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Sundays at Videotheque

Videotheque in South Pasadena, CA was my film school post-college. Even though I live far away now, I still make it out almost every Sunday to check out movies that I have no luck finding online, for money or otherwise. In this ongoing series, I will give my brief impressions about my rentals from the past week.

Esther Kahn (2000) dir. Arnaud Desplechin, starring Summer Phoenix, Ian Holm

The movies of Arnaud Desplechin movie have left me cold. Perhaps it is the language and culture barrier, but his overly talky style and his overstuffed narratives with little drive frustrate me. Esther Kahn has become a big exception for me though. In this movie, the dialogue of the characters and the narrator give this period piece a modern sensibility. This film reminds me of how the first time I clicked with Andrea Arnold after merely liking some of her movies was with Wuthering Heights, which was a gritty, ugly, yet perfect adaptation of that nearly trite material. The best part of this movie is clearly Summer Phoenix, who is as talented as her siblings River and Joaquin, though does not have a fraction of her fame. I was entirely convinced that she was a Jewish-British girl, perhaps because this is literally the first role I have ever seen or remember her from. Her conflict is a fascinating one as well. She is an emotionally stunted person as a result of her growing up in poverty and her family life, and the only way that she can feel real emotion is to pretend through acting. Of course, she cannot be a great actor if she has never felt anything deep, so she goes to more and more extremes to feel emotion. Ian Holm is also so good as her voluntary acting coach, who gives her genuinely good advice that works outside of the film.

Homicide (1991) dir. David Mamet, starring Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, J.J. Johnston, Rebecca Pidgeon

Treating a basic thriller as a precise literary text could be a recipe for disaster and come off as pretentious, but Mamet has been doing exactly this for decades, and the results are always interesting if not entirely successful. The word ‘fuck’ in his hands becomes not just punctuation but a way of expressing so many emotions, and no ‘fuck’ is out of place. Mamet’s best gift other than his writing is his way with actors, and the fact that all the actors are on the same page with his heightened dialogue and the deliberate pacing of his story is a marvel to behold. It is kind of like seeing a stage play on film, and though that usually doesn’t work that well, it does here, because Mamet can pace for film as well as for live theater. Joe Mantegna’s character’s search for meaning and validation from trusted institutions is a universal struggle, but of course, there’s always a con of some sort in Mamet’s movies, and it’s especially devastating in this movie.

 

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