To the Wonder
If you want to know the true-true—to borrow the FutureJive spoken by Tom Hanks in one of his 20-odd hammy roles in Cloud Atlas, also viewed at Toronto—Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder exhibits certain limitations. One such is that actors, when directed to romp and twirl in the manner of lovers animated by eternal love, eventually run out of ways of making this romping and twirling expressive and meaningful, much less a sufficient replacement for more traditional interpretations of amour. A French-Ukrainian woman (Olga Kurylenko) falls in love with a man in the shape of Ben Affleck, whom she joins in heartland America, returns to Paris with her daughter after marriage eludes them, then apparently regains his fickle masculine trust and moves with him to a nice house in the country. That is the plot, neatly summed up by some Malickspeak in voiceover (“Love makes us one. Two. One”), and given perfunctory parallel in priest Javier Bardem’s doldrums. Yet the filmmaker’s plumbing of nature’s wonders and the heart’s mysteries falls irreparably into a stylistic rut: displacing so much emotion to first-person-cosmic voiceover, generally at the expense of scenes, makes it hard for even the self-avowed romantics among us to join Malick on the journey.
Something in the Air
Abandon, or its once-removed cousin in escapism, nostalgia, are decidedly not on Olivier Assayas’s mind in the fleet, elegant Something in the Air. Originally titled Après Mai, the filmmaker’s semiautobiographical account of his post-1968 youth spent in revolutionary, artistic, and romantic pursuits strives for precisely detailed yet dispassionate recall of the era’s moods, intellectual habits, and cultural markers. Though the group of adolescents on view earnestly hold their convictions, their restless momentum embodied by Eric Gautier’s camerawork, they are a relatively expressionless bunch. Largely starring newcomers, aside from Lola Creton (Goodbye First Love), the film was one I had eagerly anticipated only to feel frustrated by the concertedly reserved characterization, in which even moments of great emotion and consequence seem artificially restrained far beyond adolescent concealment, and several conversations feel like exchanges of station-in-life updates.
Ginger and Rosa
It may be on a rebound from such discretion that I found myself responding to a particular performance in Ginger and Rosa, which also stages the struggles of love and protest, the milieu this time a coterie of 1960s antiatomic radicals and their children. There is every reason to grow weary with Potter’s illustration of hypocrisies between the personal and the political, as teen besties Ginger and Rosa (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) face tensions when Ginger’s famous pamphleteer dad shags Rosa on a sailboat excursion. But then there is Fanning’s face, unpredictably expressive and doted upon by Sally Potter and DP Robbie Ryan, who pay similar attention to boudoir moppet Englert and Ginger’s parents (aptly self-absorbed Alessandro Nivola, and Christina Hendricks), repeatedly using single-person shots against bare backgrounds. Fanning's performance shows that her turning-point teenager in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere was not a lucky strike, and also that there’s room for her acting to grow, as she restores a natural wonder to Potter’s film.
Read the fifth Toronto dispatch here.