Age of Anxiety
by Chris Dashiell
In a culture obsessed with youth, older people are rarely acknowledged
for having emotional and sexual needs. The
Mother, written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger
Michell, is about an older woman named May (Anne Reid), suddenly widowed,
who is confronted by her empty house and its associations of loss and
abandonment. She moves in with her daughter (Cathryn Bradshaw), a writing
teacher living in London, who is having an affair with Darren (Daniel
Craig), the married carpenter who is helping May's upscale son Bobby
(Stephen Mackintosh) put an addition on his house. Gradually, May and
Darren strike up a friendship...and then it becomes more than that.
What might seem an improbable affair is made convincing by Kureishi's unsentimental dialogue, and Michel's careful, clear-eyed style. Reid is fantastic in the title role -- deftly avoiding the trap of making her character seem pathetic, she strongly conveys the hidden depths of an older woman who refuses to be confined by ideas of age or her role as parent or widow. Yet this rebellion is not conscious, but covert. Her independence of mind has never had a chance to flourish, and Reid beautifully portrays her tentative nature with a mixture of stolidity and veiled wit. We also see how mother and children are essentially strangers to one another, a fact that is only revealed upon the death of the father. The efforts of the characters to hide this fact from themselves lend their interactions a charged, volatile feeling.
A conventionally minded film would have turned May into some sort of heroine, blazing a trail for older women claiming their right to sexuality. Fortunately, Kureishi is more interested in the conflicts and ambiguities of real people. The screenplay doesn't idealize May's faults, or let her off the hook for her shortcomings. After all, she is sleeping with her daughter's lover -- the other side of her urge to fulfillment appears to be aggression against her children, and a denial of their own inner lives. The struggle between mother and daughter eventually reaches a climax of dramatic power and incisiveness.
punctuates the drama with eloquent silences, and he knows when to pull
the camera farther away to give us perspective. The supporting players
are fine, especially Bradshaw as the frustrated daughter. Craig pulls
off the difficult feat of making a tryst with a woman twice his age
seem natural to his character. This is Anne Reid's movie, though. Even
during a later scene with Craig that veers dangerously close to melodrama,
her performance is so steady and focused that we're pulled along without
breaking the fictional spell. The Mother is a movie for grown-ups
-- thoughtful, disturbing, and wise in the painful mysteries of family.
If you're a smart teenager in a dead-end little town,
chances are you'll feel trapped and frustrated, no matter whether the
town is in the U.S. -- or in Iceland. Nói,
a film by first-time writer-director Dagur Kari, is about a seventeen-year-old
kid of the same name living in a rugged little village between a snow-covered
mountain and a fjord. Besides being a loner and a misfit, Nói
is an albino, or at least looks like one -- and his extremely pale features
set against the white landscape works as a visual metaphor for the monotony
of his existence. He lives with his weird grandmother, who has a habit
of waking him up for school by firing a shotgun, and receives occasional
visits from his deadbeat, alcoholic father, who can't seem to understand
why his own failures seem to be repeating themselves in his kid. He
can barely tolerate going to school, and the teachers finally stop tolerating
him when he has a tape recorder sent to his classes so he doesn't have
to sit there.
Nói sounds a bit like a comedy -- well, it is. Yet
Kari uses the dark sense of humor to explore deeper emotional terrain.
In a style that accentuates the claustrophobia of a closed society,
with laconic editing and inventive use of light to portray a sense of
lingering depression, Nói shows how an intelligent
spirit will struggle blindly against the limitations of his personal
horizon. The title character is played by a young, intense actor named
Tomas Lemarquis. As the film proceeds, he really lets you inside Noi,
and you start to feel almost as stir-crazy as he is. When he finally
tries to break away from his environment, the film takes some wonderful
visual leaps, and winds up with an ironic climax that manages to convey
the film's symbolism in a very physical way. Kari has a gift of showing
you the absurd side of people without looking down at them, and Nói
turns out to be a surprisingly moving experience -- funny, intriguing,
insightful, and heartbreaking.
is an anthology film by various
directors from around the world, who were asked to make short films
on the theme of the Sept. 11 attacks. Such films are by the very nature
highly variable in quality, and this one more so than most. In fairness,
it's very difficult to make a good short film on a subject of such political
significance and emotional rawness. The attempt is liable to expose
even the most talented artist's limitations.
The best contribution is by Alejandro González Iñáritu, who gives us a blank screen with gripping, chatoic sounds from the attacks on the WTC, with brief flashes of people falling to their deaths from the towers, and it's the only film here that conveys the stunning horror of the event.
Idrissa Ouadrago's wistfully humorous piece about a group of poor African kids who think they've spotted Osama bin Laden in their village, and try to catch him for the reward, is surprisingly good, considering the risky tone. Ken Loach contributes a meditation on another 9/11 tragedy -- the U.S.-sponsored Chilean coup of Sept. 11, 1973 . No frills here, It's solid, straightforward and quite powerful. Danis Tanovic's portrait of a Bosnian Muslim protester, who hears the news and has to decide whether she should still attend the regular vigil she puts on with other women, is simple and affecting.
I would classify the shorts by Samira Makhmalbaf,
Youssef Chahine, Mira Nair, and Shohei Imamuru as intermittently interesting,
but ultimately unsuccessful. Amos Gitai tries for doc-style immediacy,
but his film about a terrorist bombing in Israel is bewildering in intent.
The worst contributions are attempts to tell touching personal stories that intersect with 9/11. Claude Lelouch's film, about a deaf woman and her interpreter lover who fight just before he is to go give a tour for deaf people at the WTC on September 11, is too earnest and sentimental for my taste. The bottom of the barrel is Sean Penn's film about a deluded old man (Ernest Borgnine) who thinks his wife is still alive, then the towers fall, bringing light to the wilted flowers on the windowsill, which then...oh, but it's too tasteless and awful to even try to explain this one, wrong-headed in every conceivable way.
Apparently the film ran into trouble getting distribution. One might suspect political reasons (Chahine and Loach are pointedly critical of U.S. foreign policy), but on the other hand, anthology films generally don't make money, and that might be the real reason. It's a bit rough slogging through eleven short movies, but González Iñáritu's film especially deserves wider viewing.
©2004 Chris Dashiell