{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Two Films: One Good, One Horrible.

François Ozon's Time to Leave is an effort to create some moments or to reveal some essence of life, which, as one discovers soon, is a failed effort, but this is not the reason why it fails as a film. This film is pretentious counterpart to its many heterosexual siblings. Do you know how illness mellows down a person and he/she tries to find a meaning to what is beautiful in life, he dies or he lives, either makes for a rewarding climax. This is just a recipe but what extra can Mr. Ozon add to this. Make the protagonist gay. Now there is something pseudo intellectual about it, which is not pretentious on the surface but ultimately a dip into clichés from both sides, the illness-death-new-life metaphor and the gay-outsider-exotic stereotype (add little spice up of self esteem, self pity, alienation and why-me stuff). There is one nice moment in the film when the father and son are sitting in the car and the son moves near the father (as if to kiss him), as his father moves slightly back, he asks - are you afraid of me. This is a scene which succeeds in drawing an invisible line between Romain and his family, just because of his sexuality. Other things are quite trivial like Romain's love affairs which play like a teenage naivety at times and I-need-to-move-on adult pretension rest of the times. To fill in one more cliché - let the gay man have a child, Ozon makes one woman and her sterile husband have a Ménage à trois with Romain ( doesn't it sound like a answer to a overblown heterosexual fantasy of two girls and a guy) in order to have a child (what a wish fulfillment !). The film end with a "message" that Romain has accepted his death, but in the end it just seems like a bourgeois guy accepting a horrible thing with the help is smug director and good cameraman. This film is a melodrama which is afraid of being so, which may very well classify as the worst sort of cinematic pretensions.

Patrice Chéreau's Son Frère (His Brother) is the story of two brothers, Luc and Thomas. Luc is gay and Thomas is straight. Thomas gets a dangerous disease and asks Luc for help. So the premise again can be stripped down to - Family (brothers, responsibility), sexuality (difference, acceptance) and illness (death, meaning of life and relationships when faced with death). Son Frère succeeds in maintaining a melancholy of physical and emotional distance and desire of human connection (both emotional and physical) throughout in a very unsentimental, yet in a compassionate way. We know that Luc cares for his brother but he is also aware of the past when he was not accepted by his brother (probably when he needed him most). There are tiny gestures that remind us that Luc is caring for Thomas more as a fellow human than as his brother. Both brothers have suffered and suffering, and in their human ways have let and are letting the other suffer. Luc has suffered a rejection in past from a brother whom he loved. His brother, now nearing death, has to deal with not finding a brother's warmth in Luc. One, who rises above the past wronging, is a better human being, but the one who doesn't let his real venom of past wounds out might just store them in to poison the whole body. May be, that's why, Luc decides (or rather shows) to help his brother as a human being not as a part of his filial responsibility. There is an excellent scene between Luc and Thomas' girlfriend where they kiss out of pure asexual love, may be an exercise of sharing and alleviating pain they both are going through. It is great how this scene works on a level of human connection far from any sexual flare. There Chéreau finds an unpretentious moment of transcendent bliss, a kiss relieving all the tension of the frame. Likewise when Thomas’ body is shaved by two nurses for operation, Luc, standing on a side, watches his naked body. Again there is no sexual attraction in the moment (although we have the knowledge that Thomas is the first guy Luc experimented with). There is only – a caring brother, a decaying body and pain on both sides. What we see is the pain of dilapidation of body of a beloved through Luc’s eyes. Here is a film that relentlessly probes into the minds of brothers, who are dealing with past and present. For one, it is a preparation of death, alongside knowing his brother afresh whom he dismissed years ago, for other, it is all sort of questions, a complex puzzle. Unlike Time to Leave, which condenses illness and death into one man quest to come in terms to it, Son Frère shows how illness effects a family – a relationship, how it brings the past to the fore, how illness is a metaphor for need and human dependency and (re)connect, how illness is not only a precursor to prepare for death, but a way to look at life as it eventually dies down, an alarm to revisit what we had done, a time to think back.

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