The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Motifs in cinema 2013: Love and marriage

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beforemidnight1

“And so they lived happily ever after”.

Not.

They don’t make that kind of movies anymore, do they? If want to take your loved one to a movie date, you’re probably better off staying away from any movie that has to do with love, relationships or marriage. Because they’ll probably leave you questioning if becoming a couple is such a good idea in the first place

Judging from what came out in 2013 this view on love isn’t about to change anytime soon. You have to look hard to find a film that still believes in the “one true love” that will last a lifetime. The united theme of most movies about love and marriage these days is that depicture how it breaks down one way or another. The curve of love seems to be as inevitable as the fact that entropy increases over time. Falling in love puts the world into a neat and simple order. But as we progress through time, learning more about ourselves and about the world, children getting into the picture, it starts to get more complicated. Either we give up about the relationship or we give up about ourselves. Regardless which way we go, there’s a price to pay. Pain, confusion and chaos are looming over us.

gatsbyflowersA painful wake-up
In 2013 we were introduced to a couple of movie characters who still nourish a romantic view on love, interestingly enough both men. Gatsby in The Great Gatsby has a firm belief that he’s going to win back Daisy with a shower of flowers and Ellis in Mud refuses to realize that neither he, nor Mud, have met their soul mates. They have to travel a long and painful road before they see things as they are: that they didn’t have a relationship in the first place.

Other movie couples are slightly better off, such as Liberace and his young lover in Behind the Candelabra and the female couple in Blue is the Warmest Colour. While those relationships don’t end well, at least they have a few happy years to enjoy before they start their descent.

Unchallenged on the position as “darkest depicturing of a relationship” was The Broken Circle Breakdown. I cried myself through this film, and what made me saddest wasn’t the cancer disease that the daughter of the couple was fighting. It was what the disease made to them, how it tore them apart at a time in their lives when they needed each other more than ever. It reminded a little of Blue Valentine, but more riveting thanks to the bluegrass score accompanying them as they go deeper and deeper, entering circle after circle in their inferno.
brokencirclebreakdown
Brighter movies
Wasn’t there any movie at all that painted love in brighter colours? Well, I had to think hard about it but I came up with a few. One is About Time, where admittedly the father-son relationship is more important than the romance. But there is a romantic part as well and being a Richard Curtis movie, it doesn’t let you down.

Then there was Don Jon, not exactly romantic at first sight, being about a pretty miserable, appalling porn addict. But it gets better and it ends up being one of the more optimistic love movies from 2013.There is one that beats it though: Warm Bodies, which once for all proves that zombies can be just as romantic as vampires. How little did we know!

Two great movies about love and marriage that came out in 2013 remain. One of them is Her, but I’m not going to talk about it further in this post. Not because it doesn’t deserve a mentioning; it deals with the topic in a very interesting way and I fell in love with the movie on spot. But I watched it only the other day and so did many other people outside of the US market. In my book Her isn’t a 2013 movie. It’s one that I’ll save for next year’s motif post.

warm-bodiesBefore Midnight
The other movie is, of course, Before Midnight, THE movie about love and marriage of the year, hands down. What can I say that hasn’t been said before? I just feel privileged to be able to follow the ups and downs in Jessie’s and Celine’s relationship, reconnecting with them every nine years. If the conversation in the first movie was mostly flirty, it hit a deeper level in the second as they opened up about their current life situation and what had become of the dreams of their youth. But it’s in this third movie that it starts to get real. Not everyone who watched it appreciated this; I’ve seen some who felt genuinely sad to see them fighting the way they did, longing back for the earlier, more romantic days. I see it differently.  Love is about so much more than just plain romance. Romance serves as a starting point, but it can only hold your attention that long. It’s what happens over all those following years when the novelty has worn off that truly matters. Or as they put it so beautiful in The Deep Blue Sea, which I’ve already quoted in a previous post, but is so good that it deserves to be put out there again:

A lot of rubbish is talked about love. Do you know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s arse or changing their sheets when they’ve wetted themselves – and then let them keep their dignity so you can both go on.”

I imagine that Jessie and Celine could be this for each other in the future. I hope we’ll be able to follow them to that point. But I don’t think we’ll ever leave the theatre after watching a Before-movie in the safe knowledge that they’ll live happily ever after. Those days are irrevocably over.

About Motifs in Cinema
This post is a part in a yearly event called “Motifs in Cinema”, organized by Andrew Kendall at Encore’s World of Film & TV.

Here’s how Andrew has described the idea:

Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across some film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2013 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea – Motifs in Cinema assesses how various themes emanating from a single idea change when utilised by varying artists.”

Don’t miss out the other posts in this blogathon, which includes thirteen different themes. All the posts are collected in a list over at Andrew’s place.

behindthe

The Velvet Café’s top list of 2013

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gravity2
Bloggers make their top lists of the year earlier and earlier. Publishing them in the beginning of December is not unusual. I insist on waiting until the year is over before I do anything about my list. However this year I’m a little later than usual, for no good reason. I’ve just been busy and haven’t come around to it.

I don’t expect anyone else to be particularly interested in my list at this point. But I don’t make it for you, I make it for me, because it gives me a sense of order and because I’ve found that those year lists are pretty useful as reference material. So here I go anyway. Late, but dedicated.

The rules
My rules are the following: movies that either had their first theatrical release in Sweden or were released directly for DVD can be taken into consideration. Screenings at film festivals don’t count, since they’re so limited and out of reach for most of us, including me.

If you wonder why I haven’t included a certain movie, chances are that I haven’t seen it yet. Here are some examples of movie which will be 2013 films as far as I am concerned, either I’ve seen them or not: Her, Only Lovers Left Alive, American Hustle, August: Osage County, Inside Llewy Davis.

Needless to say this was hard. Like super hard. And if you asked me tomorrow, the list would have shifted into a different shape. It’s mood relatd.

And now ladies and gentlemen – bring on the list!

Honorable mentions
First a few movies that didn’t make it into the actual list but which I want to give a nod:

blingring
The Bling Ring

I felt emotionally disconnected from Sofia Coppola’s movie, but it worked for me at an intellectual level.

Liv and Ingmar
This might be old news for Bergman experts, but to me this documentary put the relationship into a new light.

world war z
World War Z

The film is pale compared to the book it’s based on, with little more than the title in common. But I give it as much as that the mass scenes with zombies were awesome.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Another round of Battle Royale. It was enjoyable but I hope they’ll get do something different in part three. This was basically more of the same.

Foxfire
One of three movies this year about gangs with criminal girls. My initial sympathies for them faded pretty quickly.

Trance
OK, I admit that it was forgettable even if I dislike the word. But it was fun as long as it lasted

30-50

about time
About Time
It was a milk chocolate movie, for days when all you want to do is to hide under a blanket and comfort yourself with huge amounts of TV and sweets.

Anna Karenina
Oh, the dresses. The dresses!

Django-Unchained
Django Unchained

Five minutes was all it took for Django to win me over. Those five minutes didn’t just introduce the heroes – the bounty hunter Dr Schultz and his to-be partner Django, former slave. It also contained the main features of the movie I was about to see: a well balanced mix of drama, comedy and stylish, choreographed over-the-top violence.

Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a director  holds a lot of promise and if he decides to go on with a career not only appearing in movies, but also making them, I’ll be in line to watch them.

desolation
The Hobbit: The desolation of Smaug

A little bit better than the first one, partly thanks to Tauriel, badd-ass elf woman.

Mood Indigo
The first half of the movie is just one long visual crazy party. It’s like having sparkling champagne straight into your veins

Mud
The gaze of a child gave it the shimmer of a fairy tale. Next time I’d love to see a female protagonist though.

Tom Cruise in Oblivion
Oblivion

Many claimed Oblivion was bad in different ways. I didn’t notice. I was too busy having fun watching it.

Only God Forgives
Only surface? Perhaps. But what a surface!

pacific rim
Pacific Rim

I didn’t have a good excuse. But I fell in love with it nevertheless.

Promised Land
Gus van Sant’s latest movie just disappeared. I wonder why. Could it be about politics?

philomena
Philomena

Judi Dench defies the natural laws. She only gets better the older she gets.

Ruby Sparks
From my review:
“Ruby Sparks is by no means a profound movie, but I thought it was pretty damned fun, and considering how picky I am with “fun”, that is high praise. But there’s more to it than just the light hearted comedy; it puts its finger on easy it is to get into a mode where we try to reconfigure our loved ones and how unwise such attempts can be.”

Rush
Rush

This was surprisingly enjoyable – even for someone who couldn’t care less about formula one.

Side Effects
This made me think of director such as Alfred Hitchcock. It’s got the ingredients: a conspiracy, a battle of wills, cunning plans that are so entertaining that you forgive them for being implausible and women who are as dangerous as they’re beautiful. Besides it’s got Jude Law, who keeps aging with grace and dignity. In the absence of James Stewart, he’s a perfect fit for the role.

Silver Linings Playbook
This film did for mental illness what 50/50 did for cancer: took a bit of the drama out of it with humour.

Spring Breakers
The party went on and on and I didn’t know what point it tried to make. But it was pretty.

tom at the farm
Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan, the Canadian wonder, made it again. He’s got talent you could die for.

Warm Bodies
Braiiins! I was charmed.

wadjda
Wadjda

A punk girl in Saudia Arabia and her drem of a cycle. Infuriating with a little rim of hope.

10-30

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The story of Hushpuppy – my hero!

Mitt_liv_med_Liberace
Behind the Candelabra

It was a shame that this was marketed as a TV movie.

Blue is the Warmest Color
This movie quickly got a reputation for its sexual content. But far more interesting than the sex scenes is to see how the relationship evolves and what a struggle it can be to overcome class differences.

Blue

Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett was magnificent. The movie as such was good too. Regardless of the debate about Woody Allen’s person.

Café de Flore
A delicious movie for everyone who loves the bittersweet. Strangely it never got any cinematic release in Sweden; it went straight for DVD.

Frankenweenie
A 3D movie in black and white? Not a hit with the big audience, it appears. I was alone in the theatre watching this, which didn’t make it less enjoyable. Oh, Sparky! Movie dog of the year!

Frances_Ha
Frances Ha

Some movies have a “soul”, if you get what I mean. Others don’t. Frances Ha has it. And it has New York City. And Greta Gerwig, who is wonderful.

Fruitvale Station
From my review:

“I was reminded of that behind every news headline you see about someone dying in a crime or violence related incident, there’s also a hidden story about the people involved. There are children who lose their parents, mothers who lose their sons, partners who lose their loved ones. And each one of them is a human being, not as different from me as I may think as I throw a glance at them from the other side of the platform at the subway station.”

the-great-gatsby-the-green-light-on-the-dock
The Great Gatsby

I thank Baz Luhrmann. God knows how many more years I would have waited to read the book if it wasn’t for the beautiful, sparkling and loving (and actually surprisingly faithful) introduction he made with his movie.

Hotell
I’ve seen it twice now. This is probably the funniest Swedish movie of 2013 – and at the same time it’s very gripping. Remake, anyone?

the-impossible1

The Impossible
You enter the theatre annoyed by an issue with your computer, and you leave it with tears and a new spark in your eyes, grateful of what you have. Grateful of your family, grateful of your health, grateful of living in security. Grateful of being one of the winners in the lottery of life.

The Master
From my review:

“ The Master is the kind of movie that begs you for revisits. I would happily come back again to it, to enjoy the cinematography, which is stunningly beautiful, even if you haven’t had the opportunity to see it in 70 mm format, to once again be captured by the score and – above all – the outstanding acting performances.”

lesmiserables

Les Miserables
From my review:

“Les Misérables is big, beautiful and shamelessly sentimental. I can understand that it’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

I left the theatre, satisfied as if I’d just had a delicious five-course dinner with the freedom song of the rebels ringing in my ears. This is a meal I’d be happy to eat again.”

Lore
A movie about nazi children that manages to not sort people into boxes. It stayed with me for a long time after watching it.

prisoners
Prisoners

From my review:

“When I left the theatre I felt exhausted and a bit bruised. It’s not just because the running time is long (over 2.5 hours); it’s also that there’s so much to take in as a viewer during those hours. I couldn’t have been more tired if I had been binge watching an entire season of a TV series.”

The Reunion (Återträffen)
This film about bullying really got me thinking about what took place at my high school so many years ago.

startrekintodarkness2
Star Trek Into Darkness

Beautiful lens flares and Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. Perfect.

Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley took a trip into the family swamp of myths and lies and got us all thinking about the stories we tell.

The Way, Way Back
The Way Way Back

Growing up can be a pain, especially in the neighbourhood of jerks like Trent. But it gets better. But it gets better.

We are the Best!
I was a punk rocker in the early 80s, so basically this is a movie about me. How could I possibly not love it?

1-10
Captain Phillips, film of the week

10. Captain Phillips
Why Tom Hanks didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this is incomprehensible.

brokencircle

9. The Broken Circle Breakdown
Leave your inner cynic at home.

placebeyondthepines

8. The Place Beyond the Pines
A hard hitting, beautifully constructed drama in three acts. I bought each one of them.

zerodarkthirty

7.  Zero Dark Thirty
Opening in the very beginning of the year, this movie made such an impression that it lasted through the entire year to appear in the top 10. Not bad.

cloud atlas

6.  Cloud Atlas
It breaks my heart to think about how badly this movie made in the box office so I avoid thinking about that part. I’ve seen this movie twice now, and it only gets better. This was a bold and beautiful movie.

Still from the documentary The Act of Killing

5. The Act of Killing
If you’ve seen it, you know why I’m tempted to give up on the future of humanity. I can’t recall any documentary that is anywhere near as disturbing, as horrifying, as nauseating as this one was. The villains are unspeakably evil and make the bad guys in ordinary action movies seem like decent people in comparison.

12 years a slave

4. 12 Years a Slave
From my review:

“This is so much more than a monument over people’s suffering in the post, more than a history lesson about something that you “should know about”. It’s also a movie about the present, about the uglier features of the human nature. It points out mechanisms that are still in use if we open our eyes. And this is what makes it such a tough – and important – movie to watch, relevant not only to an American audience.”

beforemidnight
3. Before Midnight

With every conversation another layer is added. I want to grow old with the Before-movies.

Thehunt
2. The Hunt

This movie hit me like a punch in my guts when I watched it in the beginning of 2013.  I haven’t recovered completely yet. What’s most troubling about this film isn’t how the neighbours, family and friends treat xx when wrongly is accused of child molesting. It’s that I can’t rule out that I would do the same if I was in their situation.

gravity

1. Gravity
Am I a shallow person for loving Gravity slightly more than 12 Year a Slave? Maybe. But is my comfort blanket and biggest fear in equal measures. I neglect it, I ignore it, I forget about it at times. But it’s always present. Gravity reconnected me to space, and thus to myself. Besides it was a hell of a ride and I’ll never think of 3D the same way again. I don’t regret putting it as my number one. That’s how I felt about it, and there’s nothing I can do about it. My only regret is not watching it multiple times in a theatre when I had the chance.

My international 2013 list

Finally: here is another version of my top 10 list, where I’ve removed the films that are considered 2012 releases in most countries and included the ones that I’ve had the chance to see.

1. Gravity
2. The Hunt
3. Before Midnight
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. The Act of Killing
6. The Place Beyond the Pines
7. The Broken Circle Breakdown
8. Captain Phillips
9. Blue is the Warmest Colour
10. Prisoners

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I’m going for an adventure

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tombraider
Ok, I’m not going to lie about this. The woman on the picture isn’t me. It’s someone far more rich, famous and beautiful. However, I’m soon going to have one thing in common with her. Like her I’m going to visit Angkor Wat. And a lot of other beautiful, terrifying and mind bending places. As I’m writing this I’m ten minutes from starting a 30+ hour long journey taking me to Cambodia. I have a couple of posts upcoming during my absence, but apart from that things will be pretty quiet here until I return on March 9. By then I hope to have a lot of stories to share, from Killing Fields to a night at the movies in Phnom Penh. But you won’t hear a word about the Oscars from me. At the point of their announcement I’ll be on an island with no-wi-fi guarantee. There isn’t even electricity.

Until I return to the café: help yourself in the bar for whatever drink that you want.

See you around!

 Jessica

Written by Jessica

February 18, 2014 at 8:36 am

Going a match with Trance

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Trance film stillMy top list of 2013 is long overdue, but before I get to work I need to get one more 2013 movie out of my system: Trance.

I had almost forgotten about it, which is sort of fitting since amnesia is one of the themes of this film alongside with art and hypnosis.

I hesitate to say this because the word “forgettable” has a bad sound to it. But it’s not a movie that lingers with you, like for instance Gravity, which has become like a bubble that I keep returning to. I watched it, enjoyed the ride as long as it lasted, and when we were done we were done.

While being a heist movie, it’s also a mindbender, resembling more to a time-travel movie than to a thriller. The timeline is a bit broken and you need to pay a bit of attention to work it all out. Or at least I do. I’m pretty stupid when it comes to complicated puzzle stories and more than once have I left the theatre with a clueless expression in my face, such as in the case of Primer and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. This time I felt smug. I put the clues together and the story made sense. I didn’t walk ahead of the story, predicting thing in advance. But on the other side the movie didn’t outsmart me either. We ended up even.

It won’t go to the history books as Danny Boyle’s most important work. But it was a fun little movie that I don’t hesitate recommending for its pure entertainment value.

Trance (Danny Boyle, UK 2013) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

February 16, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Trance

A few words on artists who become directors, bullying and a must-see Swedish movie

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atertraffen

Do directors who have a background as artists make movies that are different from directors who previously have worked as, let’s say musicians, psychologists, shop managers or nurses? When you watch a movie, can you tell if it was made by a former artist?

I can’t. But there is something about the artist profession that gives it a certain aura of mystery. I get the impression that artists are a step higher in the status hierarchy than directors. A film directed by a former artist is expected to be more than just a film among others. It’s “art”.

Personally I’ve never been able to tell the difference. It’s true that Steve McQueen comes from the art world and it’s true that he (or his cinematographer) has an eye for the visual language, as shown in 12 Years a Slave. But there are many other directors with no previous career as artists who are obsessed with the visuals nevertheless.

Art installation or movie?
In any case, we’ve now got a Swedish equivalent of Steve McQueen – a director, who people insist on labelling as an “artist”. Her name is Anna Odell and she recently won the Swedish film award Guldbaggen for her debut movie The Reunion. In her case I’m afraid the label has been hold against her on occasions. While the movie mostly has received praise from the movie critics, I’ve also seen people questioning why her film has been nominated in the first place, arguing that her movie isn’t a real “movie”, but an art installation.

I don’t agree with this view at all. The Reunion was one out of three Swedish movies from 2013 that I genuinely loved (the other two being Lisa Langseth’s Hotell and Lukas Moodysson’s We are the Best! I would recommend you to see them all if you ever get the chance, though it’s pretty unlikely if you live outside of Sweden – it appears to me that they’re mostly screened at film festivals.)

This is a film about bullying, but seen through the eyes of the grown-up. The first half of the film is a pretty straight forward story, taking place at a class reunion, where the director Anna Odell, playing a character also named Anna Odell, is one of the participants. In a scene that reminds of Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, she confronts everyone who treated her badly. She refuses to let sleeping dogs lie and doesn’t give a damned if this breaks the festive mood. She wants to say her truth, no matter what. This first half of the film alone is very good, but it’s in the second half that the movie really takes off, becoming truly inventive and interesting. It turns out that the class event never took place. This is Anna Odell’s imagination or day dream of what would have happened had she been there. Because in reality never received any invitation to the class reunion. Instead she contacts her old classmates, showing them the film she has made about the imagined party, inquiring what they feel about it.

There’s a documentary feel to the whole thing, not the least because of Anna Odell’s usage of herself in the film. But it’s not – all the classmates, both at the initial reunion party and the ones that are confronted in the second half, are played by actors. However – as far as I’ve understood it – it’s “based on a true story”. The real Anna Odell has been in contact with people who bullied her at school. And some of the script is based on real conversations that have taken place.

Is Anna a bully?
In Sweden there has been a debate about the film. After the initial raving reviews, there was a backlash, where some have accused Anna Odell for “bullying” her old classmates by doing this film. As a moviemaker and an artist, she’s in a stronger position, and therefor it’s “wrong” of her to take her revenge.

Well, I call this [insert suitable strong word]. Firstly: if you’ve been bullied at school you’re perfectly entitled to call people out about this and share your story, tell the world how it was. The fact that it was twenty years ago doesn’t change this a bit. Secondly: The film does more than just point out certain people as bullies. It doesn’t demonize those particular persons; it highlights a problem that we talk about far too rarely considering how common it is. It’s impossible to watch this film without starting to think back at your own school time.

I was never what I would call “bullied”, at the most I was teased, but not worse than that I could deal with it. However I was very lonely as a young teenager and when I left junior high school at 15, I rejoiced at never ever having to meet my class again in my entire life. There have been class reunions but I haven’t attended a single one. But what made me uncomfortable wasn’t my own situation back in those days. I thought about a girl in my class, who was very short, a little chubby and had a very bright voice. The boys in the class used to call her names. Sometimes they put her in one of the huge dust bins in the corridor and she was too short to get out of it by herself. They forced her into a locker to see if she fit in.

Those are horrible actions. And I think of myself. Where was I? What did I do? Did I protest? Did I turn them in, get help from a teacher? Did I comfort her, support her, stand up for her? I can’t recall that I did a thing more than hiding in my corner, staying as far away from my class as possible. Thinking back at it I’m not sure how guilty I should feel about myself. Had I done more I would probably have become a victim myself. But the movie definitely got me thinking.

A film about us
The Reunion is not just a film about Anna Odell confronting her old class with the help of actors. It’s a film about all of us. Even if we never have bullied anyone or been the victim of bullying, we’ve had it in our neighbourhood. We still have. It’s everywhere and sadly not only in schools. It’s not something you “grow out of”. There are fully grown-up people who bully their colleagues in working places. The same old mechanics at work, over again. And we should fight it and have the courage to confront it, wherever and whenever it appears

The Reunion is not an art installation. It’s a film, just a little more intelligent and unconventional than most films you see. Anna Odell is not an artist. Maybe she used to be, but I know her now as a film maker, a writer, director and actor. And I hope she’ll stick to this trade from now on.

The Reunion (Återträffen, Anna Odell, SWE 2013) My rating: 4,5/5

Written by Jessica

February 14, 2014 at 12:43 am

The snow, the songs and the sadness – my reasons for loving Inside Llewyn Davis

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Inside Llewyn Davis

There are countless of aspiring singers in this world. Even if you only include the ones who have managed to make a real record, there are still thousands and yet thousands of them. Only a handful will fly. The rest will see their dream grow thinner and thinner until it has evaporated altogether. Then they’ll get an ordinary, unexciting job like the rest of us, a box of their unsold records in the cellar the only reminder of that they once believed that they had the potential to do something else. And eventually they have to let go of that too, because they’re moving and there isn’t room for all that old “junk” in the new place.

There are many of them and yet you never hear about them. It’s a matter of logic of course. The moment you hear about them, they lose their status as “unheard of” and they enter that other, smaller category of “moderately to very successful singers”. But there’s more than that to it.

Our current culture teaches us from young age that if you try hard enough you can become anything you want; it’s just a matter of dedication. And this belief is fed by the success stories we’re served in movies, literature and the media, about people who succeed despite having the odds against them. We suck those stories like leeches, never wanting to let go of them. They bring oxygen to whatever fire or hidden dream we carry inside. We want them and we need them. And that’s why the stories of the singers with the broken dreams so rarely are told. It’s too depressing to think about, so we look in a different direction, pretending that they’re not there or pretending that their lives are more glamorous than they are. Deep down we know of course that not everyone can become a star. But it’s not something we like to be reminded about.

Struggles without hope
Coming from this, it’s perhaps not all that surprising that Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t become an instant success with the Academy Awards jury. Struggling artists have been shown before, such as in The Artist the other year, but in that case you weren’t just presented with a problem. You also got a solution and a hope for better times and no shadow was cast on the business. All is well that ends well. Without giving away the end, Inside Llewyn Davis presents a more realistic look on the prospects of the aspiring singer.

To me this was like a much darker, twisted version of the Irish movie Once. They both feature a bearded, talented guy who sings beautiful songs. But in Inside Llewyn Davis, there is no sweet love story, unless you count the cat that spends some time with him on a few occasions.  The singer isn’t just hoping for a record contract: he has already made a record and it hasn’t led him anywhere. And New York is freezing cold, especially if you can’t afford an overcoat.

Plotting around
Those who prefer movies to have proper plots are likely to get disappointed. The film is said to take place during a week, but frankly I had no real sense of time. You just see the musician plotting around, not doing very much apart from playing here and there, trying to get hold of some money or looking for a cat who is on the run. You could say that it’s a little aimless.

But as much as I appreciate good storytelling, I think it’s a little overrated when it comes to movies. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but it’s not all there is to movie making.

Not all great songs have texts that make sense. Sometimes a few words of nonsense are perfect because of how they sound. Not every great painting needs to portray an existing person or thing. A splash of colour can be much more powerful in provoking a reaction, stir the waters inside you that rarely are visited. A movie doesn’t need to be “about” something particular or have an aim to inspire you to great deeds and to pursuit your dream to be enjoyable.

Why I loved Inside Llewyn Davis
I love Inside Llewyn Davis for the way that the light hits people’s face. I love it for how you can feel the coldness against the legs as Llewyn Davis crosses a patch of snow. I love it for the cat, so help me God. I think it’s a little bit of a cheap trick to insert a charming, quirky pet into a movie to make it more likeable, but every scene that cat is in, he or she steals, that’s just the way it is. I love Inside Llewyn Davis for the melancholy and for how it captures the urge to hit the road, even if it’s a road that doesn’t take you anywhere. I love it because it puts the spotlight on someone who isn’t altogether likeable and who doesn’t pull his shit together and doesn’t personify the American dream.

But most of all I love Inside Llewyn Davis for the music. I don’t think I’ve bought a film soundtrack since I got the one for The Commitments, on vinyl as it was back in those days. I might very well buy the one from this one, because it’s that good. And then I’ll put it in the record player in my car and take a long trip without any set goal. And as I drive I’ll reconcile myself to the fact that I never was a star and that I’ll never become one. Being a beautiful snowflake is all that most of us can hope for. The sky is full of us, and we’re falling, falling, falling, to the ground where we’ll evaporate, and before we know it we’ll be gone, as if we never existed. All there’s left of us is a box of records in the container or a long time forgotten blog post, on drift in cyberspace, read and remembered by no one.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Ethan & Joel Cohen, US 2013) My rating: 4/5

filmspanarna

My fellow Swedish bloggers in the Filmspanarna network have also watched this film. Here’s what they made of it:

Except Fear
Fiffis Filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den
Jojjenito
Movies-Noir
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord
We could watch movies
Moving landscapes

Filmparadiset

Written by Jessica

February 12, 2014 at 6:00 am

Probably the most underrated movie of 2013

with 7 comments

promised landIt happens that good movies fall under the radar and you don’t know why. It could be bad luck, it could be bad timing, it could be some mysterious bad karma that works against it. It just wasn’t meant to be.

In the case of Gus van Sant’s Promised Land, it’s tempting to bring up conspiracy ideas. How does it come that it barely has been spoken about at all? Has it even been marketed? And if not, is the only reason that they didn’t expect the audience to like it? Or could it be that someone thought that the political message was a little bit too radical and hard to digest?

I any case it’s a shame. And I’m ashamed that it took me so long to write about this film. I should have brought it up on the agenda way earlier and then perhaps I could have talked someone into watching it in a theatre. Every sold ticket counts. In any case it’s not too late; it’s available on DVD and for rental online, so there’s really no excuse now not to watch it.

It feels as if most movies these days take place in big cities. And as much as I love New York City movies, (which I confessed recently) I think this is a bit weird and a bit of a shame. You rarely get to see the small town rural life that a lot of people actually lead. There are a hundred movies about New York writers for every movie there is about a waitress or car mechanic from a 10 000 inhabitant village in the desert.

Promised Land feels like a fresh breeze in this movie landscape, it’s something different to most movies we see – and yet I would say it works in classic, familiar territory. It’s man versus nature, town versus city and the little man versus the big, nameless corporation, idealism versus pragmatism. Frank Capra comes to mind.

The movie has a few twists and turns and perpetually stupid as I am I didn’t see them coming. I was taken by surprise every time. If you’re somewhat smarter – or don’t get as immersed into movies as I do – you might discover the truth on beforehand. On the other hand I don’t think it matters a lot for the enjoyment of the film. In the end, it’s not just a film about the fight between the people of the village and the big bad cooperation. It’s more nuanced, more complicated than that. Society is changing; people are clustering in the cities, and the countryside is becoming a place where you go for vacation in a cabin, not where you want to live and work and raise you children. Those who are left are struggling and need to find some way to make their living. Do you really have the right to criticize the farmers and put up unrealistic demands that they shouldn’t do anything that can be harmful to the environment, if you are not affected by those demands, if you live in a city with a steady income from somewhere else?

It’s too late to get this film more awards (at least it got a special mention at the Berlin festival in 2013, better than nothing). But it’s not too late to watch it. Do that.

Promised Land (Gus van Sant, US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

February 11, 2014 at 7:00 am

Posted in Promised Land

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