Love without Marriage. Movies reviewed: Auf das Leben! To Life!, Sailing a Sinking Sea, Far From the Madding Crowd
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage … right? This week I’m looking at three movies about love and affection that may not lead to marriage. There’s a romance set in Victorian England about a strong-willed woman who doesn’t want to jump into marriage; a documentary – at Hot Docs — about a seafaring people in Southeast Asia who believe in mermaids, not wedding ceremonies; and a German drama – playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival – about an older woman who has lost her will to live.
Auf das Leben! To Life! Dir: Uwe Janson
Ruth Weintraub (Hannelore Elsner) is a retired cabaret singer in Germany who now repairs musical instruments. Once a popular Yiddish singer in the 70s, something terrible happened, and now she’s a lonely woman with no friends or family. She reaches rock bottom when she’s forcibly relocated from her apartment of 30 years. So she’s shocked to see the young labourer packing up her stuff is a doppelganger for a lost love from her distant past. Johan (Max Riemelt) lives out of an old VW bus, picking up odd jobs. His only release is a daily run through the park. Clearly, he’s running away from something, but won’t say what. When he saves her from suicide and loses his bus in the process they are forced together. While Ruth is locked up in a mental ward, Johan is watching old film reels he finds in her apartment, which gradually reveal her past. This is a nice, low-key German portrayal of an unusual pair of friends. While there’s a sweet, younger/older bond, don’t expect a new Harold and Maude. It’s simple, not quirky, and the characters are endearing, not complex. But I enjoyed it as a good TV drama, including the bouncy, passionate singing by Sharon Brauner as the young Ruth.
Sailing a Sinking Sea Dir: Olivia Wyatt
When the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in 2004, over 200,000 people in Southeast Asia were swept away in a just a few minutes. But one group, the Moken people, who live on the Andaman sea between Thailand and Burma managed to survive almost unharmed. The Moken say they have no last names, don’t keep track of age and don’t use numbers. They are born on boats, have sex with mermaids, and can sing to the fish. Ghosts don’t scare them but monkeys do. They won’t kill Sea Cows, because they are too close to humans, but aren’t past making them cry to collect their tears for love potions. Marriage means a woman can grow breasts and a man builds a boat; no wedding or special ceremony, they just move in together. This is an amazing, delightful documentary, its stories and songs told entirely in their language. Filled with gorgeous, Nemo-like underwater scenes of men hunting with spears deep in the water with women overhead on the boats.
Far From the Madding Crowd Dir: Thomas Vinterberg (based on Thomas Hardy’s novel)
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a free spirit. She rides horses lying on her back. She’s well-educated but penniless since her parents died and lives in a little farmhouse in 19th century Dorset, England. Her nearest neighbour, farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), is plain-spoken but honest and loyal. He’s a young man with a flock of sheep and is heading for a prosperous future. Will you marry me? he asks her. She cannot. Soon after, there’s a reversal of fortune. He loses his farm while she inherits a manor and the huge country estate that surrounds it. She decides to manage it herself – unheard of for a woman. She meets resistance selling her crop – the men at the exchange won’t even acknowledge her. But the way she handles herself catches the eye of Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a very rich and eligible bachelor. He has turned all the other women away, but this one intrigues him. Many years her senior, he can still carry a tune with the best of them. Their two farms put together would make a fine plot of land. And passing through town is the dashing, mustachioed Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a sergeant in Queen Victoria’s army. Brash and impulsive, he dresses like a Mountie, complete with redcoat, sword and riding crop. He was left waiting at the altar by the love of his life, so he’s on the lookout for someone new. And stalwart Gabriel Oak, her erstwhile suitor, is now her employee. He’d still marry her in a minute. What to do? What to do? This is a wonderful, classic romance about a woman controlling her own fate. The cast is amazing – especially Flemish actor Christian Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Bathsheba. Danish director Vinterberg (The Hunt) presents it all as a straightforward record of life in the lush English countryside (far from the city’s madding crowd.) It takes a leisurely pace, and is heavy on the cultural details… but is never boring. And now that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have been done to death (complete with zombies and sea monsters) are we looking at a Thomas Hardy boom?
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com