Sunday, April 28, 2013
Steady As She Goes
Ten years ago Olive Senior published a stunning poem in this newspaper called ‘Leaving Home’. Like most of her work, it built its way to a cataclysmic ending that the beginning was pointing to all along but one had to be paying keen attention for. The poem analyzed the journey of womanhood, noting presciently the, “cruelty of choice”. She then dropped a mere four words to end it—which remain among the most devastating lines ever penned by a Caribbean writer: “here’s the knife”, “yourself”, “executioner”, “midwife”.
For the women of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, these four words have been shaping up to define them all at varying points in the series. If the first two seasons of the show have set the platform for male egoism to take a sharp fall, then it has stealthily shown the female counterpart of it as set to rise. Season two in particular charted very dedicated courses tied to choices that need delicate balancing acts. None more than the manipulative Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei (Lena Headey) who visits her wounded brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to glean information as well as to find out if he’s discovered the many lies she’s told on him. Cersei, as the “knife” of this equation dices and shapes policy once it suits her purpose. So far, she’s had to outwit men to get what she wants. No real female has ever stood in her path but now with her son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) taking a wife she didn’t choose. Cersai is for the first time in the show being replaced or, rather, substituted. Joffrey has fallen under the influence of Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), literally a younger, sweeter version of Cersei.
Both women commence battle with each other almost immediately with back-handed compliments about their attire. For once, Cersei blinks first by testing Joffrey’s loyalty. When it fails, Cersei realizes the quicksand she’s standing on and maternal instinct gives way to a state of attrition. This is compounded by Joffrey’s own cruel-based rebellion.
Unbeknown to both women though are the outward forces coming to the kingdom. Lady Stark (Michelle Fairley) has several axes to grind—revenge being her chief concern and she’ll be the “executioner” of the entire Lannister clan if it’s the last thing she does. For the moment though, she too is faced with uncomfortable choices and their consequences. She made a deal with king-slayer Jaime Lannister (Nickolaj Coster-Waladau) and let him escape much to the chagrin of her son Rob.
And crossing the sea with her dragons gaining strength is Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) building up her converts as she goes along. Daenerys more than any other character in the show exemplifies “yourself” as she’s had to find inner belief more quickly than the rest. Game Of Thrones has gambled often on the separation of her to the other characters but it has paid off so far even though her wheel is still pretty much still in spinning mode. When her advisor Jorah exclaims that her dragons are growing fast, she retorts immediately, “not fast enough”.
As for the “midwife” persona, several women are in such a transitory state because to yield their power, they have to rely on men for its execution. Season three’s relentless march to power is being matched evenly by the new discourse between these ambitious women. Up to now, they’ve had only men to consider as opponents but as things escalate to another great war, they’re realizing that it is each other that may prove sticky to dislodge. Episode two greatly shows how they approach arguments with the men juxtaposed to when the men are beyond earshot. While Cersei remains tongue-in-cheek as Joffrey continues to alienate her, Sansa (Sophie Turner) is privy to the tart-tongue of Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) in a precious moment of down-time. Olenna is the best new addition to the show, full of authority yet understanding. When she traps Sansa into bad-mouthing Joffrey, she reassures her, “are you frightened, child. No need for that… we’re just women here.”
Yet you can see the reason for Sansa’s concern. She’s still little more than a child playing in the league of older, wiser women. Even Margaery has more cunning than Sansa has charm. After the chat, Sansa sits, eyes lowered, full of defeat and emptiness while the other two women start mentally planning for the way to deal with Joffrey and, by extension, his sadistic streak. Sansa hasn’t yet mastered the exhausting task of being such a woman nor—as she realizes now—will she be. Her fate has already been decided by her choices. She never understood the stubborn quality in her mother yet was kept in awe always of Cersei for the same reason. As she tries to find her new place in the kingdom, both mother and erstwhile mother-in law now yearn for her return to their side. They have different reasons obviously but that she’s a valuable asset is not in question.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Play by Play
One of the great disappointments of this year’s Oscar nominations was the absence of the French film Holy Motors from all the categories. The film had left most critics salivating at the Cannes Film festival and scored rave reviews especially for its unique perspective of its art-imitating-life plot.
It starts subtlety by juxtaposing the cinematic experience as is now—persons silently watching a movie—to how it will be in the futuristic manner director Leos Carax chooses by having our protagonist Oscar (Denis Lavant) literally jump into his ‘role’, seemingly inside the movie theatre. Oscar wakes up; puts on his glasses and forces open a door that leads to a flashing light. He passes through another door and lands right in a stunning shot of him, towering above the movie-goers while a giant dog prowls the aisles. Carax’s homage to film becomes immediate yet lurking beneath this abundance of rich imagery is human passion itself and self-sacrifice, the type that, like the dog, goes unnoticed and unappreciated.
Oscar is an actor who gets chauffeured around to his roles in a white limo that’s driven by Celine (Edith Scob) who clearly doubles as his personal assistant. The limo too serves a double purpose—a dressing room, where he changes costumes, a place to apply make-up and rehearse lines for his next project. We follow as he changes into an old crone begging beside the Seine; a crazed, barefoot troublemaker in an ill-fitting green suit kidnapping an American model (played by Eva Mendes) during a photo shoot and carrying her away as if he were Quasimodo; a hit-man hired to kill his doppelgänger; a father concerned for his daughter's safety; and the cheerful leader of an accordion band performing in a candlelit church.
As with most French directors though, Carax uses everything compressed in Holy Motors to mean something else or serve as a heavy dose of symbolism. The limo ride is clearly the path all actors have to take and Oscar’s many roles seeping into each other exemplifies the interchangeability of an actor’s work. These are the obvious points but one would have to be versed in Carax’s own previous works and influences to pick out the rest.
Just like The Artist before it, Holy Motors is an expose on artistic insight and the metamorphosis that has taken place. The film moves at a sinewy pace, dragging cinematic changes as it goes along to the point where the audience can no longer tell the difference between acting and the real thing. Oscar himself is slowly losing grip on his own reality, a point reinforced when he accidentally runs into a former lover Jean (Kylie Minogue) and the tenderness they share reminiscing. As they roam the street, you realize this is real even if the invisible cameras are never shut out. He quizzes her on her appearance (is is really hers or for a role) and carries her up steps where she belts out a tune before getting into character and jumping to her “death”. Oscar’s sense of reality betrays him after he just barely manages to get out of the scene in time to see Jean’s lover racing up the stairs in pursuit of her. As Oscar strolls out, both bodies are on the ground, Jean’s brains splattered along with blood. He loses it and races for his limo. For a terrifying second, you can’t help but think that, at last, Carax is about to unravel some hidden meaning to Holy Motors but instead it soldiers on fully aware that its appeal is its aloofness.
This aloofness is spurred on by the final two scenes: Oscar reaching “home’ to his pet gorilla and saying goodnight to Celine. She drives away, signaling the end of the day and eventually parks at Holy Motors, which we can see is the hub for the vehicles. She gets out joining the other such drivers, hair down and puts on a green mask. “I’m coming home”, she whispers into a cell phone and strolls out of our sight. As the lights go out to leave us pondering if Celine is unto her own acting adventure, Carax arrests us again with a bit of magical realism. The limos begin to speak to each other and the moral point of the film becomes clear.
Depending on your patience and appreciation for art-house films, this will either spoil or enhance your opinion of Holy Motors. It is visually stunning but life as viewed through Carax’s lens is unending and repetitive. It’s also secretive and resigned to fate, only the limos of the industry grouse openly about where next film will leap to and if it will need them anymore. Already the film shows how, like high definition (HD), enhanced and real the viewing experience is and how much more people want from it. Oscar, like the other weary actors are only starting to suspect what Carax built this gem around: when people get what they want, they never really want it the same way ever again.