Monday, January 03, 2005

Infinitely Looped With Audrey

Well, after a couple weeks of fighting colds and ravaging holiday cookie trays and tins (and what a spectacular array of sugary madness it was- jellied, chocolate dipped, dyed holy greens and felt Santa-Hat reds) I made my triumphant return to the treadmill tonight. Of course, any health benefits gained may have since been usurped by the consumption of a couple Abita Ambers.

I got out of the house around noon. The rain had been trying its best to deter me and I had almost given in (and you gotta admit, January rain is a pretty good deterrent) but after pausing briefly on the outside steps that lead down to the sidewalk (the January rain then only feet away, the deep chill of its humidity glazing my face) I thought, “Oh, fuck it! Open up the damn umbrella and move!” And that’s thankfully just what I did.

Getting out of the house was important because I was feeling monotone. Even-keeled sorry for myself. Mopey and unsure. The holidays had acted as a buffer to the reality of being laid off and the fact that I was once again going to have to find a new job. My aptitude for such a task is daunted by a fierce dread of being judged. Having my character assessed, a prerequisite to any job offer, is a terrible strain. Interviews are like a kind of hyper-theater of the absurd and I forget that, more often then not (and contrary to my fear of them) I’m fairly good at them, giving nicely succinct answers to questions regarding a time when I rose to a challenge at work, or what qualities I’d bring to the job at hand (“Occasional episodes of levity, my iPod, homemade lunches”) and where I’d like to see myself in 5 years time. (“Can I be honest with you? In five years time I see myself organizing numerous Guinness Book of World Records events for the public. I desperately want to bring more awareness to the parade of physical oddities, deformities and astonishments so poignantly captured in each yearly edition. Are you aware of, for example, Radhakant Baipai- world record holder for the longest ear hair, measuring an astonishing 5.19 inches at its longest point?”)

Getting out of the house meant heading to the Landmark Cinema in Evanston to see Jean-Pierre Jeanet’s follow-up to Amélie, A Very Long Engagement. Going to see a film on the first Monday after the holidays means you’ve got just about the entire theater to yourself. Prior to the film’s start it was just me, a couple in their 50’s and a handful of other loners. During the opening credits a gaggle of young women entered ("Oh, no...please shut up...please shut up...") and quickly, thankfully, settled.

For whatever reason I wasn’t expecting much. Perhaps it was some of the early reviews cautioning thatA Very Long Engagement was Amélie Goes To World War I that had tainted my expectations and sent me in wary, fearful that Jeanut had bowed to commercial obligations and was going to coast on a proven, slowly dulling formula. And while it turns out that A Very Long Engagement does indeed draw heavily from romantic quirkiness of Amélie (which is initially disappointing, even distracting) I soon found myself unconcerned with Jeanet’s tendency to endow his characters with cloying idiosyncrasies (which worked with such great success in Amélie and takes a little longer to ingratiate here) and was completely won over. Amelie Goes To World War I it is not.

It’s a bunch of things that do it, too. The lush cinematography, for one- bursting with period detail and moving effortlessly between the harsh brutalities of trench warfare and the amber melancholy of a rural French village by the sea. The production design by Aline Bonetto, who has worked with Jeanet since 1991’s Delicatessen, is particularly stunning, too, giving the trench warfare sequences a nightmarish realism and practically saturating the French village scenes, where the films protagonist, Mathilde (the radiant Audrey Tautou) spends a good deal of her time alongside her Aunt Bénédicte and Uncle Sylvian (played by Jeanut mainstay, Dominique Pinon, especially charming in this avuncular role) with bucolic coziness. The whole film is restrained, too- surprisingly mellow and graceful. It’s not without its tensions (harrowing scenes of warfare) but its core is blanket soft.

The film saunters into its ending. It’s in no rush. There’s just the right mix of languorousness and amorous garden lushness. It’s almost austere. Like in Amélie, Jeanet knows that sometimes less is far, far more.

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