Thursday, January 23, 2020

going to the movies with cate

Music welcomed my emergence onto the patio this morning. It was almost as if I was being played onto an award stage.

A syncopated samba was blasting from my neighbor's house into my patio. I have mentioned before that my patio tends to act as a megaphone -- magnifying sounds from outside. It is a bit like living inside an acoustic guitar.

But this music did not need to be magnified. It was Mexi-loud at its source. I could tell because the mother of the house was yelling at the top of her voice, giving her children instructions to get ready for school.

There was a time when all of that would have sent me into Full Frontal Codger. But loud noises, loud voices, loud drilling is just part of life in my village. I can either get angry, enjoy the music, or find a diversion.

This morning I chose diversion. I pulled out my earphones and uploaded Wagner overtures on Youtube. I could still hear the neighbor's music -- for a bit. Until I concentrated on the Wagner. I am still listening as I write to you.

Self-entertainment has changed in Mexico -- even in the decade-plus I have been living here. Even though I have a CD and DVD library, I rely on streaming services to provide me with new entertainment. Youtube and Netflix are my main sources.

That brings me to today's topic. I was going to tell you about two movies I watched on Netflix this week: Marriage Story and Carol. And I will tell you about them. But what I will write today is far different than what I would have written right after seeing them.

Both are ostensibly about divorces. But that is not the tale they are telling. They are really about our relationships with one another in a world where actual connection is difficult to attain and cultivate. And harder to maintain.

I have skipped over Marriage Story as a Netflix selection since its release. However, when it received a Best Picture nomination, I put it on my watch list. I finally got around to watching it on Sunday. And I was initially impressed.

The writing (which, to me, is always the central part of any film) was witty, flowed easily from scene-to-scene, and was tightly-constructed. The opening scene is a voice-over of the couple listing what they love about each other. But the narrative is so sentimentally shallow, you know that what is being said is not true. And it isn't. The lists are part of a marriage counseling exercise.

But, here is my problem. Even though I had the impression that I really liked the movie while I was watching it, I cannot remember much about it. I had to look at a plot summary of the movie to remember what happened.

The same thing happened with Carol -- a film about a divorce in the 1950s. Cate Blanchett (one of my favorite actresses in the Actresses' Holy Trinity with Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren) plays the eponymous wife who is fighting for custody of her daughter. While the divorce is underway, she heads out on a Thelma and Louise trip with a young woman and has an affair along the way. Of course, an investigator discovers what is going on, and the tenor of the custody battle turns nasty.

I was not as impressed with what the writers did with this script. I suspect the source material is the root problem. It is based on a romance novel, and has far too many knowing glances. They would have filled a full season of Downton Abbey. Of course, as Lincoln once reportedly said: "People who like this sort of thing are going to find it is the sort of thing they like."

But the acting is superb. The writers gave Blanchett a role that was nuanced and noble. The only scene I can now recall from the film is where Carol stops a negotiation session with the lawyers because it would not be in the best interest of her daughter to continue the ugly fight. She makes the ultimate sacrifice of giving up her daughter because she realizes she has helped create the problem.

Neither film is going to be very memorable. I know that because by next year I will forget that I watched them. There will be no lines that I will quote.

And that is a pity because both films are replete with lessons about the human condition. The couple in Marriage Story were not pulled apart by the legal system. Like a lot of us, they allowed differences to turn into fissures when they had the full ability to create a strong marriage.

In reality, though, we do not. We can look back on lives that are true Greek tragedies that, with effort, could have been something else.

The strength of both films is to show us, even when we leave a wake of disaster behind us, sometimes we just need to pick up our lives and move on. In the hope that we have learned a lesson that will make us kind to others and ourselves.

That may be a better way to face life than to try drowning out the samba with Wagner. 

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