Wednesday, March 21, 2007

March 21st Log

1972, Elaine May, United States
1st Viewing, DVD

The Heartbreak Kid is a film destined to be compared with Mike Nichols The Graduate, which was made five years prior. This is a comedy but one with the tone of a tragic satire. The strength of the film lies in the intelligence of the material and director Elaine May does not treat the characters as cartoons, or the narrative as compromising closure. The film ends with an ambitious note and one that reflects the early portion of the film. As a comedy The Heartbreak Kid is effective. What ties it in emotionally is that though May does not present the lead Lenny Cantrow (played by Charles Grodin) with sympathy early on, as his cruel and selfish treatment of his newlywed wife makes him difficult to like. However, as the film progresses, his desperation towards the “girl he dreams of” (played by Cybill Shepherd) actually begins to build some twisted sense of compassion for him as he tries to win over the approval of her resisting father. Grodin gives a strong performance as does Jeannie Berlin as his new wife, and especially terrific is Eddie Albert as the father. The highlight of the film comes in the scene when Lenny decides to “put all his cards out on the table” for the father. Shot with one-long master shot it is a scene that is brilliantly written, directed, and performed (both by Grodin and Grodin in dialogue, as well as the reactions of those not speaking). This scene has the comic wit and filmmaking reminiscent of the master of comedic satire Preston Sturges. The Heartbreak Kid never quite reaches the level of Sturges, but it comes very close. Intelligent and unflinching, The Heartbreak Kid still holds it’s satirical bite today. This film is currently in post-production of a remake directed by the Farrelly Brothers.

1951, Robert Bresson, France
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest is in many ways cinema in it's most pure form. Through Bresson's simplistic filmmaking approach of minimal techniques (including non-professional actors, and very little dialogue and music). Also, Bresson uses off-screen sounds and unique narrative approach to heighten the emotional response. The result becomes an incredibly moving connection with the lead character (a young priest played by Claude Laydu) and an emotionally challenging and thought-provoking expression of life. There are such endless and complex depths of human psychology, as Diary Of examines themes of faith, and isolation. Of course, one Bresson's definitive themes is that of human suffering and cruelty, and here it is presented through the cynical and distrustful villagers. The final shot of the film (an isolated cross within the frame) symbolizes much of the films overall themes and ultimately becomes an unsettling and deeply transcending reflection of living. This is Bresson's forth film, and represents the poetic master at his most personal and simplistic. Diary of a Country Priest is an unforgettable achievement from a rare visionary of cinematic language. The tone of Bresson’s films are depressing, cold films of suffering yet it is through suffering and sadness that his films ultimately reflect the beauty of living. The endings of his films are without joy and full of sadness (particularly his masterpieces Mouchette and Au hasard Balthazar), yet indescribably Bresson’s vision leaves us with a feeling of the beauty of living. It certainly can be argued, but Bresson’s films leave me with a sense of hope and of optimism, and of transcendence. It is a sad yet beautiful experience. Indeed, “All is grace!”


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