Feb 28, 2007

My Sentiments Exactly

I do not always agree with David Denby, film critic of the New Yorker. I sometimes think he nails it, and sometimes his taste is a bit conventional for my taste. But in this week's issue he writes the most cogent, thoughtful and articulate essay against the new ensemble cast, multistory, fragmented narrative kind of movie that is getting nominated left and right, but that makes you pine for one story well told. These movies, the bogus, awful Crash and Syriana, the pretentious Babel, are the reason why I loved movies like The Queen and United 93 and Children of Men. One story, told chronologically and far more profoundly devastating, illuminating, human and real than the crazy antics of 546 people, running around all over fragmented time frames, giving the audience a headache.
Read the Denby article. It is very illuminating.
His analysis of the Arriaga-Gonzalez Iñarritu oeuvre is flawless. Some golden nuggets:

• The Mexican housekeeper, having taken the children across the border, gets into trouble when returning to the United States. After that, damned if she doesn’t lose the children in the desert, at which point I lost all faith in the movie. “Life is like that,” I heard people in the audience say. Actually, a certain kind of pseudo-serious bad fiction is like that. ...“Babel” feels like the first example of a new genre—the highbrow globalist tearjerker.
I actually lost faith in the movie almost from the first scene, when Brad Pitt calls the housekeeper and asks her not to go to her son's wedding because there is absolutely nobody in the whole of San Diego except her who can take care of the kids. Not a neighbor, not a friend, not a relative. GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK.
• “L’Avventura” was an open form; it didn’t play around with time sequences, but it altered our sense of how life works. The Arriaga-Iñárritu films, for all their structural innovations, are closed, even overdetermined, forms—puzzle boxes. All the pieces are there to be put together in our heads, but the rich ambivalence of art somehow slips away...

• Experience can’t be random and also structured like a cage.

• Godard once said that he wanted to make films with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order. “21 Grams” moves sideways and turns itself inside out, but in no order... But why? Since none of the characters are part of any reality that makes sense to us, we can’t say, as we did at “Amores Perros,” that a social malaise has made the normal sequencing of the story irrelevant. On the contrary, we may wonder if Iñárritu and his editor didn’t scissor the movie into fragments in order to give soap-opera dismalness the appearance of radical art.
The same suspicion of pretentious fatalism and structural willfulness shadowed my response to “Babel.”
Hear, hear, Denby.

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