Sometimes I become quite fascinated by simple things I learn about people – the small but significant nuances in opinions we have, but which I would never have guessed, or even supposed, on my own; their unbelievable insights on what seem to be the most irrelevant of life’s details, or complete ignorance towards what I would suggest would be things of particular importance to everyone and anyone. And in the past few days, one of those things, which might seem completely unimportant in any real life context, has been hunting me – our ability and ‘habit’ to attach meanings to cinematic experiences; but not in the sense of attaching emotional value to, for example, a film screening that we’ve seen with a dear person – but strictly having the need to ‘add’ to a film we’ve seen that certain ‘extra something’ that seems as though if it were its ‘connotation’, a hidden (or less hidden) message, a moral ‘extra’ or a theoretical implication that can be generalized from the brief celluloid encounter. I am having my doubts whether to call this an interpretation: while in most cases to add to the film narrative such an ‘extra’ in meaning definitely would mean interpreting it, it’s the teeny but still important percentage of those films to which I am completely unable to attach such an ‘interpretative addition’ that bother me; maybe it is indeed just an issue of me sometimes being a really bad interpreter, but I still do, occasionally, stumble upon those films which just seem to be completely emptied of meanings, like sets of pretty images, but without a common interpretative tie of any sort...
The problem of meaning came to me through two completely unrelated events. In the first event, T clashed with a blockbuster – and was left puzzled. I have recently been lucky to get a chance to do some travelling to one of my favourite, calmest getaway places; My getaway is, however, often also a film-related one: while being far from my usual setting, I tend to adapt to someone else’s taste in movies as well, which often results in seeing films that I would have probably otherwise skipped. For me, it is a game of sorts – the letting go to someone completely, allowing him to lead in a field that I sometimes take perhaps a slight bit too seriously - often with lovely unexpected results: in previous ‘rounds’ I have discovered the beautifully naive cuteness of the last ‘Star Trek’ movie which probably would have passed next to me without me ever spotting it on my own, have laughed at the horrendous acting of Nic Cage, and almost ruined a tie of our mutual adoration when I have expressed my dislike towards ‘Avatar’ (luckily, the tie was saved with some charm invested...). This time, we made a mutual agreement to see ‘Iron Man 2’, a movie that would probably never found its way to my list of must-sees, but which had a couple of instant pluses (one being the charm of Robert Downey Jr. for sure) which made it a-OK in my book. However, as we came out of it two hours later, I was completely puzzled: the movie seemed literally like an empty slate, one that had nothing to say about anything important in life. OK, so there is a superhero; he’s rich and lonely and cynical, and the sole rescuer of world peace. But, when we forget about only the film for a while, and start thinking about a broader image, in which (ours and others’) actions have consequences, we find them to be morally right or wrong; in which there is a starting idea that everything that is done is somehow related to a ‘wider’ field of narrative, is talking about something not necessarily drawn on the screen...’Iron Man 2’, it seemed, had absolutely nothing to offer. This was further strange because it was a superhero movie, and those usually do come with a morality/justice story. But it could have been anything, any sort of ‘message’ that was encrypted, or that I could have ‘written’ into it by catching glimpses of ideas and seconds of symbols on the screen. And yet, nothing. Absolutely nothing came to me.
The other event was a complete reverse. My partner in crime and I swapped roles for an evening, and in a reversed game, went to a meeting of a film club. It was a small group of enthusiasts, with a projector and a lot of good will, and shown for the evening were two films: ‘Blast of Silence’ by Allen Baron (1961) and the short&sweet ‘C'était un rendez-vous’ by Claude Lelouch (1976).The feature film of the evening was admittedly good, but as I have never been a noir lover at heart, it gave me things to think about, but no real tingles. But the short film won me over instantly. A story without a story, it is a little experiment with technology of sorts: a one-take 10-minute rush down the streets of Paris, all shot from the car. But if the visual footage of the ‘race’ itself was not so particularly captivating for me, the layers and layers of beautiful ideas that one could inscribe into it were simply fascinating.
On one level, it is a 10-minute transmission of creative energy – and one that immediately awakes in the viewer the desire to see more from a director who has so wildly, almost instinctively, let go and embraced the idea that gorgeous results can come from ‘action’, rather than from ‘philosophy’ of storytelling developed in details. It also tells something about the period in which it was made: although the French New Wave was in no way as unified as it is sometimes sloppily presented today (compare the meditative Resnais to the loudness of Godard and the naive softness of Truffaut, and it shall be visible instantly), it had a certain stream of creative energy which came far beyond just moviemaking, and the braveness of the period can be felt from the wilderness of the chase, almost as if it were its paradigmatic example of sorts (tho, truth be told, it came too late, historically).
But what struck me as really special about the movie is that it can be read as the most beautiful love story: the speed, the turbulence, the risk, all the rushing through red lights, all of this undertaken only to be in time to meet ‘your’ lady – and what a lady she is indeed. And what if, in itself, it is also a metaphor for a relationship: it is one of constant turbulence, in which both have crossed the rules of the boring normality so many times, both emotionally and sexually, and the intensity of the mutual sparks could at the same time be their biggest mutual high and an invite for destruction; and yet, all the wilderness of their emotional rollercoaster and verbal duels cannot blur the fact that it is in the arms of the other that the calmness comes, and they belong to each other fully, naturally – as a model couple, the one that always re-strengthens its ties in the end. Finally, what if it says something about women in a manner less nice – if it is a male confession on the firmness of the female grip, the mocking of the usual stereotype in which no evil is worse than the woman you’ve got at home, and it is simpler to break the rules of the system, fight the speed limits and making an occasional wrong turn, than it is to deal with her dissatisfaction if you are late to pick her up – the horror of which would have started only after the camera stopped shooting, but which is in a way present by evoking the stereotype silently? Or, what if...?
Of course, it is highly unlikely that the author had all these ideas in mind when he decided to play with a bit of equipment and a nice car; he was probably completely uninterested in any of them. But it is wonderful how his film just invites us to ascribe meanings to it, to interpret its consequences, and push it further and further on. My cinematic partner was impressed by the engine sounds, finding the ‘technical’ details of the film amusing; I was at the same time dreaming of the greatest love story ever told in so little time, and was fascinated by his lack of need to attach additional meanings to the shots, when he so simply could have done so. Yet, we were both ‘right’ in a way, I think; and the fact that the film had left so much space for interpretations didn’t make it at all ‘weaker’ – but amazingly good and interesting. Which is what I lacked with ‘Iron Man 2’ – beneath all the shine and famous names, it was amazing how there was no story to construct. And I wanted to: I wanted to think about loneliness; about the monopolization of world peace and its consequences; about the image of the army; yet nothing felt quite right, and the movie just felt empty.
What should one do with such ‘empty’ films? Is it the problem of the films, and the fact that they should offer more to its viewer? Or is it the problem of the viewer – in this case, me – who expects something, and is yet unsure of what that ‘something’ should be? Is my ascribing of potential meanings to Lelouch’s film somewhat unfair – in the way that I allow myself the liberty of ‘imputing’ so much, that it almost makes it seem like I am trying to find a meaning for a film I didn’t initially understand, but want to make something out of? Or is it just a part of reviewing a movie, the arguing for multiple levels of cinematic text without any shyness, as long as they can be somewhat argued for convincingly?
So many questions, so little answers, I know...but felt like sharing some thoughts, and maybe getting some in return...