Monday, June 16, 2014

Top 10 Silences of the Year in Film (2013)

Film is a visual medium, this is the stock statement to say when talking about movies and how they should be.  I think dialog is a very crucial part, certainly in the past, I dunno, 80+ years in cinema.  But moments in cinema where it's really on the actors to express things without words, the directors and writers still working to make things palpable, emotional, maybe even profound when there are no words, we're just watching characters *do* things (remember in Pulp Fiction as Bruce Willis walking to his apartment and going about his watch-retrieving business before, spoiler, killing John Travolta?  Yeah, like that), or just thinking.

Seeing characters in a moment of thought or contemplation is an infinitely interesting thing in a story where people have to, by nature of especially newer films, keep moving and the story has to keep going.  Surely if folks like Tarkovsky or Bresson were still around this might not be an issue.  But for now, those moments can really POP out in a movie.

Pacific Rim 

Two fisherman on a beach stand in awe as a damaged Jaeger (robot) comes out of the fog and the water and rises up so looming over them as if it could be one of those Kaiju monsters - you really don't know until it finally appears in its bent-over position and crashes to the beach.  The big "Other" has landed.  There is little for these beach-combers to think about.  The "monster" has hit shores, damaged and irreparable, dying almost.

Inside Llewyn Davis - Llewyn almost runs over a cat!  He pulls over to he side of the road in a screech, and then looks back out to see the cat, possibly in a silhouette, limping off into the woods.  We're left to think as Llewyn does: what the hell was that?  Followed up with: Is that the same cat as the Gorfeins?  Or is that the 'fake' Ulysses that I let go some miles back?  It's like the ghost of a cat coming back around, like out of mythology (this comes up in my mind especially on reading a "conspiracy theory" that Llewyn Davis *is* the cat, or an extension of Davis).  What happens if you nearly kill your extension?  It has to leave you with something.  But Davis ultimately shrugs it off and moves along on his lonesome.

The Act of Killing

The main living monster, Anwar Congo, returns to a key location at the end of the film where he performed many horrible things, including murder and torture.  Though not completely without sound (he heaves and makes sounds as if he is about to vomit, I don't remember if he does but I don't think so), he is mostly just sitting there in this room, no words to say, and you just know a flood of memories has come upon him.  This man can never be forgiven for his crimes - it's stated in the film he likely participated in a thousand deaths - but that one moment is certainly haunted enough to leave an impact.  (Note - this character may have said something in this scene, but he was mostly just sitting there in terrible, solitary discomfort).

Enough Said - Julia Louis Dreyfuss says a quick hello to the man he's about to do a massage for... up a very big flight of stairs.  She has to walk this same flight of stairs every time she comes over.  The first time we see this uncomfortable silence, it's awkward, funny, we almost want to come over and help her out through the screen.  She smiles through the whole time she climbs those stairs, but we know what she's thinking "WHAT THE BLEEP, MOVE, HELP ME!"  It's that simple but complicated moment where the social contract becomes muddled by the basic thing of this: in order to get help, you gotta ask for it.

Before Midnight - After a blazing, long argument, the kind that keeps going even after you think it's all over and done with, Jessie is told by Celine that she doesn't love him anymore.  He sits in this empty hotel room, looking at the objects (bed, wine bottle), and we can see his sadness, being lost, and then the moment where he gets the "idea" of what to do.  The scene after this is the real masterstroke of the film, and one of the best scenes maybe ever between a couple on screen (yes, I'm getting that platitudinal), but that twenty five, thirty seconds where Jessie is in the room by himself, it's that moment where we almost get to think with him.

Fruitvale Station - Though it's technically a 'book-end' silence, with the middle portion being a conversation between Michael B. Jordan's protagonist and Octavia Spencer's mother in prison, it's mostly here about Jordan sitting on the rocks of a beach with a bag of weed.  Is he only thinking about his time in prison and this one slice that really pained him?  Perhaps, in pat terms of 'this is what the movie is showing us'.  But there's a lot more going on just in Jordan's eyes, that ocean, the sense that he is out there in the ocean already, and looking to pop back out into reality.  Then goes the weed.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Jordan has a quasi Jake LaMotta moment -  is told by his wife that she wants a divorce and that, very possibly, he'll never see his kids again.  He punches her, races to get his little girl, and rushes to his car.  Despite his wife and a maid trying to stop him, with his daughter in the passenger side he floors it, wrecks the garage door, and just in time stops before he completely wrecks the car- but not before his little girl gets a touch of whiplash.  The mother gets the kid and rushes away. 

It's here we get this long, horrible silence with out 'anti-villain' Mr. Belfort.  There is no narration here, like when he was caught cheating by his first wife and says "I felt awful, I filed for divorce three days later and moved Naomi into the house".

He just sits there, dumbfounded, blood trickling down his head profusely.  Does he *get* it now?  Does he know he's a completely terrible person?  I don't know.  This moment segues into him being read his charges for his crimes.  What he just did, which constitutes as assault and battery, endangering a child, destruction of property (also something he was never caught on when he was on those Lemmon-Ludes), it doesn't come back to haunt him.  But it's at this moment he's lost everything.  I think for a moment he does have some recognition, a moment of clarity.  The abyss stares back at him with a big middle finger.  You don't feel sorry for Belfort here, but he is painfully human.  

12 Years a Slave - Solomon Northrup has finally laid it all out for a sympathetic Canadian laborer (the "Magical Brad Pitt" of the story, maybe the only slight flaw in that someone as recognizable as Brad Pitt should come to this man's help).  But will he send word?  Near the end of this film, Solomon just stands around, perhaps this being an abstracted moment out of time, where he looks just completely in terror, like one of those frightened dogs in those Sarah MacLaughlin commercials about adopting abused animals.  The thought here isn't so deep - it's "what am I going to do?" - but then the kicker: for ten seconds, it almost feels like, his gaze turns to the audience.  This isn't unintentional, certainly not for an actor with the training and time in films that Chiwetel Ejiofor has had - Steven McQueen is, for just a moment, turning to the audience as if to say "Do you believe all this shit?  Is this what humanity IS?"  Then he goes back to looking out into the distance with his eyes about to cry at any moment.

Good God, it leaves an impact.  And it's the kind of silence that speaks more than even the BIG melodramatic moments like with Fassbender and Nyongo.

Blue is the Warmest Color - It's been some time since I've seen the film, but somehow this moment sticks out for me.  The main character, Adele (of the same name Adele Archeopololis, sic), has broken up with her girlfiend - or rather, she's broken up with her.  She still goes on, as she must, teaching her students in class and getting along.  But then she goes to the beach, and just sits on the middle of the ocean.  This character is adrift, though not totally sad.  Like the Hawke/Linkater scene it's a moment of contemplation, but it's far more enigmatic.

'Blue' is a very long film, over three hours, and there's fair arguments on what could have been cut to make a tighter narrative.  If the director had, you would have lost a scene like this.  There's nothing to do with 'plot' here, but it's loaded with conflict if you know where to look.  Or, as with so many European films of the past sixty years, it's about mood, and the mood of alienation, often created in the existential realm of oneself, and in the scope of society as a whole.  You could "lose" this scene in the water, on the ocean, watching Adele float along.  You'd lose that certain... I-don't-know-what, as the French say.

American Hustle

Christian Bale has just left in a huff.  The camera pans over from the door to a befuddled Bradley Cooper who asks the cleavage-generous, legs-open Amy Adams "You... you playing me?"  And she offers a coy reply.  After this, Cooper comes forward slowly, this silence that is kind of a two-parter: he takes her leg, he is coming close, he is getting closer, touching her leg, she's not warding him off.  But Cooper, as this bi-polar agent (? 2nd in a row for Cooper in a Russel flick), backs off, breathing in, going over to the window, breaking the silence with some sort of guttural sound that is less like a human and more like some gorilla with sexual blue-balls.  And Adams just sits there like 'what just happened?'

In a movie peppered - nay, really relying upon - with Crazy Character Moments, this is one that I still recall had me on the edge of my seat.  For all of the big bluster that Russell has his characters carry in the film, when there is restraint shown, it has even more power - and humor.

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