Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Over the long weekend, my wife and I took advantage of a discount offer at our local dvd rental outlet and grabbed 3 films with a common theme: Troubled Relationships. They were from 3 different angles, and were done in 3 different countries.

The Canadian entry was Last Wedding, a comic drama about the simultaneous disintegration of 3 relationships.
* The central one was between a couple who married too hastily. The husband, Noah, went through an evolution of wanting to grow their love, changing to wanting to smooth the wife's rough edges, regardless of love, to finally desperately wanting out. Throughout, the wife Zipporah remained self-centred and abraisive, bribing his good graces with the occasional affection. In all, a dysfunctional take on being trapped by marriage.
* They were friends with another couple, Peter and Leslie, who had been living together for 4+ years. He was a lit prof at UBC, who had a meaningless fling with a student, and his infidelity brought the destruction of his relationship. This couple gave the impression of no longer seeing each other, taking each other for granted, but the amoral inclinations of Peter had no leg to stand on when he was found out. Or rather his rationalizing was flatly rejected by the injured party.
* The most interesting couple was Shane and Sarah, he an art-inclined idealist architect, she an upwardly-mobile pragmatist architect. The destruction of their relationship is the most jarring; as they grew in opposite directions, their relationship tensions grew. But just when they realize the sacrifices required to save their life together, they deem it not worth the effort and split without trying.

In all, a pleasant enough movie, although not terribly deep. The scenes of infidelity between Peter and his student certainly avoid glorifying affairs, with the viewer feeling as dirty about dumpster-sex (literally, at one point) as the participants. 2.5 out of 5 on the Stevometer.

If you enjoy subtitled films, then do check out the Italian entry in the tryptich, Bread and Tulips. It was a charming, quirky comedy, in which Rosalba is accidentally left behind at a stop on a bus tour. Rather than hitchhike home, she takes a personal vacation from her family and goes to Venice on a whim, meets several odd characters (suicidal Icelandic landlord, holistic healer neighbour, klutsy amateur private investigator, anarchist old florist). She resumes her music playing, and finds love, joy, and contentment. Of course, her family misses her terribly -- her husband cannot convince his mistress of several years to iron his shirts, and her son takes up drugs. Rosalba finally comes home, resigning herself to where she belongs, until she is convinced to leave her husband once (well, twice I suppose) and for all. Very much playing on the theme of how would you do things differently if you could start over.

It's a pleasant romantic comedy, but true to the mold, the husband is an unsympathetic and unfaithful dud, so the viewer is strongly in favor of her dumping him. Her departure also brings a moment of redemption for the son, who joins her in Venice in the end. It's an enjoyable film, possibly a good discussion starter on divorce, faithfulness, and other related themes. Probably my favourite of the 3, give it 4 stars out of 5.

The final film was Hollywood's Dinner With Friends, in which Gabe and Karen are devastated to learn that their longtime friends Tom and Beth have split up. Tom has felt unloved by Beth for years, and so he leaves her for another woman. His actions, to his surprise, not only break up his family, but ripple out into relationships with Gabe and Karen, and their relationship with each other. Gabe presents a powerful argument against the pursuit of one's own (usually sexual) happiness, which I found surprisingly strong, given the American origins of the film -- not a medium known to argue against individual pleasure and fulfilment. It was a variation on the theme in the CS Lewis essay "We Have No 'Right to Happiness'" (if I was on the ball I would have included a Lewis citation in the review!)

There was something missing in the film, though -- Grace. Neither Gabe nor Karen were able to show any grace to their friends, and this coldness eventually ended any hope of friendships surviving the divorce. Equally guilty, neither Tom nor Beth showed any grace to each other, or to their friends. They became hostile when their friends refused to take their side, not giving them the space to make up their own minds, or to be hurt by the actions.

In all, an excellent discussion starter for the theme of Grace, and not bad for other relationship themes either. It is rated R, but I cannot figure out why -- you'll hear worse language waiting at a bus stop, there was no sex or violence, and only the briefest of nudity. A pleasant evening, and I'll give it 3.5 / 5.


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