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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 65

[65th of 100]. The strangest thing, at least for me, about this peculiar 1981 movie from Louis Malle is my recollection of it: I can remember seeing, on film, patches of a Polish forest and one of the protagonists being buried alive in a theatrical ritual, I can remember trips to the Sahara and a mystical English farm, I can remember limber monks who can lift themselves by their fingertips. Which I know are lies because none of these are ever captured on film. What there is instead are two grown men -- the theatre director Andre Gregory and the playwright and actor Wallace Shawn -- playing versions of themselves, meeting in a New York restaurant where for the next two hours we watch them dine and have a conversation. That's it. A movie with two men talking over fine food. On paper, it sounds utterly boring, although it was that very conceit that first attracted me to it, primarily of the belief that it could not possibly succeed. I have never been so happy with being mistaken. Because I love this film so much that when it got parodied in a gloriously unexpected episode of the TV sitcom Community, I got goosebumps. It felt like an affirmation from popular culture that this film is indeed worth remembering. But I've always loved talky movies, I enjoy elegantly staged extended conversations in them -- although a lot of them are composed in a kinetic way, always with the characters walking or interacting in some way to some other action, often with the scenery changing behind them, or bookended with extensive outside drama. This is what we get, for example, in John Hughes' The Breakfast Club or Woody Allen's Manhattan and Annie Hall or Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy or Kevin Smith's Clerks or Eric Rohmer's My Night at Maud's or Roman Polanski's Carnage or Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes or Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur or in Quentin Tarantino non-action set pieces. But to make the most ordinary of conversation the main fare is very rare, with only Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy and Richard Schenkman's The Man From Earth and Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men coming close to Malle's singular effort -- but even those three have something else that makes them far less ordinary: Kiarostami's film meanders in Tuscany, Schenkman's film is speculative fiction of the sci-fi variety, and Lumet's film is the forced interaction of jury members contemplating a murder verdict. I list all these films because they are uniquely beguiling, without having to resort to fussy action that many moviegoers seem to prefer. Their powers may in fact be ancient: we celebrate the Bard in literature, and these films, especially Malle's, are echoes of that. They center on the primacy of the storyteller, and how worlds can be thoroughly made through the power of the spoken word. I think film critic Roger Ebert said it best: "What [Malle's film] exploits is the well-known ability of the mind to picture a story as it is being told. Both Shawn and Gregory are born storytellers, and as they talk we see their faces, but we picture much more." What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich