Thursday, September 20, 2007
I’m beginning to feel like a misanthrope and a curmudgeon. When did I notice I hear you say. The good new movies just aren’t coming at the moment through though the good old ones are. A recent unexpected DVD viewing of Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive reminded me of just how precious is the work of some of those artists whose output consists of just a few small infrequent jewels. The current art house rave After the Wedding comes wrapped in the sort of kudos that indicate a likely certifiable hit. It has won nominations and prizes everywhere including the audience award at the Sydney Film Festival for most popular film. Yet I cant help feeling that what I got from it was a rather large dose of manipulation by virtue of a script whose method seems to be to introduce, at near frenetic pace for such an intimate enterprise, coincidental and/or choreographed script developments designed to cause a shock or surprise at each turn. (At this point be warned I’m not going to bother concealing plot developments). Jacob is working as a schoolteacher in an Indian orphanage. The Director, Mrs Shaw, says a Danish would-be benefactor wants Jacob to go to Copenhagen and explain what the place is up to before a bucket of money will be tipped in to save the orphanage from closure. He heads off reluctantly and has a cursory meeting with the benefactor Jorgen, a big time businessman/property developer, loving husband and good father of young twins and a marriage age daughter. He invites Jacob to the daughter’s wedding the next day and Jacob suddenly sees his old flame who abandoned him in India, not being able to compete with the freely available drugs and promiscuous sex that Jacob enjoyed. We then realize that Jacob is the daughter’s biological father. The new marriage quickly descends into chaos as the daughter works out what’s going on and goes further into instant farce via an episode of philandering, (foreshadowed by some early flirting by the groom when he first meets Jacob). When this is tucked away, Jorgen admits he’s got cancer and very soon dies. But before that he need to settle accounts, as does everyone else. On and on the script goes, working us over, trying to wrench the emotions on ever more flimsily created occasions. Now that I think back to the director’s previous Open Hearts I see the same powers of contrivance beginning to get to work. That film did have some emotional punch and you didn’t get the feeling you were being constantly set up. The Dogma tradition which this film tags along on, is actually rather replete with such methods when you come to think about. And yet the critics and reviewers find this stuff ‘emotional and engaging” and “a captivating, precision-executed relationships drama” and best of all from some stoneheart on the Wall Street Journal, "a thrilling and beautiful celebration of the unpredictability of life." One man's unpredictability is another's script contrivance I fear. Needless to say the film has the sort of ‘happy ending” that apparently sends crowds out into the night with a warm inner glow. I thought, however, I’d been the subject of an artistic grapple tackle and had only just escaped.