Lost Memories. Movies Reviewed: New Women, Free the Mind, Before Midnight
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
Lost memories – should they be buried, and forgotten? Or is it better to preserve them… or even recreate versions of them? Do you find yourself unconsciously repeating half-forgotten conversations? Will bringing old memories to the surface help us purge them and get on with our lives?
This week I’m looking at these questions in three movies that treat memories in very different ways. One is a film/art installation that recreates titillating images of women in pre-war Shanghai; one’s a documentary about ex-soldiers who confront and purge past memories through breathing exercises; and a drama about a couple on vacation in Greece, and the memories the trip brings up.
Dir: Yang Fudong
New Women is an art/film installation at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with five large movie screens in a darkened chamber. Black and white video projections show languorous women, wandering around in recreated scenes of old Shanghai. Or, rather, not Shanghai locations but the false photo sets and backgrounds that were popular in that era. The models seem to be trapped in a seductive opium-haze, and they lounge around, draping themselves over art deco furniture, sprays of cherry blossoms, immaculate Roman ruins and feather boas. Shanghai glamour girls were idolized in the 1920s and 30s, their images selling cigarettes, alcohol and candy. But these models, save for their elaborate make-up, hairstyles and jewelry, are completely nude in these unusual soft-core porn projections.
Each scene is reflected and echoed across the chamber, not synchronized, but staggered and varied, giving the whole exhibition a drifting, dream-like quality. You should check out this show.
Dir: Phie Ambo
Will is a 3-year-old foster child who is terrified of elevators. He feels trapped there if the doors closed and doesn’t know how to press the buttons. It makes him feel bad in his belly. He also gets into fights easily and doesn’t get along with the other kids. Doctors say he has ADHD and should be medicated.
One ex-soldier is plagued by constant guilt and uneasiness for the cruelty he showed. And another veteran’s marriage is collapsing — he can’t shake the memory of the deaths he feels responsible for in Iraq. They both suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Should they drown their lives in activities? Or start on a program of prescription drugs? Or self-medicate themselves to oblivion – masking their troubles with alcohol or pot? Or is there another way to free the brain and body from the worries that plague them?
This documentary suggests that breathing and meditation exercises, constantly repeated, can actually reform the thought patterns in the brain. While the movie doesn’t make a strictly scientific argument, it’s still too early to offer proof, it does show the results of a test case at the University of Wisconsin: the session seems to change moods and sleep patterns. In word-association tests the patients shifted from negative, doom-and-gloom responses to a much more positive mindset. And it’s heart-warming to see the little boy Will gradually adjusting.
This is a fairly conventional documentary in form (plus a bit of animation and some psychedelic scenes) but its topic is fascinating.
Dir: Richard Linklater
Jesse and Celine (Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy) are on vacation in Greece. Jesse is a successful American novelist with a son from a previous marriage. He’s seeing him off at the airport after spending some time with him on their vacation. Celine is from Paris and her career is finally taking off. And their beautiful blonde daughters are there, too.
But it doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to. Their harshest thoughts and their biggest worries resurface, and the arguments about a potential break-up looms large. Do they still find one another attractive? Can an American man and a French woman with ties on two different continents actually stay together? Do two people with different views on religion, truth, and jealousy, on men and women have enough in common to keep the spark of love alive? And will they still be together after another twenty years?
Before Midnight is the third film in a series by Linklater that started twenty years ago, with Jesse and Celine meeting for the first time at random on a train to Vienna. The second film was shot ten years later, and this third one after another decade. All the hints brought up in the first film – about their imagined future, about how people in a time machine would look back at these times — are revisited in Before Midnight.
Before Midnight has a lot of oblique references and in-jokes which I appreciated and liked but didn’t quite get… until I saw the films that led up to it. (I watched the series in reverse order.) But I really liked it without having seen the previous films, and once I saw them – whoa! Great series, great film.
Before Midnight and Free the Mind open today, and the art exhibit New Women, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s __ are now open at the TIFF Bell Lightbox – free admission. And coming soon, NXNE.ca starts next week – don’t miss its fantastic selection of bands and performances allaround the downtown, with added art shows and stand-up comics this year, and of course… movies! Also starting next week is the Toronto Japanese Film Festival. And rounding off the month is Italian Contemporary Film Festival with lots of great films by and about Italy its people and culture.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .