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Friday, 19 July 2013

Your movies suck* (with some notes on Jane Austen)

Some bad films I've watched lately: 
1/ Fröken Julie/ Miss Julie (1951): 
Based on a play by August Strindberg, which came out a couple of years after "A doll's house" by Henrik Ibsen. "Miss Julie" and "A doll's house" have opposite views on the woman question. The most repulsive thing about the play, and therefore the film, is August Strindberg's misogynistic attitude expressed through the characterisation of Julie and her mother- Julie not only has sex with her servant (once) and becomes dishonoured (without witness) but later is trampled on and humiliated by the servant himself, who treats her as worthless and calls her "a servant's concubine"; the mother who has progressive ideas like equality for women is presented as a mad woman, who at 1st makes the husband lose friends and connections and who destroys the whole farm because she makes all women do men's work and all men do women's work and who once in a while bursts into laughter like a lunatic and who even burns the whole estate of her husband to resist a formal marriage without any concern for her own daughter's safety. Julie is unstable, foolish, irrational, impulsive, weak, basically unsympathetic, unlikeable, even odious once in a while (asking her fiancé to jump over a riding whip as though he's a dog) and seemingly mad. 
The author, I must add, called the lawmaker to consider the emancipation of these "half-apes... mad... criminal, instinctively evil animals" (meaning women). 
That aside, the story isn't notable in any way (though I, to be frank, don't see anything particularly remarkable in the play "A doll's house" except the shock it evoked the moment it came out), so though the acting is good, very good, it doesn't save the film. 

2/ Um amor de perdição/ Doomed love (2009): 
A Portuguese film based on a novel written and perhaps set in the 19th century, it, I assume, has the same flaws as the modernised version of "Romeo and Juliet". The love between Simão and Teresa is merely imbecile and unconvincing in the modern era, because they merely see each other and love at 1st sight, understanding nothing about each other, yet the 1st time talking on the phone they talk about running away and are both ready to leave everything behind and later are willing to die for each other. When Teresa's taken to a sanatorium (because she's not right in the head- the film doesn't specify), Simão rushes to the place and kills the fiancé. What's the point? Can he rescue her? Can he prevent people from taking her away? No. So what's the point? And later he kills himself. 
Their love is similar to that between Romeo and Juliet at 1 thing- their fathers are enemies. I wouldn't call it a doomed love though. Just an idiotic love.
Another love which can be called "doomed love" in the film is Mariana's unrequited love for Simão. Again it's idiotic, she knows right from the start that Simão's heart is elsewhere but keeps clinging to him, while they actually don't really know each other. In the end, she also kills herself. 
Ah wait, it doesn't end there. I think the film ends with another "doomed love", between Rita, Simão's little sister, and the black gardener, causing 2 conflicts simultaneously- race and class. 
The only love which draws my attention from the beginning to the end and which isn't explained and doesn't come to anything is that between Simão's mother and her younger son Manuel. They aren't close- it looks more like they have an incestuous relationship and that is more fascinating than any other love in the film. Such a pity that they don't dig deeper into it, for, not developed, it becomes rather pointless. 

3/ Mansfield park (1999): 
I know it's wrong to judge a book by its movie. 
But I'm going to do it anyway. 
"... It could also be argued that Jane Austen was sublimely indifferent (at least in her novels) to the outside world. Mansfield Park was written at the height of the Napoleonic War, yet the war is barely even mentioned in this or any other of her novels. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the country was in turmoil as a result, again barely a mention—her novels contain not a single mention of the steam engine, the growth of the manufacturing cities or even the turnip (which had a much more profound effect on the British economy than any plant with the exception of cotton—also not mentioned). She even manages to omit any mention of the abolition of the slave trade of 1808, four years before she started the novel and the culmination of a huge, controversial public campaign." (wiki)
Jane Austen's chief concern, at least according to "Pride and prejudice" and "Emma" and now "Mansfield park", is the question "Marry for love or marry for money?", and in 3 cases, the answer is to get married to the man you love who isn't poor. As usual, light and predictable. I knew right in the 1st minutes that Fanny and Edmund would end up with each other and Henry Crawford would turn out as a charismatic but horrendous, untrustworthy guy. Unlike "Pride and prejudice" and "Emma", this book briefly mentions things outside people's gossips and discussions on other people and marriage- poverty, slave trade, plantations, racism and adultery, none of which is developed or elaborated on (actually even less in the novel than in the film, according to wiki). The sexual intercourse between Henry Crawford and Maria has no other function than exposing Henry's true character and confirming that Fanny has been right to distrust him, and later, unveiling Mary's true intentions and personality and thus breaking off the relationship between her and Edmund, thus bringing Edmund and Fanny together in the end. It may be better to read the book and form a more valid opinion, but I don't think the film cuts much from the book the 'handling' of the adultery- the fact that there's hardly anything happening makes the story light and shallow. 

4/ Tristana (1970): 
As a film by Luis Buñuel, it disappoints and, in my opinion, isn't up to its praises. Tedious, mediocre, pointless, sometimes melodramatic, with unconvincing characterisations, unclear and inconsistent characters, absurd dialogues, silly actions and situations. However I feel that the person most responsible for its flaws is perhaps not the director, but Catherine Deneuve. She looks too gorgeous and aristocratic or at least intellectual for the role of Tristana and has that same cold, almost emotionless, expression as in all other films I have seen ("Repulsion", "Belle de jour", "La dernier métro", "Indochine", some parts of "Les temps qui changent", etc). One can't say what kind of person Tristana really is. At the beginning she looks like a nice enough person. Suddenly she talks ceaselessly about how she hates Don Lope, the man who adopts her, one doesn't understand why. And there's no development of character, suddenly her words and actions show her as a repulsive, selfish, insensitive, shameless, greedy, opportunistic, ungrateful, ruthless person, but Catherine Deneuve, with her flat portrayal, doesn't look at all like such a person. One doesn't know one's supposed to despise her or sympathise with her not because she's complex and multi-sided, but because both the characterisation and the acting are mediocre. 
Neither do I know what kind of person Don Lope is and whether one is supposed to like or dislike him and why he loves Tristana so much and cares for her in spite of her disdain and why he accepts her when she shamelessly comes back after running away with her lover and why he puts up with all of her mockery and humiliation and why he's so blind, blah blah blah. That is, I haven't mentioned the lover, whose personality I can't see either. 


*: the title of a book by Roger Ebert. 


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Update on 21/7/2013: 
Last night I watched the 2007 TV film adaptation of Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey". I can't place it in the same basket with these 4 films because, to consider all aspects objectively, it isn't bad at all. 
Still, 1 thing should be written down: When it came to the part where Catherine felt uneasy and suspected some secrets involving the death of Mrs Tilney, my mom guessed "Perhaps she's alive and mad and locked up somewhere in the house? Or perhaps she was murdered by her husband?" I said "Mom, this is Jane Austen, ain't Bronte." Turned out I was right. Jane Austen's Jane Austen. Again, it confirms what I have always thought about her, that her characters aren't complicated, that there's nothing complex or striking in her books, that her strength doesn't lie in characterisations and plots and stories, that there are always people talking about or discussing or speaking ill of other people, that her books are light and predictable, that her chief concern is "Marry for love or marry for money?", that her conclusion is always "Marry a man who loves you and whom you love and who isn't poor either and who, at the same time, is also good-looking and kind-hearted and a gentleman." 
It's not impossible that I may change my mind some day, but so far her books aren't to my liking. Prefer Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte.




Update on 6/11/2014: 
I changed my view on Jane Austen a while ago- now she's 1 of the writers I admire and adore. But my thoughts on the film "Mansfield Park" remain the same. A lesson to learn: Don't judge a book by its movie. 
Please read this post: http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2014/09/adapting-jane-austen.html
My remarks here on Jane Austen, I admit, are ridiculous and embarrassing, and this post should be deleted. However, I choose to keep them, as well as all the other posts during this period, to remind me that some writers require more time and I should be careful next time to make such comments on acclaimed authors. 

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