The Lure (2017)

14425326694lurethestill.jpg

This film is a pretty fun one to explain to your friends: a Polish, horror-comedy musical about Mermaids by a first time, female director. There’s a lot going on in that description and, coincidentally, there is a lot going on in this film. While the modern-day fairy tale explores some very interesting themes and imagery, it has some inconsistencies with tone that remind you that this is the work of a first-time director.

Mermaids Silver (Marta Mazurek) and Golden (Michalina Olszanska) come ashore during a bizarre family picnic between Krysia (Kinga Preis), Perkusista (Andrzej Konopka), and Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). After almost luring the men into the water, the family brings the mermaids ashore and to the strip club where they perform as musical entertainment. The owner of the club is excited to have real live, actual mermaids who can perform in the show, and quickly hires them- although their pay goes to the family that has taken them in.

The film is, like most modern stories about mermaids, an exploration of female sexuality, particularly in youth. The film’s obvious parallels to The Little Mermaid closely reflect the Hans Christian Anderson original, but also spend time refuting the Disney animated classic of the same name. The two mermaids are what adds to the conversation- now instead of the “little mermaid” acting in a vacuum, there is a conversation going on between two girls who are in the same situation.

(I hate to use this qualifier but, spoilers ahead.)

On the one hand, we have Silver, who is obviously interested in a conventional, sexual relationship with Mietek. She quickly kisses him, flirts with him, plays the part of the innocent girl who wants to be “taken” by a masculine figure. Time after time she goes out of her way to make herself into what she believes he wants and expects from her. And, if we pay attention to our fairy tales, we can anticipate how well that is going to go for her. Golden, on the other hand, is concerned with two things- herself and her sister. When she is hungry for human flesh, she eats it. She explores her own sexuality and does what she things is fun. She is worried about her sister and always trying to steer her in the right direction. The strength of this character is only highlighted by the incredible performance by Michalina Olszanska, an actress who I will be going out of my way to see more of.

At the end of the film there is a crucial choice that Silver has to make, and one that Golden has repeatedly expressed her feelings on. And when the time comes to make that choice, and Silver chooses Mietek over her sister, Golden is horrified. The film ends with her retreating, alone, to the sea, to see her sister punished for doing exactly what she thought was the right thing. It could not be much clearer that this film is making a commentary on the way women are expected to behave, and how harmful this is to women and girls in a community. In expressing these views, I found the film quite successful.

There are elements in the film that are quite lacking. The character Krysia is a surprising non-entity, when I believe that a stronger presence from her could have brought some glue to the film. The screenplay left a lot to be desired, and there is a strong disparity between the two halves. I will admit to feeling like I was watching tow different movies, and I’m not confident that that is a good or exciting thing. However, I found the music engaging, the performances spectacular, and the consistency of the mermaid lore refreshing. There is not enough use of mermaid symbology in films, and it was wonderful to see someone who took the rules of their world seriously and used the symbols to their full potential.

The Lure is exactly what I wanted and was expecting in that it was bizarre. But it was not the most cohesive film. However, its disparate elements were not enough to cloud my enjoyment of the journey.

Advertisements

La La Land (2016)

gallery-1468611149-ryan-gosling-emma-stone.jpg

Everyone is talking about this movie. Everyone is trying to see this movie. It’s the musical sensation that is sweeping the nation. I tried to see this movie several of times before I actually got in to a sold-out showtime. When we left the theater, there was a line at the door of people waiting to get into the next one. This movie is capturing the hearts and minds of movie audiences unlike any non-Star Wars movie that’s come out in my lifetime. So what is it about this movie that is so… wonderful?

The short answer is- not everything. I did not fall immediately in love with La La Land, the musical romance directed by Damien Chazelle. To be completely honest, during most of the first act I was a little bit concerned that I was going to be one of the outliers to not lose my marbles over this film. But at some point- and I don’t even know at which point this was- I was hypnotized. At some point I just fell, utterly and completely, into the story and the characters, and completely without noticing.  The film, starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is a delightful adventure through a strange, uncynical version of Los Angeles. The movie speaks to modern sensibilities while calling back to the classical form of movie musicals. It brings something very, very old to the table and makes us ask ourselves, why can’t it be new again?

I’m sure there isn’t much I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said. I can go on and on and on about Emma Stone’s performance. The life that she brings to Mia, the struggling actress that she portrays, is quite unlike any other performance I’ve seen. She blends emotions that I’ve never seen combined, plays her role with vulnerability and passion and excitement. This is a stellar performance from Stone, proving (if there was anyone left with any doubts about her talent) that she belongs on the screen. I can talk about how wonderful it was to see Ryan Gosling put his crooning, casual voice to work telling his lovesick story as an aspiring jazz musician. I can sing the praises of the wonderful songs and score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, that provide the backbone of the story. These three elements, essentially the three main characters of the story, are complete expressions of youth, dreams, and real, true love, the core themes and subjects of La La Land.

Many of the musicals that are being produced today qualify as musicals because the characters break into spontaneous song. But dancing is a magical cinematic expression that was, for some crazy reason, abandoned in the Golden Age. I’ve never seen characters truly use dance to express their emotions and force the audience to suspend their disbelief, like the characters do in “Another Day of Sun” or “A Lovely Night.” And I’ve never, never, ever experienced something quite like the final montage of this film, a love letter to dance through dance, the perfect ending that this film deserves. There are truly not words to describe it, because it is only about movement, dance, and wordless expression of emotion. It is also incredible that the ending doesn’t feel like a gimmick- some final homage to inspirations An American in Paris (1951) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

I loved this film, that’s for sure, but I do want to say: don’t go into this film worrying that it won’t “live up to the hype.” How your experience with the film measures up to those who have seen it before you doesn’t have to be what’s going through your mind while Mia and Sebastian go on their first “date” to a Jazz Club, or have their big (and incredibly authentic) fight over a home cooked meal. The only thing you should have in your head while watching this film is just that-this film. Let yourself fall into it. Give it some of your trust and suspend some of your disbelief. You’ll, more likely than not, get something truly magical out of the experience.

Old and French: The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

I’ll be doing my best for this review not to just compare this film to Jaques Demy’s earlier musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, (1964), which is a much more famous but, in my opinion, a much less sophisticated film. Where The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has many of it’s roots in the tradition of melodrama and Opera, The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) has roots in musical theater. The film is a much more intricate, much more fun, and much more energetic entry into Demy’s informal romantic trilogy (Lola [1961], Umbrellas, and this final entry).

the-young-girls-of-rochefort-1.png

The film centers on a pair of twins, Delphine and Solange (played by real life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac), who live in the small town of Rochefort. Solange, a composer, and Delphine, a dancer, yearn of Paris, and decide that at the end of the week they will set out for the big city. We are also introduced to their Mother (Danielle Darrieux) who runs a French Fry restaurant in the city, a sailor and painter who yearns for the Feminine ideal (Jaques Perrin), a music shop owner with an unfortunately silly last name (Michel Piccoli), and two young, charming traveling performers who have come into town for the weekend (George Chakiris and Grover Dale). They’re all brought together by a wonderful score and soundtrack, with music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by director Demy.

The sheer number of characters gives the film a lot of breathing room. Every character has their own song, their own moment to define who they are, so none of the characters feel superfluous or shallow. They all have something to add to the theme of the piece, which is simply, “Isn’t it magical to meet someone and instantly be in love?” Every person goes on a distinct journey, but I would wager to say that most of the characters are the same person at the end that they are at the beginning. The problem that most of them face is not internal, but rather external. The major problem of their life is that they haven’t met that right person yet.

The movie is something of a sing-through musical, and the scenes that are not set to music have rhyming dialogue (including a particularly impressive dinner scene at the middle of the second act). The characters effectively show their emotions through song and dance, and the combined use of the two- or lack-thereof- creates a unique emotional language for the film. During songs where characters express longing or regret, their is no accompanying dance. When characters are happy with their lives or are engaged in flirtatious discourse, there is a mix of song and dance. And when, finally, a person meets The One, there are no words that could possibly express their emotions. Their only possible way of expressing themselves is through dance. It’s only natural that the American Visitor of the film is played by Gene Kelly, who graces the screen with that joy of dance that he always brings to the table.

There is almost no way that this film could have had a sad ending. The world that the film inhabits it truly magical, and if the characters don’t meet the true love of their life, they still occupy this magical space, full of music and dance and, most importantly, color. The colors of this film are absolutely spectacular. The vibrant dyes of the wardrobe not only makes the huge cast of characters easily differentiated, but also shows us the different shades in the personalities of the characters. The costumes are not the only source of the color, the world also provides a lush array of tones that makes the whole world complete, and a joy to spend time in.

Young Girls of Rochefort brings the escapist element that we can expect from musical cinema. The brilliant score and songs will become a part of your musical theater playlist. The imagery will stick with you. Your heart will be warmed to the core, as it should be when the characters burst into song.