Sunday, July 19, 2009

Movies and marriage

I’m writing much of this early Sunday morning, after getting in late, returning from the Maine Independent Film Festival (MIFF), in Waterville. Mary and I drove north (a trek I now make weekly, or more often in my job) to see two late day movies showing as part of this year’s festival, the 12th straight year that Waterville transforms from sleepy Mid-Maine community, into something much more common of larger, more urban locales.

Last year was our first time attending, when we saw the festival’s closing film, the wonderfully quirky, Skills Like These, which debuted in Waterville.

Saturday, we arrived a bit early for our 6:15 movie, with plans to walk around downtown. As has been common for much of the summer thus far, an alternate activity was required because of steady rain. Instead, we stopped by the Elm City Plaza and JC Penney, as I needed a few items for work, namely short-sleeve dress shirts.

The Elm City Plaza is typical of many of the strip malls/shopping centers erected during the economic development boom of the 1960s/70s. This was about the time that Maine’s downtowns were vacated, and shopping was dispensed from the pedestrian-friendly, densely packed city centers (in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, and Waterville), sprawling outward to multi-lane ribbons of asphalt on the outskirts of town.

As strip malls go, at least Elm City has some interesting diversions beyond JC Penney and K-Mart (although, the Big K has become a “go to” place to find some reasonably-priced casual clothing for me), like the large and well-stocked Mr. Paperback, as well as Maine’s musical oasis for all things recorded, BullMooose. Unfortunately, both Waterville exits of I-95 could be included in any critique of sprawl development—gray, lacking in personality, and the antithesis of what Shannon Haines and the folks at Waterville Main Street are trying to promote—a vibrant downtown core of locally-owned businesses. Haines, by the way, also serves as MIFF’s director.

Movies have always been an important intersection in my relationship with Mary. This was actually our anniversary weekend, with MIFF being part of our celebration of 27 years together. While Friday night found us in the Old Port in downtown Portland, experiencing an incredible dinner at The Grill Room, late afternoon Waterville was an entirely different experience—kind of retro, replete with Camaros and clothing styles and hairstyles reminding us of the mid-1980s.

Our opening cinematic choice found us at the Railroad Square Cinema, a place we’ve seen some outstanding movies in the past. The first movie, a French film, 35 Shots of Rum, was directed by noted director, Clair Denis. Denis is considered by many to be one of the world’s top working directors. This film was focused on the story of a Paris family, a black single father (Lionel, played by Alex Descas), and his bi-racial daughter (Joséphine, played by Mati Diop).

[Mati Diop and Alex Descas in 35 Shots of Rum]

35 Shots of Rum is a movie about parents and their children, and the conflict that comes from relinquishing what you spend much of your early life putting in place. Lionel recognizes that the day is coming when his daughter must (and should) assert her independence, and the consequent tension this engenders.

Unlike most Hollywood films, this one intimates subtleties, rather than hitting you between the eyes with literalness.

One thing that struck me about Denis’ film was her depiction of working class people and minorities, which some critics have commented on, particularly in her positive depiction of blacks in French film, which apparently isn’t always the case.

The working class aspect of the film that interested me was the ordinariness of the lives of the characters. Work, and Lionel’s occupation as a train driver, is something often missing in American film, especially the realities of its everyday sameness. Regardless of the work that most of us in the middle or even working classes perform, there is ubiquitous daily dullness and an element that attempts to crush any creativity, or originality connected with work. As much as I strive to maintain a life devoted to intellectual pursuits, and my writing outside of working hours, the 8 to 5 part of my day intrudes on all other aspects. Furthermore, most of the people that I come into contact with in my daily work routine have no understanding of the movies I watch, the books I read, and almost never connect with my writing, whether its books I’ve written, or my regular blogging that I do for work, or personal edification.

For Mary and I, our time away from work allows us to reestablish some kind of personal connection, as so much of the Monday through Friday humdrum pushes us apart, even though work allows us to pay our bills, keep a roof over our head, and drive vehicles that don’t require regular visits to the garage to keep going.

Between movies, I was jonesing for a cup of coffee, so we walked the half mile into downtown, to grab a coffee at Jorgensen’s, a local coffee emporium. Unfortunately, the shop had closed at 6:00 pm, on a Saturday night. As much as I have been critical of big box stores, and chain establishments, this incident illustrates why people forego local shops, and hit up the large corporate outlets—they know they’ll have what they want, when they want it, and often at a price much lower than the local establishment. I don’t plan on visiting Wal-Mart anytime in the near future, but the pickings in downtown Waterville were slim to none for us. As a result, we walked back up the pedestrian-unfriendly Main Street, and hit up the local convenience mart across Main Street from Railroad Square for my cup of joe to fuel me for the 9:00 pm movie, Cloud 9 (Wolke Neun), a German film, directed by Andreas Dresen.

[Ursula Werner and Hosrt Westphal in Cloud 9]

This film was another one that was attractive when reading through the MIFF list of films. A rare movie that deals with aging, sex between people in their 60s and 70s, and the fallout that accompanies Inge (Ursula Weiner), a part-time seamstress when she meets and falls in love with an older man, 76-year-old Karl (Horst Westphal).

Another foreign film that cuts through so much of the mythology and inability to tackle the issues of real life that is characteristic of much of standard Hollywood fare.

Once more, MIFF provided two movie lovers with some provocative filmmaking, and a reason to leave the house and drive an hour to do so.

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