Friday, August 14, 2009

Films of the 00s: Late Marriage

If you were bummed that I ended the 2000 retrospective (at least for now!) with such a lukewarm review, I can doubly make it up to you. My first trip back to 2001 is not only an unqualified rave, it doubles as the next entry up, aka #27, on the Favorites countdown, which has been dormant ever since we checked in on Howards End last December; no question those Wilcoxes have got a splendid cottage there, but I didn't mean to slumber there for quite so long. Here, then, is a peek at what I have to say about another family's crisis of social conventions, class prejudices, and sexual mores in Dover Kosashvili's stark, punchy, funny, and humbling Georgian-Israeli dramedy Late Marriage:

"Even given its stripped-down style, the simply but sharply drawn characters, the bluntness of its sexual scenes and of its dramatic narrative turns, Late Marriage is apparently much more than meets the eye, or the English-speaking ear. I love knowing that even a familiar object contains so many unaccessed depths and complexities, but you have to hand it to writer-director Dover Kosashvili that his peculiar naturalism never pretends to be spelling out all of the meanings in the story or the currents between the characters.... Dramaturgy alternates, sometimes on a dime, from the casual ease of Zaza's scenes with Judith and her daughter to the sinister ritualism with which Zaza's extended family intrude into the apartment to the grippingly dilated reality of Zaza and Judith's love-making, amidst which Judith reveals a secret that ironically invites comparison to the character who is her most formidable antagonist." (keep reading...)

Because Sandra Bernhard's "smash hit one-woman show" Without You I'm Nothing rocketed up the chart after last winter's revised rankings, we're just now catching up to it at #26. Which means we've only got the very best quarter of my stable of prize pets to explore, plus, back on the 00s track, a handful of beloved films I haven't looked at in a while, some mixed bags that I've never stopped arguing about (think eyeliner and Izod dresses), and a sampler of titles I've never seen, ranging from boisterous epics to silly shenanigans to coolly received products from some of the world's most legendary auteurs. 2001: A Blog Odyssey.

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Blogger Andrew K. said...

I've never seen Late Marriage so I can't comment. What would be the point. However in reading the review i was redirected to your review of Howards End which is fantabulous and one of my favourite films. I know it's ages old, but I loved [both] reviews. Just thought I'd say it.

12:38 AM, August 14, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Thanks, Encore! I really appreciate hearing that. Do check out Late Marriage if you can track it down.

1:37 AM, August 14, 2009  
Blogger Colin Low said...

Wonderful insights into the cultural differences in viewing foreign films! The effect is even more pronounced in multilingual movies: being bilingual in both English and Mandarin (but not Shanghainese) not only made me appreciate Tang Wei's effortless shifting between all three languages in Lust, Caution, but it made my un-subtitled viewing of The Wedding Banquet into a far richer experience. In both Ang Lee movies, the choice of language is used to telegraph a shared intimacy between those who know it, especially while in the same room with others who don't — nowhere clearer than when Mrs Yi switches dialects to recount her bedside anecdote to Mrs Mai while her husband sips tea at the other end of the breakfast table, underlining the conscious wife-concubine relationship that Joan Chen seemed to be targeting in her performance; or than in the clunkier melodramatics of the entangled trio arguing in English, again at the breakfast table, while Wei Tong's parents conduct their own bemused side conversation in Mandarin between scoops of porridge.

But the mixed-language clincher for me in The Wedding Banquet lies in that isolated moment where Tim Squyres cuts to a medium close-up of Wei Tong's prospective wife, near tears, talking long-distance to her parents over the phone. It's the only time in the whole movie where the Shanghai dialect is used, and since I had been watching without subtitles up to that point, I not only was surprised to find I didn't understand what she was saying (even if I felt every word), I also felt embarrassed to be intruding at such close quarters on her clearly emotional private moment with her parents, an effect heightened by the movie's decision to leave me out of the language. I suspect that audiences who can't discern between Mandarin and Shanghainese would not have felt this disjuncture as deeply as I did.

9:57 AM, August 14, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Colin: Wow! What a fantastic anecdote, illuminating of those two movies and of the larger context of watching multilingual films, and/or films outside of one's own language capabilities. Just the other day, when I saw the Austrian movie Revanche, for which the first few dialogue exchanges are all in Russian (and spoken very badly on one side), the audience members were freaking out about the lack of subtitles. At least three people headed to the projectionist to report a problem, inside of a minute. Since Russian doesn't sound at all like German, I was pretty certain we were all doing just fine, but it was another moment, less interesting than yours, of realizing how skittish even a self-selecting audience for international cinema can be when they aren't getting every word, or when filmmakers are using language as a variable, textural, or alienating device within their films.

10:07 AM, August 14, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i haven't read your piece yet but Late Marriage is one of my favorite films of the decade, too. It just stings but in the smartest most revelatory ways.

love love love it.

i want to savor each word in your piece so i'm going to sleep before reading it. ;)

8:55 PM, August 14, 2009  
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