By Dennis Clemente
On cold winter days and nights, what else can you do but stay at home, read, surf or watch movies. For the past two weeks, I have been gorging myself on French movies—watching old favorites for the umpteenth time.
I saw “The Spanish Apartment” and its sequel five years later, “The Russian Dolls” yet again. I think I relate to these movies very well, because like the protagonist, I make a living as a writer.
Our protagonist, Romain Duris, serves us an appropriate stand-in for all transplants who decide to live in another country other than their own. In this case, Barcelona. Expressing his observation on his new enviroment in the beginning of the movie, Duris’ character says, “When you first arrive in a new city, nothing makes sense. Everything’s unknown, virgin”.
This movie was a big hit in Europe in 2002. Then five years later, in 2006, the sequel, “The Russian Dolls” was shown. Wendy’s character, Kelly Reilly, reprises her role but infuses it with a sensual glow the second go. Even better, she gives the movie the heft it needs.
Watching it, you wonder why American filmmakers are not as adventurous as their European peers, which foster the assumption then that Americans prefer buffoonery and crude, frat-boy humor in its movies, thinking doing so passes for hipness. “Before Sunset” with Ethan Hawke comes to mind as the last American movie I saw with a relatively young American having an iota of intelligence that can match wits with an intelligent French woman. It was made by Richard Linklater, a self-avowed slacker. In his breakthrough movie, “Dazed and Confused,” about high-school kids in 70s Americana, Linklater's throwback humor was real and authentic, with a cool quotient to keep it interesting for people who saw it back in the nineties.
So it seems my penchant for French movies lately (and European movies in general) is driven by the fact that I hanker for movies that treats adults as, well, adults, the kind that is hard to find in the current crop of American movies, particularly in the comedies.
Director Alexander Payne captured it in “Paris, Je’taime.” In the last of the many interesting vignettes, The “Sideways” director opens a mid-western American’s eyes to the world...outside of her comfort zone, in Paris at that. In one epiphanous moment, the character realizes it, grabs on to it and is happier for it.
With the economy in for a long, cold winter itself, I think it’s best to serve a dose of reality in American movies and not just plain escapist, senseless fare. Director Danny Boyle has done it; he straddled escapism and reality while still having a global point of view in the more recent "Slumdog Millionaire," which is the best movie I have so far seen this year.
The next best movie I have seen in 2008 is "The Edge of Heaven". The Turkey-Hamburg production is one fine example of how people from different worlds are interconnected. It is what "Babel" wished it could be. "The Edge of Heaven" is more intimate, personal and ultimately more genuinely affecting. The latter sticks with you long after you finish the movie. In fact, you wish for it not to end, so you can follow the characters, to make sure they will be okay.
Hollywood would do well to follow suit and infuse an authentic connection with the "outside" world, especially since everything that is happening in America resounds everywhere. Not only that, being the leading light in the moviemaking business with the most number of immigrants in the world, Tinseltown already has abundant material to afford having some topicality, specificity and diversity in its movies. As it caters to all, Hollywood is not reaching out to anyone in particular.