I don't generally get into artsy movies. You know--the kind that do well at film festivals, get critical acclaim, but never see the light of day at the box office. Often low-budget, stretching the limits of the medium, and popular with filmmakers because someone had the courage to make the movie they wanted to make, whether it sells well or not. I'm sure I've combined several incompatible ideas here, put forth glaring stereotypes, and completely missed the point. But that precisely is the point. I'm not even cultured enough to know what I'm criticizing.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not some couch potato with a cheap beer in one hand and a remote control in the other, searching for a mindless movie with less dialog and more explosions. (Though I do drink cheap beer--just not very often.) I like movies that make you think. I like Memento, which runs the scenes in reverse order to mimic the main character's affliction of short-term memory loss. Or Donnie Darko, which after three times watching it I'm still not quite sure I can put everything together. Or even the Matrix, which has its share of destructive action, but is set in a world that raises all sorts of interesting issues. I think the problem may be, I don't like movies that make you feel--at least, not if that's the primary focus.
Recently, some friends raved about Once--a low-budget Irish film that got something like 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. We got it from Netflix and watched it tonight. (SPOILER ALERT--there's not much suspense in this movie, but I suppose I do give away whatever surprise there might be.) The music was great, but I have to say, beyond that I wasn't too impressed. I told Julie afterward that it struck me as an extended music video. Someone had an idea mostly about music and pieced in enough story to hold it together. I wasn't surprised when we watched the "making of" feature on the disc. The director started as a musician and developed a later interest in film-making. He sees the two as similar processes and wanted to make a film that was mostly about the music.
On one level, I could appreciate what was going on. But I never really got caught up in the story. Mostly, I just kept asking myself, where is this going? He's still in love with his ex-girlfriend, she's married but living apart from her husband. There's an attraction between them, so what--they're going to find "true love" despite the inconvenient, extraneous relationships? they're going to go their separate ways, always wondering what might have been?
It was somewhat more vague than that--they made this deep connection, he went after his ex, she tried to patch things up with her husband. What then? Presumably they both got where they were going, but now with the baggage of a deep friendship in which they share with each other something they apparently don't get from their spouses. There's some glimpse of the danger--that it easily could have taken a different course in a more romantic direction. There are clear vestiges--the recording they made together will always be a reminder of what they once had, not to mention the new piano he bought for her before leaving town. But I don't get any sense that we're supposed to wish this relationship had never happened or wish for it to just fade away either. What will these ghosts do to their separate relationships with spouses and lovers?
I know, I know. I'm expecting too much. There was an icon of the Theotokos in the background of one scene, but otherwise, there's almost nothing religious in the film. There's no reason I should expect a definitively moral message about extramarital relationships with the opposite sex. I guess it's a sign of my own weakness that I feel the need to highlight these flaws and refute them. If I were stronger, I could simply accept that the film's message is what it is, appreciate the story's insight into the human condition, and go on with life. Perhaps I could even see in this fleeting moment of beauty and mutual encouragement a snapshot of how our lives comprise countless relationships, each of which is a glimpse of the divine. Instead, all I can think is, how is this possibly helping to restore her relationship with her husband?
Am I afraid to let films like this move me? Is it just a cop-out to say I don't trust my feelings to teach me wisdom? I guess I'm still just a critic at heart. At least in this case, I don't think Julie's impression of the movie was much better than mine; better to bug my artsy friends than my wife, I guess :-)