Monday, January 21, 2013

Grit and Gristle of Love — Rust and Bone

Rust - the creaky underside of things, the sense of aging, of loss, and the label for something no one wants. Bone - the thing that gets broken, in fighting, in loving, in the process of living.

OVERALL: Recommended

A memorable and unlikely title for an unlikely pair in this film. Both terms indicate the grit and gristle of the love story in this film, about struggle, loss, and a very physical brokenness followed by healing.

Jaques Audiard gives us a visually stunning and originally told story, with a wide range of images from the quiet and sublime to the violent and gritty, which induce a rhythmic, hypnotic effect. Yet somehow the story also stays grounded, never leaving the practical, the flesh-and-blood, and the honest cause-and-effect of choices.

Marion Cotillard delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Stephanie. At first plucky and energetic, Stephanie's loss of her legs plunges her into an eye-sunken depression; she must be rehabilitated by Matthias Schoenaerts' character Ali. Cotillard portrays this arc with unnerving accuracy, going from headstrong to immobile, from self-doubting back to confidence. Both her missing legs and the wearing of prosthetic limbs were done with painstaking care.

Ali must keep ahold of his son. His story revolves around a messy world of street fighting and shady back-room money-making, ostensibly to take care of his son, but also to feed his own immature sense of manhood. He breaks his hands on other men's jaws—another kind of disfigurement—but eventually he must channel his instincts in a better direction.

Stephanie does not judge Ali for his primal instinct to fight; she respects it. She is extremely tough, and in this way she affirms herself and him. She calls him out on his immaturity with women, but he is nearly deaf to what she says. Yet he comes around. He realizes, in a climactic moment achieved with a hushed but intense whispered cry over the phone, that he loves Stephanie and does not want her ever to leave. This is the deepest kind of love, born of mutual loss and unbelievable struggle, and the respect each has for the other's pain.

The bulk of the orcas was fearsome. The cinematography of the orcas was an absolute highlight: an earthquake-like accident, with whole pieces of a platform falling into the water in a cataclysmic scene. This is balanced by the healing and dance-like exchange between one of the whales and Stephanie near the end.

The sex is excellent, not because it is graphic or especially titillating, but because it honest, real, and done with full view of Stephanie's deformed body. After her sexual encounters with Ali she is able to recover her sense of herself and even go back to the site of her accident and her former career as a dolphin trainer. Through her healing process we are shown how our sexuality can help bring us back from despair, and we are shown how a disability does not detract from sexuality.

Rust and Bone is a very moving film about healing through pain and struggle, and about affirming ourselves rather than wallowing in guilt or shame as we move through our worst mistakes and losses. No metaphysical or religious answers are given for the suffering we go through. But it is a meditative film on the body, its power and its longings, and its connection to our consciousness. This film will be remembered for its contribution to the understanding of the human body and its capacity, no matter how beaten down or disfigured, to recover and to bring with it the human spirit.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rise of a New Way—Zero Dark Thirty

"I am the motherfucker who found this place."

OVERALL: Recommended

It is not too soon for this film. About more than Osama Bin Laden, about more than Barack Obama, more than 9/11, more than military tactics, more than an individual's courage in the face of overwhelming odds, Zero Dark Thirty is about the rise of a new age, one where the leadership of women makes the difference.  

Jessica Chastain, as CIA operative Maya, in a iron-hard performance of grit, courage, determination, and intellect suberbly delivers that surprising line—I am the motherfucker who found this place— in front of a cadre of stiff suits in the White House around a model of Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad.

Maya convinces her colleagues and ultimately the rest of the world that she had found her target. More than that, she convinces the men in positions of influence to set their careerism aside and focus on the thing that most needs doing.

Jason Clarke begins the film as the ruthless interrogator Dan, and while Maya has a hard time stomaching his practices, she is a realist and does not back down. She outlasts Dan psychologically, staying on after he moves to back to Washington an inner poise and endurance even greater than his.

Let us not miss the point about torture: it is a merciless practice. We are asked in the film to weigh it. And yet, there is real movement in the film away from torture as the story progresses. The CIA is forced to find other ways to get their information, and respect the far less gladiatorial but more quietly persuasive ways of Maya. I find it completely mystifying why Bigelow is being taken to task over this. Perhaps a more careful viewing of the film is in order.

One of the unique features of the film is that while we know the ending, we do not know the result of the penultimate plot. The location of Bin Laden's courier was won with the sacrifice of lives. This creates terrific tension in the film, right up until the actual capture. The final scenes are depicted with an honesty (how could they have crashed a helicopter?) and a rhythm that has the heart beating well after the film.

Zero Dark Thirty reminds us that we are truly in a new age, one where tactics like waterboarding begin to take a back seat, and where the good-ol-boy institutions are not effective anymore on their own, one where a woman can not only lead soldiers, but lead using every device, keep everyone focused on the goal to the exclusion of all else, and experience the utter loneliness of that kind of leadership.

It was a real goal, not a fantasy. One that was really accomplished, not just dreamt about, by a woman in the prime of her career. This fact makes the heroism and suspense of Kathryn Bigelow's film a sharp and poignant commentary, one every American should see.