It’s September already and summer has just blown past. As I wave a tearful goodbye I am also taking stock of the dust this blog has begun to gather. I’m planning to remedy this, but before I start with some new content I figured I may as well share some of what I’ve been up to this summer. I’ve written a few reviews for Vancouver Weekly, the first being for Sarah Polley’s latest feature Take this Waltz. Although I really loved Polley’s first film, Away From Her, I really couldn’t get into this one.
I also watched a fantastic documentary about American musician, Sixto Rodriguez, called Searching For Sugar Man. This documentary is crazy powerful, and I heartily recommend it to anyone, particularly musicians and music lovers.
Finally, I watched another enlightening documentary about Chinese artist and social critic Ai Weiwei. The film Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, is an intimate look at Ai Weiwei’s history, art, and his current struggles for expression against a government that fights to silence those like him.
Keeping with the gritty realism present in most of today’s cinema, Cary Fukunaga saves the tale of Jane Eyre from a soppy romantic depiction, and throws it headlong into the darkness. The story is a simple one, and follows the life of Jane Eyre, an intelligent, plain and chronically mistreated governess who lands a job in the house of rich Mr. Rochester. These two seemingly polar opposites eventually form a budding romance which is overshadowed by a tragic mystery that haunts the halls. Fukunaga proves a capable director, setting the dark tone for the film, focusing on Jane’s inner strength and refusal to break over the many hardships she has endured throughout her life. Although this is one of many interpretations, the newest version of Jane Eyre feels fresh and brings a new liveliness to Charlotte Bronte’s well known tale. Given the amount of source material screenwriter Moira Buffini has to work with she is able to produce a fantastic script that tracks the action of this film mainly through flashbacks. Key moments in Jane’s life are highlighted to better understand her character but are not dwelled upon, leaving more time to focus on her interactions with characters such as Mr. Rochester and St. John. The pacing of the film is well measured, and audiences are provided with an engaging story and beautiful portrayals of Bronte’s timeless characters. Although Fukunaga and Buffini’s Jane (Mia Wasikowska) and Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender) prove to be far more attractive versions than their literary counterparts, both actors nail the soul of their characters with a studied precision. Fassbender infuses his Rochester with appropriate amounts of brewing tragedy and eccentric charm. Even smaller roles are handled expertly. Judy Dench, a familiar face in many period dramas, makes a companionable Mrs. Fairfax. Jamie Bell, though perhaps not my first choice for St. John Rivers, makes this unbending character likeable. Buffini and Fukunaga focus the story less on St. John’s determined self-sacrifice and more on his role as a foil to Rochester and possible harbinger of doom to Jane’s way of life. However, the real gem of the film is Wasikowska who brings Bronte’s heroine to life, creating an intelligent, bold and strong willed woman able to face the restrictions imposed on her class and gender in 19th century life. It’s safe to say that this is one of the best adaptations I have ever seen on film, and for that reason I believe everyone should see it, as it would be criminal to ignore a story and performances of this calibre.
Harold and Maude may not have appealed to audiences when it was first released in 1971 but it has since become a cult classic held close to the heart of many film lovers. The strange yet simple tale follows the ultimate odd couple: Harold, a young man obsessed with death, and 79 year old Maude, an eccentric with a lust for life. These two apparent opposites fuse a tender and beautiful friendship which forms the glittering heart of this film that explores themes of alienation and existentialism.
Harold is an awkward young man who drives a hearse, stages mock suicides and attends funerals for amusement. His mother does not seem to understand him, nor make much of an effort to, being concerned mainly with surface appearances and the façade of normalcy. She attempts to set him up on blind dates and strives to ignore him. Harold’s life is fairly sombre and without meaning until he spots Maude at a funeral he has crashed. When he sees her at yet another funeral, Maude takes the opportunity to introduce herself and sows the first seeds of their friendship.
The performances in the film are fairly simple, yet engaging. Although he was rarely cast as a leading man in subsequent films, Bud Cort delivers a fantastic performance as Harold, drawing both laughs and compassion from his audience. The story is at once touching and darkly humourous as viewers are simultaneously presented with seemingly opposite views of life, the dark and the beautiful. For instance, while Harold enjoys watching cars being destroyed in a junk yard, Maude revels in nature and has no qualms with liberating trees from public property. Harold’s obsession with death and oblivion seem to stem from the fact that he has no stake in this world, and feels no personal connection to anyone around him. Maude is able to curtail Harold’s obsession for destruction by showing him the beauty of nature and the fulfillment life can offer when lived with vitality.
This being said the film carries with it a very existentialist perspective. Maude constantly reminds Harold that all in life is transitory, enjoy it while you can, but never trick yourself into thinking that you have true ownership of anything in this realm. Not much is revealed about Maude’s past in the film other than her recollections of being involved in social protests and the fleeting glance Harold and the audience is able to catch of a Auschwitz ID number tattooed on her forearm. Maude clearly has a history and allows Harold to see that if he is willing he can create a meaningful future.
If you have yet to see this American film classic, I suggest you correct that unfortunate condition!