Meghe Dhaka Tara / The Cloud-Capped Star (1960)

27 07 2014

It takes all but two minutes of Ritwik Ghatak’s The Cloud-Capped Star for money to be discussed. Saying that money is a primary theme of the film might evoke some groans, how often do we expect works of arts to communicate something deeper, whatever that means. We often expect the grandest of artistic statements to not dabble in something so common and superficial? The binary between the grand and the everyday is, of course, a completely false one. Ghatak’s characters are motivated by money, their unhappiness and despair is fueled by their inability to pay the rent. The Cloud-Capped Star‘s biggest accomplishment is that it is as poetic as it is pragmatic. A drama that creates a rhythm of daily existence, but captures and frames the routine is such a mesmerizing way.

1

Neeta breaks her sandal on her way home, but instead of purchasing another pair, she finishes her commute barefooted. Awaiting her at home is her brother, Shankar, a talented singer with no means of income. He knows Neeta is bringing home her monthly salary, and hopes she might be willing to share her earnings. Younger siblings Gita and Mantu also ask for some of Neeta’s earnings, as they seek to acquire new clothes. Putting the rest of the family before herself is just a part of Neeta’s life, even though her mother scolds her for doing so. With both of her parents unemployed, Neeta is the family’s main source of income. To continue her role, she puts her romance with Sanat on hold. She delays her own happiness, with the expectation that one day, she will be repaid for her sacrifice.

2

We’ve known Neeta for a very short time when she reads a love letter sent from Sanat. She holds the letter with so much devotion that it might as well be an actual person. She gazes into the sky, presumably to dream of a lovely future. Then, she is immediately interrupted by her brother, Shankar, who begins to tease her for the letter. This early moment builds a structure that is followed throughout. Neeta’s moments of happiness and rest are fleeting, and they are likely to be interrupted. Her family expects everything of her, and when she takes time to pause from her unreasonable duties, someone comes along to correct her or criticize her for forgetting about the moon when she only gives her family all of the stars.

3

It sounds a little too dreary to say that Neeta is doomed, but her situation is one that can never quite be appreciated. Her family can acknowledge her personal sacrifice, but they never seem to be fully aware of its weight. The only time her devotion is mentioned is in arguments. For example, her mother praises her in passing, but she mentions her as an example when criticizing Shankar and his lack of work. Acknowledgement comes but only with the expectation that everyone else should be working as hard as she is, never is the idea that she is working far too hard floated through someone’s consciousness. Neeta’s love interest, Sanat, suggests that she’s “not cut out to endure this” but even here, something seems to be missing. Neeta’s reply, “It doesn’t matter” is quite telling. Sure, she’s not cut out to endure this, but nobody is cut out to endure suffering.

4

Sanat himself suffers, though he tells us that he suffers for an ideal. To be more direct, he is basically turning down job offers to pursue his academic interest, with the hope of a more worthy career. Throughout the film, the people around Neeta look down on “physical labor” in spite of the fact that they can’t even pay the rent. Neeta gets such a job to earn some extra money for the family, but another personal sacrifice is seen as shame. Her father asks, “Is this what the middle class has sunk to?” The family can’t pay rent, sure, but physical labor is something beneath them. Once again, everything is expected of Neeta, yet everything she does is unfairly scrutinized. As a woman trying to take care of her family, her suffering is seen as trivial next to the “artistic” or “political” suffering of her father and Sanat, the latter who willfully chooses such a life. Little do they know, her suffering is far more political.

5

There are some who would hesitate to call Ghatak’s film political, if only because the idea of the “political film” evokes an idea of a film far removed from his world. I don’t like the phrase, simply because it implies a genre, one that is often used to describe experimental and consciously political works of Europeans like Godard or even Pasolini. Ghatak, like Naruse before him, is extremely political even if the vocabulary of Marxist theory is absent. I love Godard and Pasolini, for the record, but this image of the “political film” ignores The Cloud-Capped Star or When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, to give one Naruse example. Like Sanat’s consciously political suffering in this film, the musings of men is given more weight. Sure, Ghatak was a man, but it is easy to see his film gendered feminine. Those critical of the film accuse it of being melodramatic, a term that evokes femininity and something less authentic. It is something meant to undercut the political implications of such a film, after all shouldn’t Marxist theory be left to solemn white males? The answer is, of course, no it absolutely shouldn’t.

6

The irony in all of this is that Ghatak himself was vocally political and a member of Indian Communist Party, but such a detail contradicts the way western film scholars construct narratives around Asian filmmakers. This is the narrative that focuses on Yasujiro Ozu’s spirituality, the one that ignores his queerness and his radical politics. It’s the same narrative that focuses the attention on Satyajit Ray and applauds his humanity, but in the same breath dehumanizes the dense and vital history of the rest of Indian cinema and its contributors. This all seems like an off-topic tangent, one that suggests a simplistic reading of western film criticism. It’s related to my larger point, though. The Cloud-Capped Star is a deeply political movie, even as it is not a “political film” in the European tradition. It’s a movie about existing in a world that does everything to get rid of you, to achieve happiness despite the obstacles being endless. At one point, Neeta remarks, “All my suffering will vanish.” She’s wrong, of course, but that’s the tragedy.

7





The Clock (1945)

23 07 2014

Hollywood is the place where the most hopeless of cynics finally lay down their insecurities and admit that love is a beautiful and wonderful thing. Romance filmmakers in Hollywood often swing for the fences and sometimes the results are transcendent (Frank Borzage) and other times, we get a film like The Clock, which is admirable enough non-musical effort from Vincente Minnelli. The reason Minnelli’s boy-meets-girl fable falls apart is not because it is difficult to believe, but instead because it so flippantly portrays its romance that it is difficult to read it as anything else than just an advertisement for the idea of love. Perhaps this is what a lot of Hollywood romances were and what many modern ones inspire to be, but the parts of this film suggest something far more courageous that the disappointment is deeper.

1

Joe Allen, on a two day military leave, finds himself in the inspiring and overwhelming monster that is New York City. Upon arriving at Penn Station, he bumps into Alice Mayberry. Alice, like the rest of the city’s inhabitants, seems to be in a rush, but she is eventually taken by Joe’s small town charm and she agrees to spend the afternoon with him. The budding friendship blossoms into something more as the two get into plenty of mischief running around the city. The question is, will their short time together be enough for them to stay together when Joe has to return back to the military.

2

I would like to state that first off, Vincente Minnelli does not deserve all the blame here. He tries pretty much everything in his cinematic power to capture the sort of magic that is a new romance is meant to evoke, in fact he succeeds. The film opens with Joe arriving at Penn Station with a tracking shot that immediately communicates everything about New York City and Joe’s relation to it. Without ever telling us, we already know that he’s never been anywhere nearly as big. His naivety is later confirmed in the dialogue, but Minnelli gracefully speaks for the character with his camera’s movements. There’s inspired moments such as this sprinkled throughout the movie (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Keenan Wynn as a drunk) but they’re not enough to buoy an experience that ultimately suffers from certain cultural expectations.

3

So where does the film fall apart? Well, at the risk of rehashing old reviews, I’d like to yet again bring up the idea of “decentering relationships” that I first discuss in my review of Hong Sang-Soo’s Our SunhiHong’s film expertly shifts the perspective from the men in relationships to one woman, and in the process, deconstructs many of the grand romantic gestures made by men in older films such as this one. In reality, one would be turned off by such actions. In The Clock, Joe is relentlessly passive-aggressive, which fine enough. I can say that I’ve exhibited similar behavior in certain situations, but here, it is somehow suggested to be a cute and endearing part of Joe’s smalltown makeup. Alice finds him charming, despite the fact she seems to have a life to return to.

4

There’s something that should be said for what little we know about Alice and what little we’re given about her before she bumps into Joe. To be fair, Joe is an equally opaque character, with not much known about him beyond his involvement in the military in his midwestern upbringing. Yet, we continue to get no details about Alice. Throughout the film’s first half, we get her repeatedly telling both the audience and Joe that she really needs busy and needs to, you know, get back to her life. However, all the other things in her life, indeed the things that would help contribute to making her believable as a person with a life outside of being Joe’s fantasy are erased. We see her roommate and see the fallout of a cancelled dinner plan, but not much else. It is perhaps too much to ask a film to completely eat away at the structures that make the world relatively devoid of pressures for men, but there’s also so much at stake for a film like The Clock.

5

In the past week, I’ve seen enough public displays of affection to last me a lifetime. I don’t really mind them, but it’s made me think about the problems in a film like this one. I hear many of my peers talk about they “want a girlfriend” with no idea that a relationship is a bit more than something you can just acquire. Films like The Clock, as well made as they are, feed into these ideas. Think of it in this way: beer commercials can’t actually show the product being consumed and often these romantic movies, can’t show the work that goes on within a relationship. Instead, both just show individuals being happy, suggesting that you need to experience this joy for yourself as soon as you can. It’s more than just “getting” a girlfriend, not to mention the possessive and problematic notion of such language.

6





Beautiful Summer (1998)

13 07 2014

When a friend asks me to explain the magic or, hell, even the point of the films of a filmmaker like Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Tsai Ming-Liang, I often struggle. Sure, give me enough time and space and I’ll be able to confidently articulate the beauty and joy I find in these filmmaker’s work. The connection between Tsai and Hou in particular comes from their country of origin (Taiwan) but the more immediate link comes from their style. I’d argue that there’s a difference in their work, but they, for better or worse, became the iconic figures of (East) Asian Minimalism. Tetsuya Nakashima, who would direct Kamikaze Girls six years after this effort, seems far away from this type of aesthetic. Beautiful Sunday, although a bit more free-spirited formally than the work of Hou and Tsai, seems to work with a similar rhythm. A poignant story about a group strangers and the small, seemingly insignificant brushes against each other.

1

A young couple’s noise complaint finally gets the attention of their land lady. She goes to investigate the source, but the problem can’t be replicated. She attempts to stomp around to recreate the noise, but does so unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, a young girl attends to her homework with rigorous dedication as her mother seems to stumble back into their loft, perhaps reeling from a bender. An older woman screams at the same time everyday, while another is trying to deal with a stalker. The behavior of all of the inhabitants of the apartment complex seems to be something one can depend on, but for an initially easygoing Sunday afternoon, things change.

2

Beautiful Sunday is a movie about the end of a cycle. For most of us, Sunday itself is the end of the cycle that is the week. When we climb into bed on this day, we know that the next time we’re aware, a new week will greet us, and the cycle starts all over again. Nakashima’s characters seem to be at the end of a cycle as well. The man in the aforementioned couple (I guess now is a good time to mention that no names are ever uttered) is a writer for a television show, which he later finds out is not being renewed. Their primary source of income is now in major jeopardy. It seems like the couple’s relationship itself seems to be in danger, as their conversations frequently show both of them wanting something the other can’t simply offer.

3

One of the most incisive moments of the relationship’s troubles come when the woman makes the simple suggestion to her man: “Make me happy.” A few moments later, he tries to get in bed with her, presumably to be affectionate, but she’s not interested. She hasn’t changed her mind, she most likely still wants him to make her happy, but the two have very different ideas of how this can be accomplished. Happiness, which is ever so elusive and difficult to pinpoint, looks different to everyone. One could argue this is why the relationship is beginning to disintegrate, but in reality, such errors in communication happen all the time, even in loving and “healthy” relationships.

4

Rather than being about a relationship falling apart, which is still what is happening at the surface, I think the scene described above is an example of Nakashima’s meditation on attention. The idea of wanting attention is so frequently given a negative connotation. The truth is we all want attention, at least a certain kind of attention, because most of social interaction is basically, exchanging attention. This might sound like I’m trying to cheapen our relationships, but instead I am trying to move the negative stigma from attention. In addition to the moment already described, Beautiful Sunday also features a woman trying to escape the gaze of a stalker. However, when she invites him into her apartment, it’s revealed that she’s actually hired him to stalk her. One could read this as a simplistic satirical view of women’s vanity, but vanity is not the issue. The individuals in Beautiful Sunday seem to be constantly looking for emotional connections (again, in the vein of Tsai) but they seem to never work. Here, we have Nakashima navigated the idea of “good attention” and “bad attention” and validating are desires to want the former, and protection from the latter.

5





Ginza keshô / Ginza Cosmetics (1951)

11 06 2014

1951 was an exciting year for Mikio Naruse. Months after Ginza Cosmetics, he would also complete Repast, ushering in a new chapter in his career. With these two films, he started making a different kind of film, not one ideologically divorced from his work in the 1930s, but one that took a different direction stylistically. I hesitate to use the terms observant or intimate because, although they have a positive connotation, their overuse and misuse have implications of a film that is visually flat, or crudely stitched together. Naruse’s style at the final part of his career showed the director at his confident and concise. While many called him stylistically “invisible” (including Akira Kurosawa in one sort of overused quote) I find this to be a mistake. Sure, it’s not as noticeable as his peers, but Naruse’s aesthetic was so deeply in tune with his ideas that it seems impossible for him to express them in this context without this so called “invisible” style.

1

Yukiko Tsuji is an aging barmaid, but despite her age she’s still called upon to take care of her younger sister as well as her son. She tells her younger sister, with some sad acceptance in her face, of the way her heart was broken. “Most men are beasts” she adds. Later on, we see evidence to back up this claim. Around the bar, men endlessly make advances towards Yukiko who, yes, as a sex worker does have sex for money at times, but the environment in which she works is one that is constantly challenging her comfort. Her age and lack of money leaves Yukiko in a tough spot, her work is tied to her youth and physical appearance while that work itself is still not enough to pay for the expenses that are necessary for something as simple as staying alive.

2

 

It’s not the most unique idea to suggest that Naruse’s films about ultimately about money. His protagonists, almost all of whom are women, are sandwiched by being women and being poor. That sounds like these are two separate forces, but in Naruse’s world and the one we actually live in, these two oppressed status actually work together, influence each other, and ultimately have a relationship that makes one inseparable from the other. Some might call Naruse’s work superficial because it is about money, but most of life is superficial then. It’s not “materialistic” to be concerned about money when surviving is at stake. Perhaps then, it would be more accurate to describe his films as not being about money, but self-preservation.

3

 

Yukiko is played by Kinuyo Tanaka, who is most famous for her collaborations with Kenji Mizoguchi. She’s always wonderful in a Mizoguchi film (or anybody’s film for that matter) but I honestly prefer her here. There’s a quiet resignation in her performance, though I think Yukiko is not one who has given up. Instead, she’s accepted reality, an admittedly harsh one that seems set to both scrutinize her behavior and want to benefit from it. The men in the film joke about the “standards” of the women they interact with, yet have no problem in continuing in hanging around them. They seem oblivious to their moral dishonesty, but it has the dynamic in sexwork changed much? Naruse (like Ozu) hasn’t made a film critiquing Japan’s old-fashioned morals (which is how so many western critics frame it) but instead the racist, patriarchal society that we inhabit today.

4

After seeing Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin a few months ago, I remarked on twitter that it beyond all of its modern stylization, it actually came from the same place as most of Naruse’s work. To be short, I think Glazer’s “science-fiction” film is actually obviously about the horror of being a woman in a public space. It’s scifi context gives some justification for a male audience that weirdly enough, might have a better time understanding the discomfort of an alien over an actual living woman. Naruse’s work doesn’t have this context, of course, but it does give us the same experience. One that supports Yukiko’s claim that all men are beast. While trying to pay back a fine, she asks for help from a wealthy businessmen. The overwhelmingly polite man slowly becomes more and more forward and aggressive until he finally gets Yukiko alone in an abandoned garage. He’s only considered her status as a sex worker and not her status as a human being, which is why he seems genuinely upset and confused when she runs away.

5

There’s an IMDB review of Ginza Cosmetics that mentions, in passing, that the men in Naruse’s films are generally weak. I wouldn’t disagree, though I would add that they are indicative of the reality. “Weak” not in the sense that they’re under-written but instead that in Naruse’s world they are indeed the peripheral, which is seldom the case in most films, arthouse or not. In Naruse’s Flowing (1956) the men seem to only arrive when they’re imposing on the geisha house that the film revolves around. There’s a similar sensation here that the men, when they are present, are imposing on the lives of women. Humanism is overused in describing film and usually applied to filmmakers who try to make all of their characters equal but by making the marginalized individuals the center, I’d argue that he’s more humanist. Not that it’s a contest.

6





Musashino fujin / The Lady of Musashino (1951)

3 06 2014

What makes a protagonist for a Kenji Mizoguchi film? For starters, one needs to be a woman, preferably a struggling one. This doesn’t sound too complicated, we need someone who can express years of pain and disappointment in simple facial tics? Yes, Kinuyo Tanaka is perfect for the part. This might sound like me being glib or reductive, but it is part of the filmmaker’s DNA. None of this is a problem to me, as his fellow countrymen, Ozu and Naruse, made films of a similar ilk during the 1950s, but the one reservation I still have about Mizoguchi and will continue to have about him is why he must turn his women into martyrs. Sure, yes, a patriarchal society is to blame, but the insistence on sacrifices leads me to believe that there’s actually something quite troubling working underneath his art.

1

Michiko Akiyama is stuck in a loveless marriage to her husband and professor, Tadao. The two exist at two opposing ends, Michiko loyal and committed to the moral code of the past. Tadao, on the other hand, is unapologetic about his the west’s influence on him. In his classes, he teaches a “theory” that suggests that adultery is inevitable and logical, all to the delight of a giggling group of women who are obviously impressed by his charm and good looks. Tsutomu enters the picture, a young man eager to escape the city and the “amoral women” he associates himself with there. Upon arriving in Musashino, he finds the pure woman he’s looking for in Michiko. Yet, the thing that makes her attractive is part of what keeps the two from being together.

2

The setup here, which comes from a Shohei Ooka is actually quite concise and economical. The story gives us a woman and a man in a unsatisfactory marriage, yet we only see pressures and responsibilities held up against one of them. That would be Michiko, of course. Her father tells her early on that she’s responsible for keeping the community of Musashino and the family name alive. Tadao receives no similar scrutiny, and in fact, we’re not entirely sure he cares the slightest bit about the actual relationship. While he doesn’t care for Michiko, the burden will be placed on her if they’re not able to reproduce. Of course, because they can’t stand each other, this is not even close to a possibility.

3

The always wonderful Masayuki Mori plays Tadao here, and he manages to breathe some life into a character who is intentionally underwritten. The problem here is that his “badness” is so one dimensional that the dynamic never also for something more realistic. Also in 1951, he was Mikio Naruse’s Repast, where he was also a negligent husband. Naruse’s film, coming from the pen of the great Fumiko Hayashi, gives a balance to the relationship that still manages to illustrate the power dynamic. I’m not arguing for something more “subtle” just because it’s better storytelling, but also because this aforementioned power dynamic often manifests in situations where it not be as so clear and obvious as it is in The Lady of Musashino.

4

All of this is a bit more forgivable when one considers that Mizoguchi often wore his politics on his sleeves, yet I think my other problem with the film is that he’s really not as clear as he should be. One sequence gives us Michiko and Tsutomu walking along a beautiful river, which Tsutomu tells us was the location of a sex worker’s suicide. This folk tale is told in passing and seemingly isn’t meant to add much beyond the suggestion of something mythical. Ultimately, I’m finding myself placing a lot of Mizoguchi’s own work on that same plane. There’s a few exceptions (Flame of My Love and Street of Shame come to mind, but there are others) but mostly his sacrificial women are obscured by the mythos of their storyteller. Mizoguchi achieved visual poetry often, but instead of expanding on the pathos of his characters, in films like Mushashino, he seems to minimize their plight and reduce his women to tragic individuals whose stories we’re to tell over a camp fire.

5





Anne Trister (1986)

21 05 2014

Self-discovery is a real thing, a real process, yet it has undeniably become sullied, if only because it’s something so frequently depicted. Referring to our lives as “journeys” is hackneyed, as is the visualizations of said journey to have roads and paths. Yet, I can’t help but find these rickety and recycled images flowing through my head while watching Lea Pool’s Anne Trister, which is indeed a film about self-discovery. At times, the titular Anne seems to fit into all of these tired images, but it would be too cynical (and stupid)  to write off every film about “finding yourself” just because it sounds so trite. Pool manages to tiptoe around these problems, and while her film’s simplistic symbolism occasionally threatens to push into that banal territory, her images and Anne herself remind us to be compassionate and loving. It’s not that the film begs for sympathy, it’s that it understands how, when struggling, most of us deserve some.

1

Following the death of her father, Anne Trister decides to reconnect with some distant family in Montreal. Departing from Switzerland, she must say goodbye to her boyfriend. The two keep in touch through letters. Anne begins living with a child psychologist, Alix, who spends most of her time analyzing a problem child named Sarah. In the mean time, Anne takes over a sprawling, yet vacant and deserted studio space and commences resurrecting a complicated mural. Alix’s relationship with Thomas begins to grow sour as Anne finds herself increasingly attracted to Alix. Neither of them are quite sure what to do next, so they both retreat into their work. Anne, working harder than ever on her mural and Alix, whose observations of Sarah develop into an experiment.

2

I find myself struggling to describe the relationship between Alix and Anne, but that’s mostly because there isn’t that much there. This is not a talkative film at all, and the beauty of the two’s love comes from what is left unsaid (which is a lot) and the fact that neither is entirely sure what they’re suppose to be working towards. Both are involved in seemingly steady romantic relationships with men, yet their potential romance doesn’t even seem to clash with that. There’s no suggestion that monogamy is necessary or even something to be concerned with, because Alix and Anne are probably more concerned with what they mean to each other, then what their love (and however that may manifest) means to the people around them. They’re not and shouldn’t be concerned with how their boyfriends may negatively react.

3

I feel like even bringing up the peripheral heterosexual relationships at play here undercuts what Pool is trying to accomplish. They’re not of consequence here, and Thomas being jealous about Anne seems like something only the most oblivious and selfish men in the audience would be concerned about. The film is about Anne, and her identity. That could mean her sexual identity, but the film does not try to neatly file away her new attraction into some huge “aha!” moment. Queerness doesn’t always perfectly make sense one day. Pool makes no attempt to define her protagonist, or even lead us to conclusions about her. Anne herself opens the film with a quote about her paintings that seems to reflect this, “We don’t always feel like working in standards, the frame limits me.” Although Pool has tightly composed her subjects literally, she has created an environment where, although they are overwhelmed and even scarred, they are still given the freedom to express their solitude.

4

If Pool takes a misstep, it’s that her film gets bogged down by the weight of its intentions. To elucidate, the film is centered on some heavy symbolism. The mural that Anne spends most of the film’s running time constructing is torn down while she’s in the hospital. She’s only in the hospital because of course, there’s a tragic accident while she’s working on the mural. With a  film like Anne Trister it feels almost unfair to ridicule melodramatic turns since the narrative itself is not the point here. The film situates us so firmly with Anne that we might be willing to forgive some of its more forced moments. However, the film’s simplistic setup of the mural = dreams is corny. So all that hard work gets destroyed, which is sort of how Anne feels so far in life. All the effort put into her relationships, her love for her father, her work as a painter, her life feels destroyed. She feels lost and alone. Pool does a good job of communicating this without the tacky symbolism. Still a great film, but its strengths almost get lost alongside the rubble of the destroyed mural.

5





À tout prendre / Take It All (1963)

20 05 2014

If there’s been a theme on the blog the last couple months, it’s been the way  films center certain individuals in heterosexual relationships. Back in January, I applauded Hong Sang-Soo for decentering the men Our Sunhi, making a film instead about the titular protagonist. The result is that the one we are to sympathize with is a woman, and this is a rarity. I’ve been coming back to it sense then, finding echoes of Hong’s achievement in the works of someone like Eric Rohmer, but looking for it everywhere. My interest is in destroying or at least deconstructing the way heterosexual relationships are established in fiction. So often the plight of the men is the one we are to be concerned with. Claude Jutra’s debate doesn’t decenter the male protagonist, who is Jutra himself, but it does provide an introspective look into the male mind, and provides some criticism to the dynamic. Jutra hasn’t stripped it away completely, but he has freshly given us something to eat away at the series of images we’re given that tell us that only men feel heartbreak.

1

Claude likes his solitude. He tells us as much in voiceover. Yet, when a friend suggests he go to a party, his initial resistance quickly fades. He doesn’t seem to be have a particularly good time, but then he spots Joanne. His inner monologue begs for her to notice him, and eventually, she does. The two, perhaps because of the intoxication, flirtation, and the excitement of the moment get caught up in each other’s bodies. The prospects of a one night stand are soon written off, Claude affirms his love for Joanne. The two start spending time together, she leaves for a fashion shoot in Manhattan. He doesn’t exactly remain faithful, but he feels no obligation to do so. The relationship seems to casually float along,  never reaching the excitement of the first night, while still not feeling overwhelmingly negative. One day, Joanne asks Claude about his sexuality. He doesn’t know how to answer.

2

There’s definitely an impulse to compare Jutra’s debut to John Cassavetes’ debut, Shadows. It is similarly rough around the edges, composed of jarring edits punctuated with more observant and tender moments. An important scene in Cassavetes’ debut involves Tony meeting his girlfriend, Leila, and her brothers. With her lighter skin, she passes as white and she certainly “fools” Tony, who freezes up and runs away when he sees her much darker brothers. Weirdly, this is the only moment in Cassavetes’ ouevere that ever comments on race, and the quotes from the man himself suggest he had a “color-blind liberal” approach to the matter more often than not. Jutra has made a film about race, even more so than Cassavetes, and he has wisely not taken the position of the one to be the preacher, but the one to, perhaps, be preached towards.

3

It would be unwise to say the film immediately takes notice of Joanne’s blackness, but only because we see things through Jutra’s eyes. Sure, he notices the color of her skin, but in his liberal mind, one that is suppose to be progressive enough to ignore race, he probably convinces himself he’s seeing nothing more than a pretty girl. This is actually, well, it’s smart. It’s this kind of casual avoidance of reality that leads to the relationship disintegrating. At one point, Joanne herself points out that she might be nothing more than experience for Claude, “You love me because you think I’m different” she says. “You think I’m exotic.” Indeed, Claude himself believes that Joanne came from Haiti and he asks her for stories about her upbringing. Twisting reality, she indulges in the Othering fantasy he wants. She does it because she loves him. He loves her because of bullshit like this.

5

The truth becomes clear as the film progresses, Claude really doesn’t love Joanne. He loves an idea of her, one that he created, and one that she played along with. She becomes pregnant, but he selfishly removes himself from the relationship entirely. I think this becomes a reality for a lot of dudes, especially ones in my age group: the idea of a “girlfriend” is something both so elusive and so attractive that when the time comes to be in an actual relationship, there’s no room to, you know, actually take care and feel for another person. Claude ends up getting bored and frustrated with Joanne so his clean break is meant to help him. He still wants to see her, of course, but by forever removing himself from her life, he’s romanticized his past. He can wistfully think back to their time together, which is probably more satisfying to him than doing the actual work that is necessary for a relationship to continue. Jutra exposes himself, he exposes how other countless “tortured, sad boys” are not really that, but just slanted male expectations. One that can’t and shouldn’t be filled.

6








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