is used at the beginning mostly to point out that he is intelligent and enterprising or something like that, and then that’s it. There’s a whole bunch of subtext about cultural representation and translation and even the politics of the war at a small scale that goes completely wasted because the movie brings each sub-part to us separately and says “here, see? They’re related! That’s deep.” because, well, that’s what you do, as a Sundance film. There’s a product you gotta provide.
It doesn’t say anything about how the parts see each other and how we might be able to learn something from them and still accept that we can’t ever know what life is like over there. Instead it does what books do, or what all my stupid bleeding-heart mailing lists do, just not as well.
There’s this one shot of the girl though that is almost worthy of Greenaway. It had to be entirely unintentional. Immediately before or after it’s back to the little kid in the mine field, or being drowned, or whatever (it must have been the drowning one, because it works as a dream). And there are also these bits of video spliced in there (by necessity, underwater) and completely at random in this silly sweeping Lawrence of Arabia scene (reused from something else?), that are really jarring because the rest is shot on film, and the one place where we see video and it means something is on that satellite TV. There was no taking into account of this in the director’s mind as far as I could tell.
So that’s what I don’t like. I did in fact, however, go out for Pas sur la bouche, and loved it. It is an operetta, so unless you are predisposed to liking that sort of thing and/or are really gay and just haven’t figured it out yet, you may have trouble getting past that part, and you have to read subtitles that twist things about a bit to keep all the corny rhymes, but if you are willing to take all that in stride and say “alright, monsieur Resnais, I will go along with your absurd conceit, because you are, after all, Alain Resnais”, it is really, really wonderful.
It’s totally, completely, about how it’s all faux-sentiment and hypocritical. You’ve got all these layers of distance: right now, New Wave, operetta, serious art, farce (my favorite IMDB comment went, “So far, so Molière”. Oh.). So there’s all that intellectual crap to chew on, and everyone’s sort of in on the joke, but you’re also laughing with it and at it at the same time. I could not stop smiling. There was what must have been a French class in the lower level (this is why I love the fact that Cinestudio is on the Trinity campus) and they were quite into it. The American guy’s accent was fabulous. I find it interesting how the differences between cultures was such a big bold red underlined plot element here (along with the usual comedy of errors stuff), and yet, you weren’t expected to read some subtle cultural truth into it to appreciate things. Americans in France are funny. Humor is one of those things we can’t explain so sometimes it gets to explain things we can’t. Americans in Iraq is just a boot to the head, whichever side you happen to be on. I think that whether you are looking for the laugh or looking for the layering that makes the laugh so that you can write your own, taking sides or judging what you want to say can’t make a good movie. You make it, you show it, and putting that together says something. (Sometimes it says: How utterly fucking ridiculous it is that we relate to characters on a screen the same way they do, and additionally sex is funny, and especially songs that are really about sex but don’t say so are even funnier.)
And Audrey Tautou can act! I wasn’t sure. (No, I liked Amélie, but I refer you to Ted there. I just wasn’t including that one because you can’t, really; the—well, I hate to use an overloaded French term here, but, mise en scène—sort of overpowers everything else.)