Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Capsule Reviews: More of Them
45 Years (d. Andrew Haigh) - This remarkable 2015 film, writer-director Andrew Haigh's third feature, based on a story by David Constantine, and newly released on home video by Criterion, stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a married couple who are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Just a few minutes after the film begins, Geoff, Courtenay's character, receives a letter informing him that the body of Katya, his girlfriend whom he was going to marry until she died in a mountain-climbing accident in 1962, has been found. This causes Geoff to, he believes naturally and quietly and his wife fears obsessively, think back on those days, and his youth, and the sad death of a young woman. For Rampling's Kate, this is terrifying evidence that perhaps her nearly fifty years of marriage to a man she loves was, for him, merely a kind of second-rate consolation after he lost the one woman he truly loved.
Haigh's film moves along at a pace as gentle and natural as the country house and land where Kate and Geoff live. And the performances by Rampling and Courtenay are impeccable. I frankly can't imagine two actors better suited for this film, who could possibly appear on screen and immediately inhabit their roles. Rampling's performance is a slow trip from soft to brittle; she is constantly, inwardly fighting against the fears that she hopes are irrational. Meanwhile, Courtenay's Geoff embodies a kind of intelligent obliviousness: if it turns out that he's been pulling the wool over Kate's eyes for the last half century, he's been doing the same to himself. Otherwise, he'd be better equipped to deal with the news about Katya without shoving it (again, gently) in Kate's face.
One thing about 45 Years that I haven't stopped thinking about since I saw the film is an aspect of the film's plot, such as it is, that I supposed I'd better not spoil. All I'll say is, at first I thought this small but crucial revelation was, and I'll put this word in quotes to highlight the fact that I now believe my reaction was foolish, "unrealistic." The fact is, however, that the thought process, or lack thereof, which led to the moment I'm not telling you about is one that millions of people constantly engage in. Until one day the penny drops. Or doesn't. Usually, when and if it does, the impact is not so great as it is here. At any rate, it's just another example of the dozens of ways that Andrew Haigh captures simple humanity throughout this film.
Her Husband's Affairs (d. S. Sylvan Simon) - So, Bill Weldon (Franchot Tone) works in advertising, writing slogans. He turns to his new wife Margaret (Lucille Ball) for opinions on the slogans he comes up with, but all he really wants from her -- and he openly admits to this -- is her approval. Which she gives. However, after coming up with a top-notch slogan for a new straw hat, Bill's achievement takes a backseat to the praise his bosses (Edward Everett Horton and Gene Lockhart) heap on Margaret, who tricks the mayor into endorsing said straw hat. A bit rankled at first, Bill soon forgets when his friend, the eccentric inventor and professor Emil Glinka (Mikhail Rasumny) comes over and says in effect "Hey Bill and Margaret, will you invest in my life's work: an embalming fluid that turns corpses into glass statues, shaped in a pose of your choosing?" No, they tell him. Well, he continues, if you need a shave, this jar is full of a byproduct of my new embalming fluid that I don't even care about, but if you rub it on your face it gets rid of all your stubble. No more shaving, no more razors. Seeing dollar signs, Bill takes the cream to his bosses, who also flip, though after all the important contracts and et cetera have been signed, it is learned that this cream has a disastrous side effect, which perhaps you can guess. In any case, the person who figures out a way to turn Bill's lemons into lemonade is Margaret.
Which brings us to maybe the half hour mark of this screwball comedy which will eventually take the audience all the way to the courthouse. This loony-toon of a movie, written by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer in full-on "fuck it" mode, is a delight. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon is perhaps best-known for The Fuller Brush Man, a Red Skelton vehicle written by Frank Tashlin, Simon would later produce The Fuller Brush Girl, also written by Tashlin and starring Lucille Ball. Sylvan was dead, at just 41, by the time Tashlin started his own career as a director of feature films, but though he wasn't involved in the film, it's not hard to imagine Her Husband's Affairs as one of Tashlin's own wildly Technicolored movies. Simon may not have had Tashlin's visual invention, but the two men seemed to share a sense of the absurd. Simon doesn't ever wink: the plot of this film is so nuts, and it's a no-question screwball comedy, but the characters regard the lunacy as no more or less than another catastrophe that might become an opportunity. Bill is kind of a prick, but I think the film knows that, and it's only because it sorta kinda has to that Hecht, Lederer, and Simon end the film the way they do. There's a more logical ending, and better, ending we'll just have to imagine. Either way, Tone isn't the star, Ball is, and she's terrific. Deathless stardom was right around the corner for her, and you can see why.