It’s not the time to go to the movies right now. For one thing, with the exception of Everything Is Illuminated (coming out 9/16), the worthy releases of this month are limited to the film-festival circuit; Toronto, Venice, and Telluride all crowd into this period. As for Illuminated, surprisingly, first-time director Liev Schreiber favors cute over the historical contextualization that formed the backbone of Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent novel about an American writer tracing his Ukranian-Jewish roots. Why I still recommend the film, however, is its final scene, the most affecting depiction of the legacy of US immigration that I have ever seen.
Just: Don’t see March of the Penguins. That this Splenda-sweet anthropomorphizing piece of nuclear-family propaganda was the highest-grossing indie film of the summer while the brilliant Grizzly Man, which examines the very dangers of anthropomorphizing, lurked mostly below the radar blows my mind. And the more I think on Broken Flowers, the crosser it makes me. When I first saw it, I surrendered some to its icy appeal, but still felt vaguely unmoved. A month or two later, I can’t believe I fell even a little bit for another aggrandizement of a man drowning in his own self-entitlement, even if he is Bill Murray and even if he does possess an excellent soundtrack. Such unresolved self-pity lurking in that nest of quiet (male) sadness. What kind of a man (a poorly complected one, at that) breaks it off with Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton and Julie Delpy, and mostly loafs about in a gorgeously appointed home while his best friend (the estimable Jeffrey Wright) hops around doing his emotional work for him? Not one I feel very sorry for, at any rate. Not one I care to watch for two hours, certainly.
Better to save your dollars for disaster relief. And to listen to music. Music! This is the exact moment when we need a soundtrack rather than a visual. We need a medium that enables us to better access our emotions rather than a vehicle for dissociation. God knows I love hiding out at the movies, but this is a time to strike forward, not to shy from our exasperation and disbelief and grief.
Go listen to Nina Simone sing “Trouble in Mind.” Like all of Nina’s best work, it swoops down to the darkest places we ever live and then back up again, reminding us that despair’s never a permanent residence:
Trouble in mind
But I won’t be blue always
‘Cause the sun’s gonna shine
In my backdoor some day
Here are some ways to help.
Everything I wanted to say about film today tastes like chalk in my mouth. I can’t peel my eyes away from the television news, and the last time this happened was September 11, 2001. The long-term effects of Katrina are far more devastating than those of 9/11, though, especially for the many, many poor people facing the demise of everything and everywhere that they know. I just keep thinking on my visit to New Orleans three years ago; how charmed I was by the last authentic city in the United States (and I do count my beloved, if completely commodified, NYC in that count); how deeply connected New Orleans denizens were to their city’s culture, architecture, cuisine, even its foibles. We have not only lost a crucial part of our history — a living part that connected us to both our Native American and European roots in a profoundly immediate way — but we now are forced to confront the stark reality of the horrendously governed society to which we have devolved. It’s ugly.
If you must stop looking at this demise today, and if you have the luxury to be able to do so, I say go see The Constant Gardener. Perhaps it is the only film that will afford an unguilty escape right now. Certainly, it is the best one. City of God director Fernando Meirelles teased out of a John Le Carré novel a tremendous epic of postcolonialism and love set amidst (rather than separate from) a contemporary Africa gone wild with corporate greed and mortal danger and disrepair. And somehow, it is uplifting. Even today I can endorse it.