Late with last week’s posting, and early with this week’s! I’m putting up Hidden Treasures a few days in advance because I’m going on vacation, and didn’t want to miss a week (especially as we close in on the century mark. With this week’s offering, the count is 90 films in Hidden Treasures since the series began on Row Three back in January). Enjoy!
A semi-autobiographical work, Spike Lee’s Crooklyn (based on a screenplay written by his two siblings, Joie and Cinque) is the story of the Carmichaels, an African-American family living in Brooklyn in the 1970’s. Woody Carmichael (Delroy Lindo) is an out-of-work musician who’s making the most of his unemployed status, spending his days composing his own brand of music. As a result, his wife Carolyn (Alfre Woodard) must go back to work to support their five children. Their daughter, Troy (Zelda Harris), finds it difficult living day-to-day with her four brothers, all of whom specialize in stirring up mischief. She bickers with them constantly, and rolls her eyes at their repeatedly childish behavior. But over the course of one eventful summer, Troy will grow up, learning first-hand that love and devotion are necessary tools in overcoming the difficulties life occasionally throws your way.
Due to its nostalgic tone, Crooklyn is considered by some to be Spike Lee’s lightest film to date. Yet while it may be a contrast to the director’s more challenging films (Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever), Crooklyn isn’t all fun and games. Woody and Carolyn argue often, mostly over money but also because Carolyn wants her husband to go back to playing the music everyone wants to hear, namely rock and roll. Having spent years in a popular band, Woody is tired of playing to appease others, and wants only to play the music that appeals to him, even if there isn’t much of an audience for it. The two also take a much different approach towards the household finances. Carolyn works hard for the money that helps them scrape by, while Woody doesn’t think twice about bouncing the occasional check, putting them right back at square one. Even in raising the children, they don’t always see eye-to-eye. Carolyn is a strict disciplinarian, demanding that the kids finish every bit of their dinner (right down to the much-despised black-eyed peas), while Woody brings home ice cream and cake for dessert, often against his wife’s wishes. While the tension found in Crooklyn is certainly not on the same scale as Lee’s more notable works, where he tackled such social issues as racism and interracial relationships, the film does provide a glimpse into the more personal drama of home life, and the conflict that naturally arises within that environment from time to time.
Yet despite Crooklyn’s occasional forays into the dramatic, there’s no denying the fact that Spike Lee brought a genuine feeling of nostalgia with him to this film; a love of this time period, and this neighborhood. Even the most emotionally charged scenes have a somewhat lighthearted tone lurking just underneath, and if Crooklyn is any indication, Lee obviously harbors nothing but fond memories of his own childhood. That’s the way it goes with such memories, especially when you’re surrounded by love on all sides: even the times that weren’t particularly good somehow seem as if they were.
Under the Sand (2000)
Francois Ozon’s Under the Sand is a tense, troubling drama; the story of a woman whose life is thrown into chaos when her husband vanishes without a trace. It is a loss so devastating that the only way she can get through the day is to pretend it never happened.
English teacher Marie Drillon (Charlotte Rampling) has been happily married to Jean (Bruno Cremer) for many years. While the two are away on vacation, husband and wife decide to take a day trip to the beach, where Marie naps while Jean goes for a swim. When Marie wakes from her nap, however, Jean is nowhere to be found. After a frantic search ends in frustration, the authorities have no choice but to presume that Jean has drowned. Marie does eventually get on with her life, returning to work and socializing with friends, yet she cannot accept the fact that Jean may be gone forever. For her, his disappearance is an unanswered question eating away at her mind: Is Jean dead, or did he simply walk away, looking to start a new life? The answers elude her, leaving Marie emotionally stilted, and clinging to the fading hope that Jean will one day return to her.
One of the strengths of Under the Sand is the way it presents its mystery. Truth be told, we’re as much in the dark regarding Jean’s fate as Marie is. After all, we never actually see Jean go into the water. Did he really go swimming, as he said he was going to do, or did he run off? Much like Marie, we simply don’t know. Unlike her, however, we come to accept the fact that Jean’s return is increasingly unlikely with each passing day, especially when you consider that there are only two possible scenarios to explain his disappearance. On one hand, he drowned; on the other, he quietly walked away. Whichever is the actual chain of events, it’s obvious to us that a joyful reunion of man and wife will never occur.
Yet, despite this, the film is still utterly fascinating, thanks in large part to the wonderful performance of Charlotte Rampling as Marie, who strikes a perfect balance between maturity and repudiation. In most films, when a character is in denial, he or she will act in a completely atypical manner, losing control of their emotions and roaming through life in a daze. To her credit, Rampling never falls back on the obvious in her portrayal. While her Marie is certainly in denial, she nonetheless remains resilient, strong-willed, and always in control, which is how a woman of Marie’s stature would handle such a tragedy.
Marie is the tragic figure of Under the Sand, a woman who could easily survive on her own, yet has no desire to do so, grasping instead at a hope that has been all but extinguished. In the end, we do not weep for Jean; whether dead or alive, he has at least reached an end. Our tears are reserved for Marie. For her, there seems to be no end in sight.
If you blinked, you missed Olivier Assayas’ Demonlover, a film that slipped under the radar of the movie-going public. Opening quietly in the U.S. in September of 2003 on 8 screens, Demonlover pulled in a meager $39 thousand dollars before disappearing completely from the scene. To watch the movie is to realize how sad this box-office tally truly is. Packed with thrills and sexual energy, Demonlover deserved much better.
Diane de Monx (Connie Nielson) is a corporate spy posing as an executive for a large French company, where she uses her position to gather secrets for her corporation’s chief competitor. Through conniving and espionage, she arranges the theft of some important documents from her immediate superior, Karen (Dominique Reymond), which detail the company’s plan to merge with a Japanese animation studio that specializes in pornography. The documents are intercepted, and with Karen incapacitated as a result, Diane is appointed the enviable task of heading up the merger talks. But when a seedy American firm also enters the negotiations, Diane finds she must go deeper than she ever imagined into the world of pornography, including an impromptu visit to a sado-masochistic underworld that might destroy her in the end.
What makes Demonlover so interesting is the well-established correlation it builds between big business and sexuality, where mergers and takeovers are little more than the corporate equivalent of physical rape. When the files she’s carrying are stolen, Karen tells her assistant, Elise (Chloe Sevigny) that she feels as if she’s been violated. It’s a feeling others will share before this film is over, yet, from a business angle, Demonlover takes the stance that end results justify any and all personal sacrifices. With pornography being such a huge cash generator, the corporate entity at the heart of Demonlover is ready to do whatever is necessary to get their piece of that multimillion-dollar pie. So, when Diane does descend into the dark recesses of violent sexuality, having already survived corporate backstabbing, deceit, even murder, the experience is little more than a natural extension of the world she already knows. In big business, money is the ultimate gratification, and executives are nothing more than the pimps, prostitutes and rapists struggling to get their hands on it.
Demonlover hit me out of left field. Knowing so little about this film prior to seeing it, I was blindsided by both its engaging style and intensely dramatic story. While the vices of big business have been explored before in movies, I’ve never experienced a reaction quite the same as I did to this film. Demonlover is yet another of those discoveries that makes being a film fan so rewarding.