Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012) by Tom Hooper

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Finally, Les Mis opened in Germany! Finally, I watched it!

You might think that this has been a livelong dream of mine, that I could think of nothing else while waiting for it to happen, that I was thrilled by the choices of actors – or devastated. But you would be wrong. I knew very little of Les Misßerables before, and I don’t feel that I know a lot more now. Sure, the plot is fairly clear now, some quotes that I may have heard before make sense – but I have never read the novel by Victor Hugo, I haven’t seen a version of the musical before now.

lesmis4And still, when people started talking about it on the blogosphere, I became intrigued and I wanted to see it – even more so when I heard that Helena Bonham Carter would be in it, singing once again as she had already done on Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anne Hathaway? Can she sing? Russell Crowe? Can HE sing? Hugh Jackman? Awesome, he can sing! The list of cast just got better and better and then I waited, patiently. Until yesterday:

The year is 1815, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) has spent 19 years in prison, five for stealing a loaf of bread, 14 more because he tried to escape. Now he’s on parole and he’s given the chance to better himself. But he can’t do that while still wearing the stigma of a con – so, he makes his former self disappear and builds a new identity. One, that becomes mayor of some city and a respected businessman. At his factory works a young woman by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who is dismissed by Valjean’s foreman after finding out that she has an illegitimate child.

Fantine takes to the street while Valjean has to face his past in the figure of lesmis2Javert (Russell Crowe) who was a guard at prison and recognizes the man. Valjean finds Fantine and takes her to the hospital where she dies after Valjean promises her to find her daughter, Cosette, and care for her. He does but has to flee with the small girl (Isabelle Allen) because Javert is after him again. Nine years later in Paris, Valjean and Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) live in hiding. Cosette falls in love with a young revolutionist, Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Javert once again enters their lives. Trying to escape they are caught up in the machinisms of a revolution and everybody has choices to make, debts to pay.

The story isn’t the greatest part of it, and I’m not even sure if it’s Hugo’s doing or simply the script of even the musical version, but there are certainly a few questions that are left unanswered, a little too many coincidences happening. But these probably shouldn’t even be mentioned in the light of a fantastic cast lesmis3giving a breathtaking performance. Yes, they can all sing and they do. And while they’re all really wonderful, it is Anne Hathaway who blows everyone else out of the water. Oscar-worthy performance? Abso-fucking-lutely (pardon my French, and the pun)! There are no words to discribe her intensity. She makes the audience feel lost with her, makes everyone want to reach out and protect her. She is the face that has been ruined, not by her own doing but by others judging her. She should have lived where others died but she doesn’t. She dies and the audience cries for her.

Luckily, they bring Anne Hathaway back for the grand finale because by then you have missed her – not because it had all turned boring and lame by now but simply because she was THAT good.

Whoelse was good? Well, you guessed it: Helena Bonham Carter. It doesn’t really matter what she does, she does it all fabulously. And the weight of not letting the whole show drudge into misery and sorrow lay heavy on her and Sacha Baron Cohen’s shoulders and they pulled it off and making it look effortlessly.

I’m mentioning these two actresses but I should mention everyone involved. lesmis9The cast was fabulous. I think I was most surprised by the role of Javert. It would have been easy to have him being the villain, somebody who doesn’t care. But Javert does care. He really believes that Valjean belongs in prison, that he’s a dangerous man. He also believes in the system, in the law, and that’s exactly why he must fail in the end – because the system fails him. He is confronted with the question of right and wrong and must admit to himself that he has been wrong all along, because he has put himself on the wrong side. I feel, that his is really the most complex of roles, more so than Valjean’s, because Valjean has the opportunity to redeem himself – Javert doesn’t. And Crowe is really great at protraying this.

There’s another interpretation that lends itself to these two characters, of course. It feels a little like a love story between the two men. None of them seems to have any other romantic linkages but one is always following the other, watching for him. Yes, there’s antagonism but there’s also honor and a sense of one coin with two sides. One is Valjean, the other Javert (their names are eerily similar with the prominant Vj/Jv sounds in them). It’s really a kind of symbioses that binds them, they cannot let go, they cannot carry on.

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There is so much in the story, there’s so much in the songs, there are emotions and thoughts. I will watch it again and listen to the soundtrack and maybe even read the novel – hopefully it will all make sense at some point, or at least the things that I found a little lacking in the plot. It was the only thing that lacked anything really, as this was a brilliant movie. Now go see, if you haven’t already.

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Red Riding Hood – she’s not little anymore

Red Riding Hood (2011) by Catherine Hardwicke

That’s what I watched last night and am not even sure why (my movie habits are out of control these days probably because I am waiting for “Scream 4” – which opens today, finally). The trailer looked okay and I am always interested in how old legends/myths/fairy tales are being reproduced in out time and age. I guess that is a good reason.

What almost kept me from watching this was “From the director of Twilight.” I watched it, I didn’t like it. On the other hand, had the poster said “From the director of Thirteen” it would have been another story entirely and Catherine Hardwicke has made both these movies.

The original story has been changed: the wolf is now a werewolf and it terrorizes a whole village. The village in which Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) and sister. Said sister is promptly the first victim in the movie. Valerie is devastated and the village people set out to kill the wolf. They kill something, too, unfortunately it is not the werewolf they had aimed for but just a common wolf. They are informed of this by Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a self-proclaimed expert who has killed a werewolf who then turned out to have been his wife. He has come to the village to help but turns out to be a despotic nuisance who spreads paranoia among the villagers and finally claims that Valerie is a witch because she can talk to the wolf. The wolf wants Valerie to come with him, which narrows the suspects down to Val’s two suitors – the man she loves, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), and the man she is supposed to marry, Henry (Max Irons).

Solomon sets a trap but things get jumbled and he is bitten by the beast which leads to his death as one of his men kills him, using the same reasoning Solomon has used as he killed the man’s brother, “A man bitten is a man cursed.”

Valerie meanwhile sets out to her grandmother’s (Julie Christie) to find out who the real beast is and kills him in the end. Only, her love is bitten by the werewolf in the final battle and becomes a werewolf. So, no happy ending.

The movie looked a little like The Brothers Grimm meets Twilight but that is not necessarily a bad thing since they are visually quite interesting. Unfortunately, the story did not make it into that realm since Hardwicke gave away the identity of the werewolf too early, at least if you’re observant you find out quite easily. The references to the old fairy tale are amusing and the changes thought through quite well. Yet, what remains of the fairy tale is the partriarchal narrative of men’s angst of female sexuality and thus Valerie remains a virgin. Marriage does not turn out to be all it promised and the killing is set into motion by infidelity. I came out of the movie a little confused and a little disappointed because on the surface it is a good movie, if you look closer the story is quite disturbing in it’s old-fashioned views and thus reminded me of the whole Twilight-franchise. It values the same hidden messages: no sex before marriage, man is beast, woman best remains a virgin, blah blah. I know that this is classic fairy tale narrative but we live in the year 2011. Would it have hurt to put in a little self-empowerment for women? Would it have hurt to not put in any lesbian titillation – that was as that totally out of place AND character? And would it have hurt to integrate people of color and not have them pose as “the other”?

There’s no doubt the movie has some good acting in it. Especially Julie Christie as grandmother is fantastic – a little new age but at that time and place with the underlying promise of witchcraft. Unfortunately, that does not make the underlying messages any less dangerous and old-fashioned.

Chloe – or what it means

Chloe (2009) by Atom Egoyan

I watched Chloe last night. These past few days I had actually become a little obsessed with the idea of watching it. I guess it had everything to do with going to watch Julianne Moore playing gay again. Julianne Moore is an outstanding actress, talented and able. And she’s super-hot.

I have not watched the movie this one based on, Nathalie. Strangely enough, I wanted to see it back in the days but never quite got to it. Now I am going to watch it and will probably end up owning both on DVD some day. So, I guess, you already think I liked the movie. Well, I am not quite sure about that, it confused me a lot. And I am not sure if it confused me because I didn’t get it or because I did get it completely. (Like Mulholland Drive which wasn’t all that difficult to understand but still confusing in it’s simplicity.)

I feel like there are many layers to this film and I would like to work through those I have detected. If we only look at the story the movie may seem a little too over the top with a few notions that make the lesbian feminist in me rather uncomfortable. For once, the implication that women seek the company of prostitutes as well as men do. Another implication is that every woman (I guess I could put “straight” in front of “woman” here) is in some way fascinated by the profession of a prostitute. Then, of course, we have the (potentially) lesbian character who obviously had a difficult relationship to her mother, seeks men to satisfy but women to love – and dies in the end. Controversial tropes and they have been discussed at length in other places so I will not go into them here.

And I almost forgot the NOT cheating husband who has the opportunities to sleep with other women but does not while the wife does not only have an affair but an affair with a woman – and she’s straight (or not?).

But if that was all there was to this it would not be based on a European (much less a French) movie. French filmmakers like to be deep and artist-y with a lot of sex-scenes thrown in for good measure. And if you have stars like Fanny Ardent, Emmanuelle Beart and Gerard Depardieu in it it will have a lot of all that. I generally don’t like French movies (even less than I like German movies) because they try to be artist-y while I am all for telling a good (straight [as not to say simple, again; not as to say not gay]) story. I am simple that way.

An underlying red thread in the story is Catherine Stewart’s (Moore) motherhood. Her relationship to her son has been disrupted (it is not told by which incident or if it was just rebellion on his side) but Michael – the son – is now in therapy and everybody seems relieved that he is. There is an indication toward an incestuous relationship between mother and son. They have been close and Catherine struggles with the new situation of his rejection toward her. Her sexual encounter with Chloe seems to draw for the most part on Chloe’s sexual relationship with Catherine’s husband David but since that relationship was invented by Chloe and never happened the linkage between her night with Chloe and Chloe’s sexual encounter with Michael establishes itself retrospectively.

Chloe can also be seen as a substitute child for Catherine (I don’t like this implication either but it’s still there). Since her own child is rejecting her she is “adopting” Chloe as her own. The token from Chloe, a slide or hair comb,  is given with the reference that it has been Chloe’s mothers. Catherine does not wear it until the very end of the movie, indicating that her motherhood has come full circle and that her relationship with Michael is as strong as it has been before (but maybe that is an illusion – the movie is very ambiguous in the end).

There are a lot of indications that the story is more about mother and son than about wife/husband. Neesen plays a sallow character; the male equivalent to a woman who has been cheated on by her husband. But he is not believable maybe because the stereotype is not believable.

The question of the relationship between the two women is not solved. Chloe seems to have become quite obsessed with Catherine (a notion I can completely understand) and Catherine is not as disinterested as she wants to be seen. Is she honestly fighting Chloe’s advances? Is she flattered? Is the token she is wearing in the end a reminder for both husband and son that she is a desirable woman that will not be taken for granted anymore? There are indeed many open questions in the end.

The movie comes full circle with the celebration in the end mirroring that in the beginnning. Only, the picture perfect which Catherine could not establish at the surprise party for her husband is intact in the end at the graduation party for her son. One might think that a family that lived through a trauma like they had, would be disrupted but it’s indeed the contrary. How deep does this picture perfect go? Did Chloe die to reestablish the perfect family? The perfect heterosexual couple? Heteronormativity?

It would be sad if this was the sole purpose for this movie. And the closeup on the token in the end belies this theory. But what does it mean?

I don’t know but it sure is fun to think about it. Chloe challenges perspective. The story is not extraordinarily clever or new but the performances of Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried give it that little extra depth to make it more than just a story about not very likable stereotypes.