Theme Thursday #1

OK, here I go again late again.

In watching films in rapid succession at time whether by design or purely by accident you’ll find themes whether they be narrative, visual or otherwise. For my first sojourn I decided to be rather clear and picked a narrative theme, while the films are very different: one is a modern French film and the other an American film made at the dawn of the sound era, they both to extent deal with death.

The French film is François Ozon’s Time to Leave. The American film is the 1935 cinematic rendition of Louisa May Alcott‘s Little Men, her much interpreted follow-up to Little Women in which Jo runs a boys’ school with her husband. Now the importance of death in each film and how it is handled is drastically different.

Ozon’s film has the occasional moment of truly striking beauty, which is undermined by the fact that our protagonist, Romain (Melvil Poupaud), who is diagnosed with a terminal case of cancer almost immediately never really lets his guard down, which is fine, however, the story could’ve had even more resonance than it does if we were allowed to see the family’s reaction to his death that they didn’t see coming. Aside from that it is a well-made film with some very great touches in it. The flashbacks are particularly strong. The theme of Romain wanting to take pictures of things and people he’s seeing for the last time is effective. Jeanne Moureau’s scenes are also quite good. However, in the end this film ends up being more impressive in its dealing with death than its American counterpart.

Now the indirectness and hastiness with which the death, which I won’t talk about in great detail to avoid spoilers, in Little Men (1935) has little to do with when it was made. Some of the all time great tragedies and tear-jerkers of cinema come from the Golden Age. However, there were some films back then who briskly rushed through their endings to get to happy resolution to shave minutes off running time to squeeze more showings in per day. This is one good thing that multiplexes have brought on, you can stretch your film out if needed and not worry as much about lost opportunity for profit.

The death here is quickly dealt with and bypassed and we rush toward the ending. Not to say that this is a horrible adaptation of the story. It’s just not quite up to snuff with the 1997 version starring Mariel Hemingway which I attribute mostly to direction and writing as the cast assembled amongst the kids anyway should be able to rival if not trump the modern rendition. Soon I will check out the 1940 version online but I think 97s will stand strong in my eyes as the best cinematic rendition- if you are already familiar with this tale, or even if you’re not I strongly recommend the TV series as well.

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