Friday, January 02, 2009

Il y a longtemps que je t'aime -- two great female performances

I've been stuck in bed, or propped up on the sofa with my scarf and duvet wrapped around me decorously since New Year's Day which gives me the perfect excuse to watch movies. Two movies, both with female protagonists, are noteworthy.
  • The first is I've Loved You So Long written and directed by Phillippe Claudel, with a profoundly moving perfomance by Kristin Scott Thomas. (See Denby's review here.) Claudel is a novelist from Nancy and this is his first movie, and his novelist's eye allows him to unravel his disturbing story, about a six year old child who is murdered by his mother, slowly and patiently. It reminds me in many ways of last year's "The Diving Bell and the the Butterfly" which also demands patience of its audience. I loved that and I love this. Scott Thomas moves through the first half of the movie with so little emotion, such deadpan grayness, so that when you do see the flicker of a smile at her mouth, it is revelatory. There is a quiet intimacy, too, that made me question the glibness of my own relationships, or perhaps made me realize that it is okay (meet and right) to feel uncomfortable in service of the truth.
  • The second is Mike Leigh's Happy Go Lucky, a film that various critics have called uplifting, which makes me giggle, but I suppose in contrast to Leigh's other work, this could be true. (See Manohla's review here.) The reason to see this film is again the lead actress, Sally Hawkins, whose relentlessly upbeat nature is at the same time sweet, irritating and infectious. She bounds through the film with her skinny little legs clad in brightly colored tights & saggy leather boots and perky, jewel-toned clothes, making the best of every situation. And, what's lovely and unexpected is that just when you think she's a pushover, she surprises you. Mike Leigh's characters have always been fascinating to me, ever since Vivien and I watched Abigail and Laurence on the BBC way back in 1977. (Abigail's Party was chosen by the BFI as one of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.) The scene I found the most moving, even though it is almost without words, is when Poppy finds herself in an abandoned building site, at night, with a burbling, schizophrenic homeless man. She talks to him without judgement, moves with him almost as in a dance, like a creature, not a human being bound by the general mores of society. It is a beautiful scene, and he in turn, absorbs her compassion. Another reason to watch this film is to witness the friendship between Poppy and Zoe, her droll flatmate of ten years. It's very, very sweet.

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