Tuesday, July 7, 2009
By an odd chance last night I ended up watching two films which dealt with the exact same themes. I was in Meryl Streep mood (make that me trying to watch all of Meryl's Academy Award nominated performances) so I got "One True Thing". I had a basic idea of what it was about: mom (Meryl) gets sick, hotshot daughter (Renée Zellweger) comes from the city to take care of her and make amends, all leading to a melodramatic assisted death thing.
After that was over I watched "The Barbarian Invasions", Denys Arcand's follow up to "The Decline of the American Empire", which had a plot I didn't know about. To my surprise it deals with an ill father (Rémy Girard) whose hotshot son (Stéphane Rousseau) comes from the city to take care of him and make amends, all leading to assisted death.
What made these events happen for me in the same night? I do not know. But the night ended up being a film lesson of sorts about do's and don'ts when it comes to family dramas.
Streep's film, yet it's hers, handles things in a slightly contrived way. It's all about the revelations and hidden feelings, instead of flowing naturally.
Zellweger has some trouble throughout the film not acting and you can see her figuring out what should her character do in the next scene. William Hurt plays her dad and while he's brilliant as usual, his character suffers the same problem most of the movie deals with and is the fact that they feel pretty aimless.
The film can't hide its tricky sentimentalism when it comes up with a rather unnecessary subplot involving a police investigation dealing with the whole suicide thing.
Of course Meryl rises up and makes the entire film seem less like a Lifetime flick of the week and more like an existential meditation of compromise and love.
She suffers with such dignity that every single attempt to turn her scenes into a cornucopia of corniness becomes testament to someone who can do it all, and does!
Arcand's film on the other side doesn't take itself too seriously. Before long there are subplots with heroine junkies, corrupt hospital unions and "Empire"'s array of literate, vicious characters who cheer up the dying man with their sexcapades, erudite conversations and wicked sense of humor.
You can't really feel death looming over this movie in the way you feel it in "One True Thing". Does this mean that one is in a denial of sorts while the other deals with things more straightforward? Or is perhaps death, in a Bergmanian way, something that should be received with as much fear as humor?
All this made me wonder what would it have been like if Meryl was part of "The Barbarian Invasions"' ensemble.
For one Marie-Josée Croze would've said goodbye to that Best Actress award at Cannes (I don't see what they saw in her, especially not in the year of Nicole Kidman in "Dogville" at the festival...) Streep does dry humor-and all humor-like no other thespian and she would've known exactly how much tears to put into the sentimental moments.
She would've been perfect, but alas she can't be in every movie.
Have you seen these two movies? If so had you seen the similarities? And do you prefer one over the other?