Tag Archives: food

Great new movies: Ozark poverty and Italian opulence

Two Saturdays ago, I went with Rebekah of Happy Postmodernists to our local arthouse theater. We saw two movies, both fantastic, and you should go see both of them as soon as you can. The first was Winter’s Bone, the second film from director Debra Granik. It’s a disturbingly realist mystery set amidst the backwoods of Missouri, where 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) must find her meth-dealing father or risk losing the house where she cares for her two younger siblings and catatonic mom. This material could have made for a sappy melodrama, or maybe a pedestrian thriller set in Deliverance country. Instead, it’s a starkly observational masterpiece, ably meshing the perilous investigation and moral uncertainties of a film noir like The Third Man with the everyday drama of raising children and surviving without a reliable income.

The style of Winter’s Bone is just extraordinary: it’s moody without being overwrought and suspenseful without being manipulative. Through Granik’s lens, rural Missouri is a dreary, desolate place, but always totally believable. And while many of the characters may be addicts or pathetic rednecks, they’re always discernibly human; especially memorable are Ree’s loose-cannon uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and Merab (Dale Dickey), the grimy matriarch who obstructs her search. Although they may live in barely habitable shacks, snort coke, and speak with molasses-thick drawls, the country dwellers of Winter’s Bone retain a past and a sense of belonging. In one particularly poignant scene, Ree and her siblings page through an old photo album and see Teardrop and their father as children. It’s details like this that root the film deep within the Dolly family, whose blood is shared by many of Ree’s potential enemies.

At heart, Winter’s Bone is a movie about a place, a people, and most of all a girl burdened by her diseased lineage and bravely facing a painful future. With its teenage detective, Winter’s Bone will probably earn comparisons to Rian Johnson’s high school neo-noir Brick. But as Rebekah and I concluded, Brick‘s delicious novelty and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s deadpan performance are totally blown away by the laconic but unrelenting power that Jennifer Lawrence brings to Ree. Winter’s Bone is as sharp and harrowing as its title, and in its best moments, its story acquires a semi-mythical quality, as if Ree and Teardrop were characters from forgotten folklore buried deep in America’s heartland. I hope to write more about Winter’s Bone later (and see it again!), but in the meantime, take my advice: it was very, very worth the $9.

The second half of our double feature was, in terms of style and content, on the opposite end of the spectrum from Winter’s Bone. While Ree & co. were so destitute that the idea of a sex life was out of the question, the Recchis in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love take sensuality and eroticism as givens. The film is a luscious, sweeping melodrama about a dynasty of Milanese industrialists led by the sturdy Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and his wife Emma (Tilda Swinton, who also co-produced), a Russian émigré. But as corporate dynamics start to shift – Tancredi’s father retires and the son Edoardo steps up to help manage the company – so do the family’s emotional balances, and soon Emma flings herself into an explosive liaison with Edoardo’s best friend, a skilled chef named Antonio.

However, any given plot development in I Am Love is less important than the fleeting emotions and sensory experiences that set it in motion. No pleasure is too small for I Am Love to express cinematically, and taste and touch are given just as much emphasis as sight. Emma’s first real awakening comes when she bites into Antonio’s exquisitely prepared prawn, and the world literally darkens around her as she feels it against her tongue. Later, her orgasm receives just as much attention, as it’s accompanied by shots of the surrounding countryside, a swell of John Adams’ minimalist score, and a cut to the London skyline. The ecstasies of food and sex are manifested through the most lavish visual and musical analogues possible, and it’s to the movie’s credit. Fuck the misguided 3D that’s plagued theaters (and ticket prices) this summer; I Am Love‘s resiliently traditional photography really does pop off the screen.

The broad, magnificent brush strokes that fill I Am Love‘s canvas leave little room for interpersonal intricacies, which is a shame; Rebekah and I were both disappointed that the movie didn’t delve further into the relationship between Emma and Edoardo (and the significance of the ukha, an emotionally fraught, translucent Russian soup). But the film, unsurprisingly, does an enormous amount with body language, conveying enough for a whole conversation with a single motion of Tilda Swinton’s hand. Turning individual sensations into panoramic landscapes, I Am Love is a triumph of expansive artistry that’s even more enthralling on the big screen.

So if you’re in the mood for a great movie experience, don’t settle for whatever bullshit’s just been released (and besides, I Am Love has more to say about eating, praying, and loving than a million Julia Roberts movies). Instead, run to your nearest theater that’s willing to show subtitled films, and watch either Winter’s Bone or I Am Love! One’s a chilling, brutal document of poor midwestern life; the other’s overflowing with fine Italian food and Tilda Swinton’s nipples. Both unquestionably have my seal of approval, and are movies by and about fascinating, well-written women. Take your pick.

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Kieślowski and hunger

There’s so much to talk about and so little time, and so little energy and ability in the brain to generate enough thoughts. It’s all so absurd, all our communication processes. I’m putting out my opinions about anything and everything with keywords enabling any person with Internet access to read them, if through chance, he or she happens upon them. It’s all so interesting and strange. So I’d better not waste time between all my dilly-dallying and navel-gazing. Must plow ahead! Into the stream of consciousness!

I saw a most extraordinary film yesterday called The Double Life of Véronique, directed by the late Polish master Krzysztof Kieślowski, a man whose name is brutally hard to spell, but he’s Polish, so what do you expect? This reminds me of a joke. Which reminds me of how Ashley and I discussed jokes together. But anyway: a Pole (so frequently the butt of such jokes) is taking an eye exam. The doctor, ophthalmologist, whatever, says, “Can you read this for me?”, pointing to the chart with the usual mess of letters, you know, E K A C Z H S Y etc. And the Pole says, “Read it? I know the guy!” So this is the joke I know about Polish names, and Krzysztof, from our perspective as Americans, certainly qualifies. (Of course, it’s really just their variant on Christopher, which as Wikipedia informs me, is from the Greek “Khristóphoros,” meaning Christ-bearer. See, if a Greek saw the name “Christopher,” maybe they‘d think it’s strangely spelled!)

In any case, the movie: from this great Polish director so concerned with coincidences, parallels, connections, etc. and the questions they bring up about our lives, we have this tale of two women, both played by the same actress, the beautiful Irène Jacob, who would later appear in Kieślowski’s Red (a movie that interestingly shares the motif of audio recordings). Weronika lives in Poland; Véronique lives in France. But (in addition to being physically identical) their lives line up and intersect in complicated ways; when Weronika dies from her heart problems while singing at a concert, Véronique feels a deep loss she’s unable to quite pin down.

Véronique explores the details of life

Double Life delves into those feelings we find ourselves unable to quite correlate to physical realities, like déjà vu, for example. When we know something’s happened, but we can’t say directly what, or to whom. The movie never gives away why these women live parallel lives, but it explores the beautiful (fearful?) symmetry of this alignment that leads one woman to her grave, while allowing the other to change her course and fall in love. And God, is it a technical and aesthetic delight, for the eyes and the ears: all these rich greens and occasional yellows and reds fill the air of the film, and Zbigniew Preisner’s score, for one thing, draws thematic lines between scenes (as the music of Weronika’s last performance pops up in Véronique’s life) and it’s so, oh, spiritual and elegant –  every aspect of the movie is driven toward this same conclusion, I think, that events happen in our lives that we can’t entirely understand but, at least, we can try to enjoy them. The Double Life of Véronique works as art on multiple levels, even if it’s a little perplexing while you watch it, as it amazes us formally and intellectually, and I highly recommend it. (And if that’s not enough, you get to see Jacob naked in two different lives. So much visual pleasure.)

What else to dive into in the brief remaining time I have at this library-? I’m about to start on Charles Burns’ Black Hole, a graphic novel whose genre appears to be “venereal fiction.” I will not lie: I love the word “venereal.” It comes from the Roman name for the goddess of love, Venus, but it’s most frequently heard in the (itself outdated) expression “venereal disease.” So venereal, I think, connotes something dirty, sexual, a little dark, and unpleasant. The icky fluids and discharges that we wouldn’t mind sterilizing away. And this, more or less, from the couple chapters I read while standing in Borders, is what Black Hole is about – after all, the title without context could refer equally well to an all-consuming cosmic presence or to human orifices – vaginal, anal, or otherwise. It reminds me of Onibaba, another movie I recommend, where the horror flows from the hungry hole, as omnivorous as Star Wars‘s Sarlacc or 1984‘s proverbial memory hole. Holes, clearly, are interesting things. As is Pac-Man, on whom I sometimes find myself fixated. So easy to draw, such a recognizable icon of, more or less, ’80s pop culture, and what does he do? Ashley and I were discussing this: he moves by eating. His mouth opens and closes, and that’s his form of ambulation. It also reminds me of this beloved pie chart.

The hilarity of statistical representations

I frequently marvel at human anatomy. At the human body in general. It’s not really as wondrous, I think, as some have made it out to be. It’s a bunch of systems, working in pretty good harmony. Things fuck up a lot, and when they do, it usually hurts. We eat, but if we don’t eat enough, or the right things, that also hurts. We get malnourished. Scurvy. Rickets. Beriberi. Various other dietary deficiencies. And once you start eating, you really never get to stop. And you know, every human being is a freak in one way or another, whether it’s one of a million physical abnormalities or one of the countless mental quirks you develop just by virtue of living a “normal” human life. And so, this process of consumption is just so remarkable: food goes in the mouth. Enzymes in the saliva break it down. Through peristalsis it travels down the throat. Into the stomach, where acids attack it from all angles. I am reminded of a fellow named Michel Lotito, who I first encountered in the Guinness Book of World Records. As I recall, he ate lots of glass, and an airplane engine (piece by piece). This reminds me of Watchmen‘s Dr. Manhattan noting that a living and dead body have the same amount of molecules. Well, glass and a sandwich probably do, too. Just some, uh, food for thought.

This computer is telling me I have to go. So I shall. More writing will be forthcoming in the near future. Down with Big Brother.

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