The Bearable Lightness of Rainy-Day Film


French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir once stated that there are assez de choses embêtantes dans la vie pour que nous n'en fabriquions pas encore d'autres.  That is, to paraphrase freely, there are enough lame, ugly things in life without throwing more on the pile.  This leads logically to my own philosophy of art, that being that a piece of art is (or should be) an addition to the world.  Not a reflection, not a bloodless commentary, and above all, not some half-hearted stab at THE TRUTH.  An addition.

If it is an addition, the artist has an additional responsibility to make sure it is something worth adding.  This is something you don't have to think about if you're just convinced that you're telling people something they need to hear, something earth-shattering and life-changing in the way of religious literature.

This week I've been getting over a cold, and I also somehow managed to sleep in such a way last night that did something awful to my shoulder, so for the past couple of days I've been doing little other than watching movies.  I used this as a rainy-day excuse to finally get through Tarkovsky's Stalker and to raid some Criterion Top 10 lists for rainy-day ideas.  It was from Anthony Bourdain's list that I was convinced to pick up a copy of Chungking Express by director Wong Kar-Wai.

I don't know if I would say Chungking Express is especially brilliant as a film, but it falls into the category of Things I Know I Like.  Screwed-up love scenarios which somehow make it through the wringer, shamelessly cranked poppy soundtracks that are an integral part of the film if not practically the film itself (in the case of musicals), and sheer visual beauty.  To this list I would add Happiness of the Katakuris (カタクリ家の幸福), Love Songs (Les Chansons D'Amour), and Love Me If You Dare (Jeux D'Enfants).  Bourdain says he could watch the films of Wong Kar-Wei all day, and when it comes to this particular type of movie, I could do the same.

These are not all happy movies, mind you, or not exclusively happy in any case.  Happiness of the Katakuris involves several deaths, Love Songs a relationship on the rocks followed by an unexpected tragedy, and Love Me If You Dare a monumentally effed-up relationship based on a childhood game created by two adrenaline junkies that leads to escalating destructive behavior.  (In fact, I almost included the films of Park Chan-Wook in the list; it's just that the sheer level of violence in these movies crosses the line in terms of what I feel I could watch all day.)

Chungking Express actually comes off as rather lightweight here, despite some random violence which is not really directly related to the story, and some definitely obsessive behavior.  But the two love stories within the film are paced in such a way that if there is happiness to be found it is general, everyday happiness, rather than the ecstatic rush of two people finding soul mates in one another.  This is, in a sense, the point of the movie, and it manages to skip lightheartedly around darker moments.  

I ate some Ben and Jerry's Strawberry Shortcake Greek frozen yogurt while watching it, and my shoulder almost instantly started feeling better.

Aside from the shallower points of my taste in film, I have just always been more charmed by characteristics of lightness rather than heaviness in stories.  I get more of a rush from an expected weight being lifted, or just being entirely absent, than I do from having 16 tons dropped on me à la Monty Python.  Some people assume that the latter is more enlightening than the former.  I'm inclined to think there's a reason why Kundera used the title The Unbearable Lightness of Being, even though the running philosophical theme in the book is the contrast between lightness and heaviness, so he logically could have chosen either or both.

I enjoyed Stalker more than I did Solaris (also by Tarkovsky), and I understand why it was and continues to be such a big deal in film.  I enjoyed the soundscapes and even some of the philosophical banter, but the story itself seemed somehow amateurish in its weight.  This is not a definite or confident statement by any means; in films that are in languages I don't know I always consider the possibility of missed signals, but I believe I got whatever there is to get about it, and still found it cloying.  Oddly, I didn't consider it too long, which is the usual complaint.  In some ways I thought it might have possibly benefited from being longer.  I did find it too heavy, though, that's really the only way I know of to explain it.  At the same time, to borrow from the poem recited by the Stalker in the movie, it wasn't enough.

This isn't at all to say that stories that take themselves seriously are not as advanced.  Even Stalker has its humorous moments and all the movies left above take themselves seriously enough to escape the insulting categorization of quirky (which may be an accurate descriptor, but it's been used up and needs to go away as badly as "passionate" pertaining to hobbies and minor political causes).  I think there are just some advanced effects that can't be achieved with too heavy a hand, so to speak.


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