Archive for December, 2011

The Way

December 5, 2011

The Way is a film starring Martin Sheen, written and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. Thomas Avery (Sheen) learns that his son, Daniel (Estevez), has died in France. He goes to retrieve his son’s remains. There, he learns that Daniel died in a freak storm while trying to cross the Pyrenees as part of the Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old pilgrimage route through northern Spain. It ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which purportedly contains the remains of St. James. While examining his son’s backpack, Thomas is suddenly seized with the idea of walking the route himself while carrying his son’s ashes. He embarks on the journey. Right away he meets a group of eccentric characters: a Dutch gourmand, Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), an angry Canadian who smokes a lot named Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), and an annoying Irish writer named Jack (James Nesbitt). The film alternates between scenes of the characters engaging in not quite convincing dialogue and scenes of them walking through the Basque and Spanish countryside with obtrusive pop music blaring away on the soundtrack. (I thought the purpose of going on a pilgrimage was to get away from this sort of thing. I guess not.)

Just as you expect, the characters evolve over time. Thomas becomes less of a dick, Joost becomes less of a hedonist, Sarah becomes less angry and Jack becomes less annoying. Yes, this film will uncomfortably remind you of The Wizard of Oz (which is intentional, by the way), except that in this case the man behind the curtain is never revealed. When the group arrive at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Thomas kneels in front of a silver casket that may or may not contain the remains of St. James. He and the others then look on in awe as a large, porous metal container full of incense is swung back and forth. The significance of this is never explained. Indeed, the significance of the Camino de Santiago is never really explained, except that it is good exercise for people who can afford expensive backpacks, as well as a plane ticket to France.

This film does touch upon issues such as Basque nationalism and prejudice against the Roma. And it does contain breathtaking shots of the Basque and Spanish countryside. All in all, though, I found this movie less interesting than one of those travel documentaries on PBS.

The Hedgehog

December 1, 2011

The Hedgehog is a film by Mona Achache, based upon the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is a precocious 11-year-old girl who lives with her wealthy parents in an apartment building in Paris. She believes that the people around her are shallow and stupid, so she decides to kill herself on her twelfth birthday, which is coming up in a month. A new neighbor, Mr. Ozu (Togo Igawa), a rich, retired Japanese businessman, moves in. Paloma meets him on the elevator. He is impressed to learn that she knows some Japanese. He begins inviting her to his apartment, and they become friends. (Paloma’s parents don’t seem concerned about a stranger showing such an intense interest in their daughter.) When the concierge, Mrs. Michel (Josiane Balasko), quotes Tolstoy to him, Ozu is immediately taken with her. He begins inviting her out to dinner and buying clothes for her. Paloma also gets to know Michel. She discovers that Michel has a room full of books, and she spends much of her time reading. She keeps her literary interests hidden from other people. (Michel is the “hedgehog” of the film’s title.) Paloma decides not to kill herself. When Michel is struck and killed by a van, Paloma and Ozu console each other.

The main problem with this film is that Paloma never really develops as a character. The only thing that has really changed at the end of the film is that she now knows an adult, Ozu, who is capable of amusing her. In all honesty, she struck me as cold and selfish. True, she does care about Michel, but the film makes it clear that she admires the latter for being withdrawn and secretive. As for Michel, she does begin to open up and become less misanthropic when she starts seeing Ozu, but since she is suddenly killed, this doesn’t lead to anything. Ozu is too perfect to be believable. He is clearly a Westerner’s idealized notion of a wise, old Oriental man. We are never told how Ozu made his fortune, no doubt because the filmmakers didn’t want to soil him with any mundane or unsavory details. (We are apparently not supposed to see anything incongruous about an admirer of Tolstoy having a musical toilet installed in his apartment.) The film does show some class awareness, in that the building’s rich residents largely ignore Michel. (The owner of the building fails to recognize Michel after the latter has had her hair done.) However, this is undermined by the presence of the inexplicable Ozu.

The Hedgehog is a “feel good” movie that doesn’t really make you feel good.