September 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
That it took 12 years for Alain Guiraudie, a French filmmaker, to find his way onto the Cannes Croisette is a matter of niggling curiosity. Between his first mainline* Cannes entry, the sublime, erotic thriller Stranger by the Lake (2013), and this delicate 49-minute slice of dreamy realism, Guiraudie directed three features, none of which I have seen and none of which received even a droplet’s worth of the acclaim showered upon his 2013 picture. It would be interesting to discover whether the mid 2000s was indeed an artistic trough, or simply neglected. What can be said with some confidence, though, is that the Bressonian visual elegance Guiraudie displays in Stranger by the Lake is very much on show in That Old Dream That Moves. With a keen eye for borderline bland locations, Guiraudie and cinematographer Emmanuel Soyer turn a dilapidated factory into a cathedral of fragile masculinity and unspoken desire. This brisk but patiently told tale centres on an industrious technician named Jacques who arrives at a factory that is being closed down, tasked with disassembling a particular (and at times phallic) machine in preparation for transportation to a new home. While the regular employees laze about, contemplating their pending unemployment and channeling their fear into petty squabbles, Jacques goes about his business with a certain intensity only to be courted ever so gently by two older ‘heteronormative’ men, Donand and Louis, both of whom may only just be discovering or coming to terms with their own wants and needs. At this point a vital voice in international queer cinema, Guiraudie’s approach to sexuality is neither combative nor yielding. While Jacques does not declare his preference for men on arrival, he neither bends over backwards to conceal his sexuality or rebuff advances. In a strange way, his unshowy matter-of-factness is a challenge to Donand and Louis, daring them to either make a move or make a run for it. If one is to go the allegorical route, Jacques’ role in decommissioning the factory could even position him as an angel of sexual rebirth, spurring his suitors to shed their old skins as they will their old jobs. Like low tide, this very social realist picture quietly presents its central ménage à trois (of sorts) in a manner that suggests the groggy period after an afternoon nap, accentuated by the use of muted tones, diffuse light and soft shadows, and still, boxy framing. At its modest length, That Old Dream That Moves qualifies as a feature film according to Anglo-American standards, while it is nine minutes shy of being a feature in its homeland, having been nominated for a Best Short Film Cesar in 2003. By either standard, though, it is without doubt a great film.
* Giuraudie’s 2009 picture The King of Escape premiered in that year’s Directors Fortnight sidebar
May 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
My once good friend Benets has this place in Tangier; an apartment that isn’t all that cosy, that has a pair of bedrooms sized like halls and a balcony that overlooks a skyline of cracked still-cracking walls and peeling paintjobs, domes and lanky minarets. We rest our elbows on the stone balustrade and run our eyes along clotheslines that span buildings, bridging windows, hard to tell from telephone lines or lines strung up for reasons long forgotten. We drink our drinks, he scotch and I port. We admire the remains of Spanish-run days and of the sun, and then we move inside to take ease on his leather settees, in the evening heavy and cool.
‘Couldn’t you just eat this view?’ he says to me.
I tell him I doubt it could fit in my mouth even if I tried. I take the two-note noise from his throat to be some sort of a chuckle.
‘Scotch?’ he says sitting up and holding a position.
‘It’ll do me, Benets. I don’t mind port.’ We call him Benets to his face.
Benets grunts his way out of the hollow in the settee made by his ass. The patter of his loafers peters off into silence, but I know he’s only a little way off, by the coat stand pouring what he wishes was a scotch and what I’m hoping is just port.
I look out towards the balcony at the purple sky and I see a pair of minarets peeking over the railing. Below, between the uprights, I can see the rest of Tangier and it looks glorious as far as the bay. Has a rundown charm even in silhouette. I pull back my focus and fix it on the womanly curves of the balcony’s plinths. My gaze washes over the whole thing, balustrade and all, and I think – in a fit of melancholy – that I haven’t a thing in the world to stop me throwing myself off of it.
‘What was that?’
I say, ‘what was what?’ surprised that my thought could have somehow been made word.
Benets is back with scotch on the rocks in one hand and port in plain glass in the other, wearing an uneasy face.
‘I didn’t get everything but I don’t think I liked the gist of what I think I heard, Moss,’ he’s saying as he struts to his spot on the settee.
‘Benets,’ I laugh, ‘I didn’t say a thing.’ I really want my port and want it in me now.
I laugh. ‘No.’
Benets sits the glasses on the glasstop table but doesn’t sit. Gives a one-note chuckle.
My breath is cordoned. His gaze lacerates me, but then its edge blunts and his face softens and he picks up his drink and seats himself stiffly; glances at me and then away.
I watch him suck on the tan booze, see ice hit his lip and melt a little. He groans (perhaps from pleasure), elbows rested on his knees. Leaning forward I slide the petite glass my way and lift it and knock back a drop; my eyes they never leave him.
‘Must be so nervous I must be hearing things,’ he says to the darkening outside. To the crystal glass at his mouth.
I pitch in by clearing my throat and sipping more port. Benets asks if I ever hear things when I’m nervous.
‘No,’ I say. ‘But my bowels they go funny sometimes.’
Benets says, ‘that’s not so odd.’
I don’t feel quite settled where I’m sitting, like my ass is in the clouds. I ask him what’s gotten him so unnerved; if it’s not just the wedding.
‘Bah…! Anouk’s a big girl and so am I,’ he says.
So as not to laugh at this slight misspeak I roll booze round my mouth. But I find that I’m really not that amused.
I say, ‘maybe the bigger the girl the bigger the nerves. Is that something people say?’
Benets silently shrugs.
‘I’m not nervous,’ he says with sudden verve, after an extended post-shrug silence. ‘Do I look nervous? Maybe anxious, but that’s a different thing to nervous.’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘I hope it’s just anxiety and not nerves.’
Anouk, Benets’ bride to be, hasn’t an anxious bone anywhere anyplace. She’s a French expatriate whom Benets met on a boating trip, the kind well-off folk take to remind themselves how well-off they are and how much less well-off they could be. They talked as they sailed from Boumerdés but that’s all I know of how they encountered.
My first encounter with Anouk was at a newsstand, on the cover of a magazine. She would later disarm me with her deathly sense of humour and her dissertation on the benefits of being underweight. Benets is crazy about her and I think I am too.
The laces draped over the French doors leading onto the balcony beat softly in the tepid sundown breeze as though fanning Benets. I watch Tangier blacken all around him, watch the laces fall still again, still as he stands. For whatever reason, I get up and amble here, amble there. I eventually stop and stand.
‘I wish there was some way I could say thank you,’ I say.
‘You could just say it.’
‘Been saying it since yesterday, since the airport.’
‘And you think I don’t think it’s enough.’
‘Enough. Such a shit of a word. Is it ever enough for anybody?’
I feel like a hatstand he’s hung his gaze upon. And then I feel naked when he reclaims it and casts it upon the view from the balcony. All is silent for not too long. I’m briefly amused that the glint of the city might outdo that of the stars.
Now past my amusement, I give a quaint laugh. Benets doesn’t ask ‘what?’ as I’d hoped. I step forward once, twice, till we are in effect level-shouldered. I clear my throat of muck. ‘I’m still trying to figure out the catch,’ I lightly say with a hint of a put-on chuckle.
Benets quarter turns and I can see, in the glass he’s holding, a thin film of gold clinging to the rocks now reduced to mere hailstones. His look is blank as he says, ‘what catch?’
‘Feels a little like winning the lottery. Being your best man.’
Benets stares at me. ‘You want out.’
‘Alec,’ I declare. ‘Alec. Please. Not at all. I’m just saying.’
‘I’m just listening.’
‘It’s only – it was odd that you found me, is it not? Hell, remembered. What were the odds?’
‘You forgot me.’
‘If I ever did I can’t recall when. All due respect, but how could I forget? I’d hear your name around…the names of the women you were with…blah, blah. I’d read it in the paper and think to myself I knew that guy. A tower your namesake…Then I’d remember how we were friends once.’
‘You say once as if it’s permanent. I’m not so changed, Moss, just not so stupid, and broke. For sure not broke.’
‘No.’ I feign a smile. ‘It’s just — this is the kind of good thing that doesn’t happen in forever.’ Suddenly, the melancholy.
He has this way of stating questions.
‘Maybe I exaggerate.’
‘Come outside with me for a sec.’
In the darkness of the night on the balcony we are without drink and it all seems so very honest. Far, as far as the bay, I see something queer on the water and think it would be nice if it were the sail of a yacht that was out for a late stroll.
Fifteen floors underfoot on a two-way street that should be a one-way, two cars duck each other like ex-lovers in a grocer’s aisle. I choose to follow the one on my right with the one dead taillight that’s readying for a left turn but then slows at a junction for a stop sign. Benets chooses to rest his chin on the hair-darkened arms he’s lined up on the balustrade, like a child gazing down, taken with heights.
‘If you leapt,’ he says out of nowhere – and my ears prick – ‘that’d be it.’
I consider the drop with a welling pulse and it is truly quite a drop. ‘So much time to think.’
‘If you leapt you wouldn’t be thinking.’
‘No. But two-thirds down you’d begin.’
‘Huh,’ he says. ‘I wonder what of. Maybe,’ he continues, ‘all the things you’d be leaving behind.’
‘Maybe for some,’ I say despite my suddenly leaden throat, ‘all the things you don’t have to leave behind.’
Benets’ brows collide and his forehead creases and he frowns. ‘You don’t have to. Then why do you?’
‘No no. You leap because there’s nothing to leave behind. Because you don’t have love or money or a daughter or a son or something to fight for, and you don’t have a clue about anything.’
I notice my lungs have emptied and that I am without breath. But I let air leak slowly in as though I don’t need it so much.
Slowly Benets’ lips ease and his forehead skin smooths out and his brows tease apart. Now he is upright and his hands are nestled in his pockets, hidden from this cheeky breeze, this breeze that carries with it the rumpus and spices of Casa Barata, the thieves’ markets. I can almost hear it, the heckling and friendly insults.
‘It’s a sad thing,’ says Benets, ‘that you had so much to gain.’
I’m thinking it’s a sad thing that I still do.
‘A sad thing,’ he says,’ but a good thing. Somehow.’
I look at him.
Two days before the wedding, Benets throws himself from the balcony and drives his skull into the ground. People can’t believe that he fell, how on earth he could have fallen, how drunk he must have been. I can’t believe it either because I know for a fact that he threw himself.
He is survived by a few things ¶.
I was meant to spend the next five days celebrating a marriage. These I end up spending wandering the thieves’ markets or lying in bed reading, in my bedroom in a four-star chain motel. This is when I’m not being summoned to the police station to confirm answers to questions that I’m certain I’ve already been asked.
I know no-one, none of the other guests, certainly not anymore if once upon a time I in fact did. And, from what I hear, none of them are eager to stay much longer in Tangier.
But for me this is free time that I could never pay for out of pocket, and I find that I’m unable to complain, but for the tragedy.
Five days later, I board the return leg that Benets paid for and I fly back to where I’m from, with the knowledge that he chose me to be his best man but ended himself before I had the chance to do him the honour.