Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Subtle Cinema

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Subtle Cinema

Article excerpt

Subtle Cinema

For those of us who live outside big metropolitan areas, are educated, and are over forty, going to the movies on a Saturday night can be a frustrating experience. The nearest multiplex is almost exclusively devoted to aliens, vampires, witless action flicks, and animated idiocy. (As I write, The Boss Baby is ubiquitous at malls throughout the Hudson Valley-what adult could possibly want to watch this horror?) Of course we could just stay at home and watch TV, for there are some awfully good offerings these days, but we want to go to the movies, a comforting and ritualistic experience. So if we're lucky enough to live near an art house, we scan the listings regularly. And we are not disappointed-at least, we should not be. Real, if minor, works of art appear almost weekly; viewers have to keep on the ball, for they don't hang around for long, but many of the movies on hand possess an easy intelligence and sophistication that ought to be prized by their target audience.

But have we, the target audience, become jaded? The casual, dismissive critical reception accorded to several very good recent movies was rather disturbing. Understatement, restraint, careful construction, and modulated emotion are of great value when measured against the almost inconceivable crudity that has taken over mainstream movies just as it has polluted our social and political discourse. Why, then, did Christy Lemire, writing on RogerEbert.com, damn The Sense of an Ending (based on a 2011 novel by Julian Barnes) as "a decent, take-yourmom movie ... a film that's well-acted but tastefully restrained to a fault"? I'm not sure what she meant by "decent"-the secret at the core of this movie is hardly a decent one-and to call it "tastefully restrained" is flippant and thoughdess, as the characters' not necessarily admirable restraint is a driving force in the plot: nothing to do with taste, whether good or bad.

The reason it's a take-your-mom movie is that young people are just not terribly interested in the emotional lives of old people, though perhaps they should be; there's so much more dramatic history there than in their own lives. In this case, the restraint of the protagonist, Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent), has served as a poisonous, corrosive force. Tony can be seen as a rather typical Englishman of his generation (70-ish) and class (middle), reminding us that restraint is both the great virtue of the English and their great sin: it can become, in the end, a selfjustifying excuse for silence whenever engagement becomes too uncomfortable or painful. Tony, long divorced from Margaret (Harriet Walter), wends his solitary way each day from his dingy flat to the dingy shop in which he sells classic Leicas; his only real connection seems to be with his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), an extremely pregnant, defiantly single woman who rather resentfully, as it appears, allows her father to accompany her to her childbirth classes.

The arrival of an unexpected letter leads him, and us, into the past he has attempted to repress: the mother of Veronica, his first love, has died and left him a journal she kept during the time they knew each other. The executor informs him that Veronica, now an elderly lady (the great Charlotte Rampling), is refusing to hand over the volume. Curiosity and the intolerable load of what we soon realize is unfinished business drive Tony to track Veronica down. Their encounter opens a world of repressed pain. We see Tony and Veronica at university in the early 60s (Tony now played by Billy Howie and Veronica by an engaging, freckle-faced Freya Mavor), where Tony is a blossoming photo-nerd; we accompany Tony on an awkward visit to Veronica's family in the country, where her mother (Emily Mortimer) proves charmingly gauche; we watch as his brilliant friend Adrian (Joe Alwyn) wins Veronica's love and Tony responds with a futile, bitter act of rage, an act that affects all their lives.

As all the movies I am going to discuss in this review have been released for quite some time, I am going to go ahead and reveal secrets about each of them, so here's a spoiler alert if you plan to see the films and don't want to hear the denouements. …

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