Wander Darkly

Adrienne and Matteo happy on a boat

 

Matteo (Diego Luna) and Adrienne (Sienna Miller) are a broke couple with a new baby and a relationship on the skids. Arguing on the way home from a date night, mostly about Adrienne giving someone the glad-eye, they are involved in a massive car crash. This is no spoiler, we’re only a handful of minutes into Wander Darkly, and writer/director Tara Miele is just setting the scene – economically and with great visual flair – for the drama to come.

Adrienne is dead. Or is she suffering from post-traumatic delirium and is just imagining she’s dead? Or is something else going on? It’s not certain, but what we can see is Adrienne in the hospital corridors, bloody and bewildered. Then Adrienne is at her own funeral, watching a crack-voiced Matteo attempting a reading over her coffin.

He eventually joins her in this sliding existence – Is he dead too? Is she imagining him? – and together they slide about from one “scene of a marriage” to another, observing themselves at key moments in their own relationship. How they met. When they first slept together. That amazing holiday to Mexico. The night she flirted with that dude and Matteo saw her.

They’re not just replaying these scenes, they’re also commenting on them as they replay them – it’s a technique more familiar from theatre (where it’s often done for reasons of hard cash). It’s interesting to watch in a film and it’s done, as the opening crash was, with great fluidity and a strong visual sense. One moment it’s night in the US, the next it’s a hot afternoon on a boat in Mexico, the actors not missing a beat as they (we, actually) segue from one scenario to the next.

 

Adrienne and Matteo quarrel
…and the bad times

 

Miller and Luna are playing a couple who never actually formalised their relationship by getting married and this seems appropriate in any evaluation of Wander Darkly. Matteo and Adrienne don’t quite work as a couple, nor do Luna and Miller as actors. They’re operating in different registers, Miller’s altogether more naturalistic. In fact for me eventually the film became more about watching Miller’s performance, which is brilliant (but then when is she not?), rather than watching events unfolding. To be fair to Luna, Matteo has been written as peevish and there’s not an awful lot he can do about that.

The touchstone for this sort of thing – sliding around inside a relationship chronologically to find out when it all went wrong – is François Ozon’s 2004 “backwards romance” 5X2, but Miele might also be referencing the meta-trickery and investigations of truth and fiction of Abbas Kiarostami, where movie “realism” is also often held up for scrutiny.

They’re interesting choices but whichever way you peel it, the film’s narrative conceit runs out of juice before the end. The more of their own past that Matteo and Adrienne excavate, the more things start to devolve into scenes of him accusing her or her accusing him. At one point it feels like one of those “kitchen sink” arguments where every old grievance from the past is being dredged up to add fuel to the fire – the “and you always hated my mother” kind of thing (Matteo does in fact hate Adrienne’s mother). Except here, slights that have not yet happened can also be thrown into the mix, as when Adrienne admonishes Matteo for abandoning their now-motherless child, something he hasn’t done yet. Watching couples bicker is rarely fun.

As if this weren’t already a problem, the finale takes a bit of a swerve. I won’t say where to because that really is a spoiler. But as well as throwing quite a left turn, it throws in a conclusion which emotionally seems to belong to an entirely different film. It wanders, darkly, perhaps because it’s lost its way.

 

 

 

Wander Darkly – Watch it/buy at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

 

 

Mister Lonely

Samantha Morton and Diego Luna in Mister Lonely

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

18 July

 

Papal infallibility proclaimed, 1870

On this day in 1870, the Catholic church declared that certain utterances by its pope were to be considered infallible – they could not be wrong. The Church had long held that pronouncements made by the pope in his official capacity, and speaking ex cathedra, had a universal truth to them, basing this notion on Jesus Christ’s words to Peter, the first Pope – “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18). However, the formalisation of this understanding was brought about by Pope Pius IX during the first Vatican Council. This was held in July 1870 at the point when Rome, under papal control and French protection, was holding out against the otherwise unified (since 1861) Italy, which had named Rome as its capital but was biding its time in Turin waiting for the political weather to change. On 19 July the Franco-Prussian war began, and the French garrison left Rome to defend its homeland. The day before, the Pope, perhaps sensing an imminent loss of temporal power, made the spiritual land grab.

 

 

 

Mister Lonely (2007, dir: Harmony Korine)

Harmony Korine’s first film since 1999’s Julien Donkey-Boy was received by a bewildered critical world ready to dump on Korine, writer of the highly controversial Kids. Mister Lonely seems designed further to aggravate and bewilder, possibly also to entertain, depending on how adaptable your mindset is. The cast list alone is an orange light – provocateur directors Werner Herzog and Leos Carax are both prominent – and once Korine and ace cinematographer Marcel Zyskind get going it’s clear that we’re on a journey into arthouse excess. Things kick off with Bobby Vinton’s Mr Lonely on the soundtrack while a tiny motorbike crosses the screen in slo-mo. Hello David Lynch. But then we cut to Diego Luna, as a Michael Jackson impersonator working in Paris, where, one day, he meets Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), in Seven Year Itch garb. An impersonator also. Why don’t you come with me to Scotland, says Marilyn to Michael, where I live with a husband, Charlie Chaplin (Dennis Lavant). So off MJ goes, only to find that Marilyn and Charlie’s daughter is Shirley Temple, and among the people they hang out with are the Pope, Abraham Lincoln, James Dean, the Queen, Sammy Davis Jr, Little Red Riding Hood and Madonna. Korine divides the film into chapters, part one being The Man in the Mirror, 2 is Beat It, 3 Thriller, and finally You Are Not Alone – except that Diego Luna’s Michael is by now, for reasons that would be spoilerish to divulge, very much alone.
Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated story, some nuns are learning to fly, with Herzog playing the role of a semi-crazed enthusiastic priest hoping for miracles as he distributes food parcels to the poor of Africa.
Is Korine making profound statements about the thinness of celebrity compared to what really matters in the world? Thankfully, he’s not. Instead he seems to be trying to revivify the sort of arthouse cinema that existed in the 1960s, as practised most notably by Fellini, in which the conscious and unconscious worlds co-exist with varying degrees of ease. Whether this works in an age that doesn’t take Sigmund Freud half as seriously is moot, but Korine has an eye for a picture and is adept at conjuring up an image that haunts the mind. This is a frustrating film that had me leaning forward with mouth agape for periods, throwing myself back in the chair in exasperation at others, hovering on the edge of sleep at others still. But you’ve got to applaud a cineaste who believes that cinema is transformative, energising and inspiring, even if you’re never entirely sure whether he believes it himself. Those iconic characters, let’s remember, are all fakes.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • There’s no such thing as a boring Korine film
  • The director of Spring Breakers as he gets his mojo back
  • First time on screen together for Anita Pallenberg and James Fox since Performance
  • The cinematography of Marcel Zyskind (Code 46)

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Mister Lonely – Watch it now at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Rudo y Cursi

Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in Rudo y Cursi

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

16 March

 

The Wanderers FC win first FA Cup, 1872

Today in 1872, the London football club Wanderers won the first football association cup, the oldest football competition in the world. It was the first of three wins of the cup for the club. The FA Cup is a knockout cup open to all football clubs who are established enough, and with facilities enough, to take part. In 1871-72, being the first season of the cup, there was a piecemeal and eccentric series of regulations – Wanderers managed to get to the final having won only one of their four games because in those days a game ending in a draw resulted in both teams going on to the next round. The final was played at the Kennington Oval, Wanderers’ home ground (and that of Surrey County Cricket team, which it still is) where Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0. The following year, given a bye all the way to the final as a result of winning the previous year, Wanderers beat Oxford University 2-0. The club’s third and final FA Cup win came at the end of the 1877-78 season when they again beat Royal Engineers. Success was short-lived: the following season Wanderers were knocked out in the first round of the FA Cup; by the 1880-81 season Wanderers were unable to raise a team and so couldn’t compete. By the following year Wanderers had de facto ceased to exist, playing only one ceremonial game each year against Harrow School at Christmas. In 2009 Wanderers were reformed as a charity-raising team and went on to stage a rematch of the 1872 FA Cup Final with Royal Engineers at the Oval in 2012. They lost 7-1.

 

 

 

Rudo y Cursi (2008, dir: Carlos Cuarón)

Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna came to international prominence in the 2001 drama Y Tu Mama También and reteam for this footballing drama that also takes smalltown boys on a rites-of-passage journey. The journey in this case is also sex-soaked, but then it’s also dripping in cocaine, drink, beautiful women and all the other trappings of the high life. This being the story of two naturally gifted poor half-brothers on a banana plantation who are spotted by a talent scout who happens to be in the area and then whisked off to Mexico City, where one becomes a striker for one of the city’s teams, the other a goalkeeper for another. One (played by Bernal) winds up with the hottest woman in the country (played by Jessica Mas); the other (Luna) with the biggest cocaine habit. It ends badly for both. As a film Rudo y Cursi is a little schematic in its rise-and-fall dynamic, but as a shorthand for what hits a Beckham, a Messi or a Suarez it tells what must be a true story – of guys out of their depth, suddenly surrounded by everything that money can buy, squads of hangers-on, with only their families to turn to for escape and counsel, who are also clueless and are also entirely swept along in the whirlwind. Rudo and Cursi are ciphers, in other words, and the acting talents of Bernal and Luna are powerless in the face of a script that isn’t interested in fleshing them out. More interesting is the scout Baton – straw hat, grubby shirt, girl on each arm – the ultimate stereotype, though played by Guillermo Francella with loads of guile, charm and intelligence, the bridge between the rural poor and the blinging rich. In a world of widening chasms between rich and poor, the film could be seen as a metaphor for the pay-no-tax entitlement of the super-rich and their “go hang” attitude towards the rest. If it is, it is never overt. Another interesting absence, this time definitely deliberate, is the decision to show no football whatsoever. Even the crucial “it all hangs on this goal” sequence required in all sports movies is conveyed by a series of close-ups of spectators in the stadium, cuts to various locales in the country (bars, mostly). There’s nothing here to frighten the sport-o-phobe.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • See what Alfonso Cuarón’s younger director brother can do
  • Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna together again
  • A sports movie without (much) sport
  • Adam Kimmel’s cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Rudo y Cursi – at Amazon