Film

Perdóname

“How’s your Spanish?” Alan Rickman’s Jamie asks Juliet Stevenson’s Nina in Truly, Madly, Deeply. What follows (clip below) is one of the most poignant scenes ever captured on film, in which Rickman recites a section of the Pablo Neruda poem, “La Muerta.”

When I first saw the movie in 1990, I was alone in the theater (it was a weekday matinée and I was playing hooky from somewhere). It was a good thing I was on my own, though, since I wept so openly and so unashamedly throughout the entire movie that I am sure I would have alarmed anyone sitting nearby. Since then, I have seen the film many times, and each time I have cried until my eyes were nearly swollen shut.

It is the finest film I know about grieving, and, while the screenplay is superb, it is the acting that sets it apart. Stevenson’s work is sublime, but here I wish to say something about Alan Rickman, who died yesterday at 69 of cancer. An extraordinarily gifted actor, he had the capacity to find in himself, and share, a very deep humanity.

In his role as Jamie, he plays a ghost who returns to his beloved so he can somehow lessen her outsized grief. It is no easy task to persuade an audience that you have come back from the dead to comfort your stricken lover, but Rickman manages to infuse his character with such deep feeling that I could not help but believe absolutely that he was as real, as vulnerable, and as flawed as I was.

If only he could return to us one more time with a few words of comfort while we mourn his very great loss.

(For a Spanish/English version of Neruda’s “La Muerta,” click here.)

A boatload of ★ s for the film A Hijacking

Hijacking

The 2012 Danish film A Hijacking (Kapringen), which I watched recently on Netflix, is, hands down, one of the best movies I remember seeing. Filmed in the Indian Ocean aboard an actual ship, the movie centers around the hijacking of a Danish cargo vessel by Somali pirates; yet, it is more a movie about how we come to measure the worth of a human life than it is about a particular hijacking and ransom demand, and it is more a movie about “us” than it is about “them” as we are compelled from the opening scene on to examine our preconceived ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral.

Søren Malling is mesmerizing in his nuanced performance as Peter, CEO of the company that owns the commandeered ship. A crisp, lean businessman and a master negotiator with a steeliness that might have rendered him a one-dimensional boor were he to have been played by a less-accomplished actor, Malling’s Peter is instead a man of compassionate, albeit conflicted, feeling who is forced by impossible circumstances to make impossible choices.

These painful choices, which include dragging out the negotiations for four months with the pirates’ negotiator Omar, never seem to be motivated by self-interest or greed though. Even when he behaves badly, as he does when he screams at his devoted wife to leave the office, we understand that his outburst comes from utter fatigue and can imagine that afterwards he will likely suffer immeasurably for this lapse into cruelty.

Similarly, Omar—played deftly by Abdihakin Asgar—defies pigeonholing. One moment, he is a menacing and sadistic terrorist; the next he is a shrewd businessman who is embroiled in the dirty affair because he needs to feed his family. The same is true for Peter’s negotiator, Connor, who, dressed in a disorienting Berkeley sweatshirt, never becomes the cold manipulator we would not be wrong to expect. Instead, Gary Skjoldmose-Porter, a real-life hostage negotiator without much, if any, acting experience, brings to the role an understated nobility and pathos.

To reflect the enormous strain the characters feel over the course of months, director Tobias Lindholm has created a movie that is ice-floe slow, claustrophobic, grimly realistic, and edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Not once does he kowtow to an audience’s baser appetite for bloody violence, slick action, or glib answers to unanswerable questions.

Watch this interesting YouTube interview with Lindholm and Malling.

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“Hideously beautiful”

Scarlett Johansson Under the SkinJonathan Glazer’s sci-fi horror film Under the Skin is not for everyone, but, once seen, it seeps and settles.

The film stars Scarlett Johansson as the alien femme fatale who is somehow birthed onto the west coast of Scotland for the apparent sole purpose of hunting down lonely men in her white Ford Transit and luring them back to her dark, oozy flat. What she does with them once there we cannot know for sure, but evisceration seems to be a part of it.

Yet trying to understand its precise meaning is a fool’s errand because the power of the movie is in the evocative: in the dark, rainy streetscapes; in the dialogue that sounds sieved through gauze; in the menacing soundtrack that is like “a locust plague of dry tremolos, the strings pressing down until the sound has reached a roar.”

Or in a startling erection, a hand pierced by a rose thorn, a vacant stare above blood-red lips, a rapist gone silent and scared.

What is most potent about Under the Skin, though, is its insistence on showing us at every turn the terrible and terrifying power of sex — a power we little understand, and one that awakens in us that which is at once alien and deeply human.

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