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Video Day

It's true that I didn't try very hard to do anything about it, but I couldn't get into a purposeful mode yesterday morning, and there wasn't anything sufficiently jolting going on in the Blogosphere to rouse me. In fact, I was having trouble reading. So: movie day.

I began with a video that was due back the day before, part of a three-film, three-night package that I busted by not getting all three back on time. Well, it happens. I had rented Facing Windows, Vera Drake, and The Mother, and I saw them in that order. The first is a terrific film, starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and I will come back to it later, when I've seen it again. And again. Vera Drake was excellent but depressing; I don't really enjoy movies about good people who go to jail for the sake of a hypocritical public's conscience. Kathleen really liked it, though, and we agreed that Imelda Staunton, who has played some very silly women in her career, was magnificently sound.

That left The Mother, a 2003 release directed by Roger Michell, to a script by Hanif Kureishi. There is a lot of unhappiness in this movie, and a lot of neediness, too. I still don't know what to make of the title character's finding sexual rejuvenation with her daughter's boyfriend even as she continues to persuade the girl to find someone "better." All four principals - Anne Reid, as May, the mother, Daniel Craig, as the boyfriend, and Steven Mackintosh and Cathryn Bradshaw as the children - were astonishingly good, but I got tired of the daughter's self-pity, and impatient with May's belief that she and the boyfriend can have a future together. The moral world portrayed in this beautifully-made picture is as opaque as the East River.

I was so shaken by The Mother that there was nothing for it but to watch another movie, and I chose something that I bought about a month ago, at a friend's recommendation (thank you, George), but had not got round to seeing: Un monde presque paisible (Almost Peaceful), Michel Deville's 2002 adaptation of Robert Bober's novel, Quoi de neuf sur la querre. A sweet and tender film, Peaceful looks at the garment workers in a small Parisian atelier after the war. All but one of them are Jews; two have survived the camps while the rest managed to hide. Despite this awful past, the people in the film are almost all cheerful and ready to laugh at a joke. I was a little confused about the proprietor's wife's fancy for the exception, a dour former prisoner who still hasn't given up hope that his wife and children will return. The film ends on an enchanted note in the summer countryside.

One of the stars of Almost Peaceful is Stanislas Merhar. Idle googling revealed that Mr Merhar, born in Paris in 1971, made four films in 2002, one of which was something that I saw and would have rented the other day had it not been a one-night rental - in other words, a new release. Why a film released in 2002 should have taken so long to appear here, especially as it is a Merchant-Ivory production written and directed by MI protégé Andrew Litvak, is a mystery to me. I had it sent over with the delivery man who picked up the late rentals.

I will need to see Merci, Docteur Rey several times before judging it. To call it a quirky comedy seems damning, and I'm sure that many people will find it emotionally confusing, because it begins with a murder but spends most of its time being hilarious. And it is definitely bilingual. The nominal star is Dianne Wiest, who plays Elizabeth Beaumont, a diva in town to sing Turandot at the Bastille. And I do mean diva. But not a jot less important to the film's success is Jane Birkin, who finally has a great big juicy part. She plays Penelope, an actress who dubs foreign movies. She has dubbed all of Vanessa Redgrave's films and has come to think of herself as Vanessa Redgrave. Not since Paula Prentiss has comic madness made such a splash on screen. One soon abandons trying to guess where the film is going, but because this is not a film that takes its plot entirely seriously, all is neatly wrapped up at the end. I think that the word for this sort of picture used to be "sophisticated." It is certainly knowing and clever.

So that is how I spent my day. I feel quite guilty about it, really, even though I learned a great deal. One always does from good movies.


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Do not feel guilty about watching movies all day. It's not like you watched bad TV all day. If you were watching "E! True Hollywood Story" marathons, then we might have to talk. As it stands, I don't even think you know what that is... Which is how it should be.

How was the French in Un monde presque paisible to your ear, understandable?

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