Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Beat and the Summer

Caught up with two flicks this weekend I've been itching to see: The Beat That My Heart Skipped and My Summer of Love. (Let's hear it for the Landmark--always there in a pinch when I'm jonesing for some Eurotrash cinema!)

The Beat..., directed by Jacques Audiard (whose Read My Lips I remember loving at the time I saw it but couldn't synopsize for you now if my life depended on it) and based on James Toback's Fingers (which, despite a Keitel in his '70s heyday, I have no desire to see), fits right in with my weakness for flashy French genre movies. Far from being a throwaway guilty pleasure, though, this is one of the more stunning character pieces I've seen in quite some time. In marked contrast to most American films you'd see about an aspiring concert pianist, lead character Tom, played by Romain Duris (unassailably hot, yadda yadda--you know you were waiting for me to say it), actually isn't all that talented. Nor can he simply practice himself into brilliance. He sweats and he stomps and he swears, but even after several weeks of lessons, his improvement is negligible. The lessons are, ostensibly, to help him prepare for an audition with an agent, but it's never entirely clear what his motives are for auditioning in the first place. He gives some lip service to a desire to leave his life of petty crime, but, at 28, he's getting a little long in the tooth to regain whatever skill he'd lost during a decade without serious practice. (Petty crime to one side, of course, this all hits a little close to home for me.) I won't spoil much of the plot for you, but his longing to be reconnected to his past, represented by the piano, while fighting against the entropy of his present captures with heartbreaking precision what it feels like to first start having regrets in your late twenties about the path your life is taking. There's also some interesting stuff going on here around the concept of language barrier. The characters who end up being Tom's greatest ally and greatest nemesis, respectively, speak not a lick of French, which propels his interactions with them into these heightened states of emotion fueled by music and violence. The movie's brief epilogue crystalizes these relationships with a casual confidence that feels deceptively like an afterthought on the director's part, yet sneaks in a few minutes of breathtaking acting from Duris, especially the scene where he savagely beats a man in a stairwell while weeping profusely. Bonus points for the excellent and evocative use of The Kills' "Monkey 23."

My Summer of Love will get you in the door with the voyeuristic promise of some first time schoolgirl lesbian experimentation, but it'll keep you with its assured sense of pacing and storytelling and fine acting. Though there are more than a few passing similarities to Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, I wasn't really distracted by the fact or tempted to interact with the movie on anything other than its own terms. Nathalie Press has sly and effortless comic timing, and Paddy Considine pulls off the nearly impossible feat of successfully giving a portrait of a man playing at faith, who thinks he's convinced himself that he really believes, yet is most real and most likable as a character when the mask drops in anger to reveal the violent, tangled mess of his soul.

I [heart] the CTA. Anybody have any fun tales of woe from the commute last night? I stood on the brown line platform at Chicago Avenue for about forty-five minutes last night, then Nora Rocket and I decided to race each other home: she stayed there, I opted to take the Chicago Avenue bus to the Western bus, and we promised that the first one home would call the other. I was just pulling up to the light at Western and Wilson when my cell phone rang at 7:08. Good times.

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