The ‘Doris, Rock and Tony’ Trilogy; three ‘delicious’ romanctic comedies celebrating the battle of the sexes

How could I describe how I feel about the films that this amazing Hollywood trio made together?  Well…

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Cupcakes! They are easy, fun, smooth, sweet, old-fashioned, colourful and interesting-looking sweets..eh..films! Just like with cupcakes, you never realise how soon they are over, and you always crave more than one. You enjoy them with a hot brew, and they surely lift your spirits.

The “Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall Trilogy”, as I enjoy calling it consists of three delightful, romantic comedies; “Pillow Talk (1959), “Lover Come Back” (1961), and “Send me no Flowers” (1964). In these wonderful, light cinematic creations you can expect to find; phone conversations, antagonism among the sexes, stereotypes, advertising accounts, intoxicating candy, annulled marriages, sexual harassments, divorces, pregnancies, moose photography, product inventions, classy and colourful wardrobes, bromances, funeral arrangements, golf cart malfunctions and many, many more memorable moments.

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Brad: Look, I don’t know what’s bothering you, but don’t take your bedroom problems out on me.

Jan: I have no bedroom problems. There’s nothing in my bedroom that bothers me.

BradOh-h-h-h. That’s too bad.

Jan Morrow (Doris Day), an interior decorator, has to share her party line with Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), a womanizing composer with a fetish to make long, romantic calls to his many lovers, to whom he dedicates the same ballad, changing only the lucky lady’s name in the lyrics each time. They are both single, independent and passionate; Jan is serious, hard-working, and composed, whereas Brad is playful, superficial, and afraid of commitment.

Jan can barely get a call through due to Brad’s endless calls and decides to confront him, and so begins their antagonistic relationship. The dialogue is quick and catchy, resembling an enjoyable ping-pong match (the usage of split-screens during their phone conversations were truly unique at the time). Being two strangers who fight over their line, and exchange ironic remarks, they have never actually met. One night, when Brad’s on a date with one of these delightful ladies, discovers that Jan is sitting in the next table. Knowing he stands no chance with her if he reveals his identity, he decides to pretend to be Rex, a Texan rancher who is visiting New York for the first time on business.

Except for the party line, the two protagonists have another thing in common;  Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall). As Brad’s best friend, and Jan’s client and wanna-be boyfriend, Jonathan interferes when he discovers his friend’s deceiving plans, and remains the most comic figure throughout the film (the highlight of which is the scene at the diner with a crying Jan, in my opinion…). Jonathan is a rich, spoilt, sweet, spontaneous and goofy boy who employs a hilarious deep-voice to project the serious image of authority and prestige.

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The story is simple and the ending predictable, but sharing a party line serves as a convenient and yet, pretty original storytelling mechanism and won the film the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). Rock and Doris are a radiant couple on-screen, as a result of their captivating chemistry that is both visual and intellectual. They are arguably more shiny and sophisticated than the average couple you see on the street but it is as if their real-life friendship Doris and Rock had is transparent through their characters on-screen, making them the coolest and funniest couples in Hollywood comedy.

The film managed to transform Doris’s image from the ‘girl-next-door’ to the ‘classy, independent and sex symbol’ of her era, and the legendary costume designer Jean Louis played a major role in that. Pillow Talk was also Rock’s first break from melodramas, and revealed his potential to do comedy, which is unexpectedly natural and refreshing. Doris’s shocked goggling and Rock’s sweet smirk become their comic signature that spreads laughter. Even after having watched the film several times, Brad’s masquerade still gives me a good laugh, and especially Rock’s imitation of the accent and macho-ways of a Texan man.

Lover Come Back (1961)

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Carol Templeton: You kissed me and I was thrilled!

Jerry Webster: A kiss? What does that prove? It’s like finding out you can light a stove. It doesn’t make you a cook.

Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson) and Carol Templeton (Doris Day) are both Account Executives working in rival advertising agencies in Madison Avenue. Jerry’s unethical tactic of winning clients over is relied on partying, drinking and visiting strip clubs with them, which comes in complete contrast with Carol’s work ethic and thus, makes him a despised figure in her eyes.

The main idea behind the film doesn’t differentiate from that of Pillow Talk as mistaken identity works once again as a key plot device. The two characters have never met, and a simple circumstantial accident gives Jerry the chance to masquerade this times as a Nobel Prize-winner chemist, Dr. Linus Tyler who is the inventor of a promising new product for Jerry’s agency. Carol jumps at the opportunity to steal the account by trying everything to please the sensitive, intellectual, and too innocent scientist.

Irene, the Award-nominated costume designer for her work in B.F.’s Daughter (1948) and Midnight Lace (1960), created Carol’s wardrobe as a favour to her close friend Doris Day. Irene was one of the greatest fashion designers of old Hollywood and has dressed  Ginger Rogers in Shall We Dance (1937), Constance Bennett in Topper (1937), Carole Lombard in To Be or Not to Be (1941), Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Esther Williams in Jupiter’s Daughter (1949), to name a few.

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

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Dr: Is it a sharp pain, is it a dull pain, or does it grip like a vice.

George: Yes, yes!

Dr: Nonono, pick one! 

George: I guess it’s a sharp pain, hurts like the dickens when I press it.

DrThen don’t press it!

In this one, Rock and Doris are no strangers bound by mutual contempt but a happily married couple; George and Judy Kimball. The only problem is that George is a hypochondriac who lives on countless pills, enough to fill an entire bathroom cabinet! George visits his doctor after experiencing chest pains and although he is reassured of his well-being, he overhears a conversation that leaves him convinced he has a terminal disease. After the initial shock, he takes it upon himself to makes sure Judy is taken care of after he is gone, which in the 1960’s naturally meant that she find a new rich and loving husband to replace her late one. So George attempts to find that new husband for Judy so that she doesn’t fall in the wrong hands and in all this he has his loyal friend and neighbour Arnold Nash (Tony Randall) by his side.

The film thrives off of confusion and a chain of amusing misunderstandings that provide a pure and simple avenue for comedy. The two funniest scenes by far are delivered by Paul Lynde who plays Mr. Akins, the operator of the funeral home that George visits to buy a burial plot (another business he had to take care of before his final hour…). 

 

 

The golden apple in the garden of video-game films; Assassin’s Creed (2016), dir: Justin Kurzel

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Prepare yourselves for the exception in video-game film genre. Take it from someone who is unfamiliar with the games, and detests video-game movies, like Warcraft (2016), Lara Croft and Resident Evil (well..all of them), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010 – sorry Jake…) etc. The trio (director Justin Kurzel and actors Michael Fassbender – who is also one of the producers and Marion Cotillard) that created Macbeth (2015) returns with an utterly different story and format. Mythology, Apple of Eden, highly-trained assassins bearing an important deadly mission, scientific, the Spanish Inquisition (stakes, persecution etc.), eagles, parkour, fights, chase, Sinister figures, conspiracy etc. These are all included in the film that seems to have been conceived in the Dan Brown conspiracy universe with the addition of impressive parkour chase acts and a little bit of Marion/Fassbender magic.

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Cal (Michael Fassbender) becomes an orphan and a runaway when his father murders his mother. Thirty years later, he is sentenced to death for murder. He is about to be executed when his life takes an unexpected turn. Abstergo Foundation transports him to their facility in Madrid where Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) offers him a new life, if he agrees to help her find a relik of the past. This item is none other than the Apple of Eden, which contains the genetic code for free will. Why he is the guiding map to the relic? Because of his blood line, part of his DNA belongs to his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha who is also the last man who is known to have had the Apple in his possession. Dr. Rikkin’s machine, the Animus allows people to relive genetic memories of their ancestors so Cal’s mission takes him to Aguilar’s and Maria’s (Ariane Labed), his partner’s path in ensuring the safety of the Apple.

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There are several things I loved about this film: it would be unfair to dismiss its strengths out of holes in the storyline. First, it has a brilliant score signed by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother), which sets the accelerated rhythm of the fighting and running with the addition of dark and mysterious turns that match perfectly the colour pallet of the haunting Andalusia of torture and fear.

In addition, the Assassin’s Creed is different from its video-game peers in the sense that it has a cast that adds prestige to the simplistic story plot. Apart from the aforementioned protagonists, Jeremy Irons plays the sinister British figure (stereotypical but ever pleasing), Brendan Gleeson is [once more – Trespass Against Us (2017)] Fassbender’s overly dutiful and sullen father, Charlotte Rampling is the queen of the vicious Christian Templar that controls humanity throughout the centuries and finally, Michael K. Williams plays the humorous and passionate descendant of yet another assassin.

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The dialogue is subtle and clever, and the film’s atmosphere successfully transports you in the Spanish Inquisition era. The dark colour pallet and the costume design achieve the recreation of the 15th century era with the same detail found in a masterful painting [the cinematographer is Adam Arkapaw, another member of the Macbeth (2015) team]. The frenetic action (roof parkour chase mostly) is particularly refreshing as it is imaginatively choreographed and beautifully executed. The energy the film projects, whether it is achieved through the performances, the dizzying action, or the use of colour and movement in its composition compensates for the weak core story.

Assassin’s Creed is not a massive hit but unlike its own kind, it is not a boring and outrageously unreasonable film either. As a whole, it may disorient, confuse and provoke complete indiference for the Assassins’ life mission, probably due to a great dosage of fetishism. It is a pity because its themes of identity and duty (“A man grows by the greatness of his task” ~ Cal justly claims) are universal and everlasting. While watching the film, and not having been able to identify with the characters (Oops…) I had sparse thoughts and questions around these themes. Questions, such as ‘Will you follow a predetermined path, or draw your own?’, ‘If free will is so precious then why do we deny it on a daily basis?’, ‘Why people feel the need of believing in something so completely (whether it’s science, violence, religion, another person, work, a bad or a good habit) that their existence is absorbed in it?’.

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Finally, my most intense thoughts were about this Animus machine that I would crave to have. Undoubtedly, given the chance I would use it all the time until my friends held an intervention. It must be thrilling to experience the memories of your ancestors and have access to everything that accounted to your existence. According to M. Szyf’s and M. J. Meaney’s body of research in behavioural epigenetics, alterations in brain neuron pass down from one generation to the other. The idea of accumulated experiences of you past generations is scientifically proven and that is what makes the film’s concept intriguing.

According to the new insights of behavioural epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA (http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/13-grandmas-experiences-leave-epigenetic-mark-on-your-genes). Wouldn’t you love to go back and witness everything that shaped you into who you are (genetically at least) and become a natural historian in the meantime? Experience the danger of a battlefield but without being inflicted a single scratch?! Redefine yourself through the fragments of time that are inside you anyway?

In spite of being a somewhat mediocre film, in the Assassin’s Creed can be found scenes of excellent acting and action that redeem this period piece; Fassbender’s physical acting approach to the execution scene, the mental game of influence/ trust between him and Cotillard, Fassbender singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and all these juicy Andalusian parkour chase scenes.

I suggest you take the “Leap of Faith” and watch this one because….

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Hedonism burns a man of disappointed dreams; Suntan (2016), dir:Argyris Papadimitropoulos

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It’s a cruel, cruel summer….for a reserved doctor and a sexy tourist. The film made me recall a line from The Stranger of Albert Camus: “It is better to burn than to disappear.”

The tragic and violent story revolves around a 40 year-old doctor, Kostis who finds himself in Antiparos, a Greek island that revives only during summer when it receives tourists. Summer arrives and so does Anna, an attractive 20 year-old woman with her multiculti friends. The group serves as a window to the excitement and opportunities of youth that Kostis has long forsaken. But Kostis is a frozen man of winter, a lonely soul who needs to step miles out of his comfort zone to digest the gifts this hedonistic (and excessively nude) summer brought along. 

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The film has a documentary feel which makes the narration refreshing and its effect immediate. Efthymis Papadimitriou (Kostis) gives an amazing performance that elevates him to one of the greatest Greek actors of his generation. His meaningful silences and his tormented facial expressions mark his mastery in adding depth to a character. This is the first appearance for Elli Triggou (Anna) who seems natural and strong in her performance, which makes me looking forward to her next work. The film won in the Best International Feature Film category at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and was nominated for the Big Screen Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.

This is not the film that will carry you away to sandy beaches with the sun’s burning sensation on your flesh. Nor is the film that will bring you back to erotic summer stories steeped in salty adventures and primitive conquests. In Suntan the conditions are ideal for a terrible thing to occur but so are in real life. It is an anti-romantic thriller that winks at the feelings of numbness and discomfort we all have experienced at some point in our lives, by feeling lonely or unwanted, receiving an unpleasant or shocking surprise, facing an irreparable damage etc.

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Anna and Kostis are opposite poles. Kostis has a joyless job and an empty life. He is an outcast who bares the guilt of his lack of achievements. Anna has playful friends, a passionate nature and a desire to enjoy life to the fullest. Despite not having access to his background story, we can imagine him seating alone at the school yard, having a crash on a girl but allowing himself only observe her from afar, later at University focusing on his studies, and watching life pass him by.

Anna senses his shyness and frailty, and becomes overly friendly and even tender towards him, (the scene where she serves him food she almost looks like a mother figure). She draws him to the beach, to entertainment and to the desire of being someone else. She has a childlike (with a child’s attention span as well…) and liberated nature that radiates freedom (spiritual and physical). Anna is understanding, sensitive and mature in a way that Kostis is evidently not.

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Kostis is experiencing something totally new when he befriends Anna’s group, the cool kids who think he is good enough to join them in their summer adventures. Indicative of his unnatural and suppressed nature is his first visit to the beach where he covers his face with a thick layer of sun cream and a hideous hat resembling more of a zombie than a man. From the start, there is a lurking suspicion of danger regarding the effect his new experiences would have on his temperament. He surrenders and forgets who he is for a moment. However, the random encounter with his old friend, Orestis (who went to Los Angeles and is now a successful plastic surgeon with a beautiful wife and daughter) serves as a reminder of his failures.

Partying and hanging with the guys entails great freedom in exercising his impulses but it is also challenging for him to sense the untold rules. In this story, these rules are not pretentious norms and conformities but refer to the absolute sexual and expressive freedom of being and sharing. However, Kostis is not interested in rediscovering himself, and soon enough he becomes convinced that his love affair with Anna is the key that will free him from the chains of his own hell. 

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And so the decay begins. The ultimate confusion between his coveted reality and the widely accepted facts determine his behaviour. Gradually we sense that he is unstable and obsessive, especially when he proclaims “I want you forever” for someone he just met and barely had sex with… Kostis develops a romantic fixation that exceeds his resistances to psychotic episodes and harmful obsessions. His true nature doesn’t betray him by the end; he does act brutally but we leave him while he is taking care of her wounds, instead of raping her, which vastly affects the film’s final flavour.

Something unusual happened with this film; 90% of the times I feel great compassion for the fragile and sensitive characters who are struggling mentally and socially. I feel the sort of attraction a therapist feels for a troubled person who needs their support. In this film I felt repulsion for the character and indifference for his miserable existence. I felt he could have turned his life around at any moment, prevent his lowest self from emerging. However, that doesn’t explain it as I am aware that despire their intentions troubled people could do better in theory but are practically unable. Also, I’ve witnessed worse actions than those of Kostis and haven’t detested the characters so [de Sade in Quills (2000), Stanley in The Streetcar Named Desire (1947), and Humbert in Lolita (1962) are some of the examples that come in mind…). Thus, I presume it is neither his monstrous act that determined my reaction, nor any of my real life experiences. And so, my absolute resentment for him remains a mystery to me….

Suntan left me with a bittersweet nostalgia for the Greek summer and a reminder of how dangerous the sensitive and presumably harmless loners can be when provoked by the despair of rejection.

Reality strikes at dinner; Perfetti Sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers) (2016), dir: Paolo Genovese

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I will start by saying that I absolutely loved, loved, loved the film!! It is realistic, funny, cruel, and tender. The idea in its core is simple, and yet brilliant. Seven friends meet for dinner and one of them suggests that they put the “black boxes of their lives”, in other words their phones on display and make their use public for the night; calls, texts, social media activity etc. The film’s epitome is that it is wiser to admit we do not really know anyone, and to avoid games that set our secrets at the risk of exposure.

As Dr. House wisely had been proclaiming for 8 seasons….

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There are three couples in the story (or four, if we count Peppe and his absent “girlfriend”, Lucilla) therefore, it is only natural to assume that infidelity is part of the many and varied revelations of their turbulent night together. Rocco (Marco Giallini), a plastic surgeon and his wife Eva (Kasia Smutniak), a therapist have a teenage daughter, then Lele (Valerio Mastandrea), a lawyer and his wife Carlotta (Anna Foglietta) have two young kids, and finally Bianca (Alba Rohrwacher) and Cosimo (Edoardo Leo) are the newlyweds. Peppe (Giuseppe Battiston), a school teacher, is a divorcee who is in a serious relationship for the first time in many years.  The guys in the group are childhood friends, and the dynamic of their relationship represents a perfect image of male friendship and the instinctive collusion among them, which leads to a phone trade that is a major turning point in the storyline.

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It is a funny coincidence to watch the film only a few days after I experienced a personal revelation of my own; someone I have known my entire life and strongly believed to be incapable of infidelity (due to his reserved nature and fear of criticism), turned out to be an expert in deceiving his family for years. Bizarrely enough, infidelity is not what one would expect in a relationship-centred film such as this, as most twists are generated under adultery’s deceiving umbrella. Despite my prejudice regarding the cliché presentation of cheating in films, I was served with a delicious secret that stripped friendship of its virtues and established cynicism’s eternal reign over human actions.

One room-set films inevitably resemble theatrical plays and therefore, should have particularly dynamic performances, an original script, and well-written dialogues that can strip their characters in a revelatory and cathartic way such as, Polanski’s Carnage (2011),  Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Mankiewicz’s Sleuth (1972), Nichols’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1966), etc. Perfetti Sconosciuti meets all the aforementioned criteria for delivering a memorable cinematic experience that reminds us of how complicated and secretive people can be, even the ones we could swear we know best.

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The performances are spotless, and the cast is evidently carefully chosen for their parts. No wonder the film managed to collect nine  David Di Donatello nominations, winning in the Best Film and Best Script categories. Drama builds up gradually, following the calibre of the respective revelations, and by the end of it everyone is numb and hurt. However, smart and humorous lines bring out the funny side of it all. Some of the themes around which the film revolves are parenting, love, sex, fidelity, separation, homosexuality, acceptance, hypocrisy, guilt, psychotherapy, relationship with exes, work, lawsuits, and of course the Eclipse, with the moon being the only supporting actor.

People in their 30’s (and over) can easily identify with the characters who are married (or in serious relationships), some of them with kids. In contrast, viewers in their 20’s, like myself, could treat the film as a cautionary tale about the consequences of keeping secrets from your significant other, and your friends in the future when life might become incomprehensibly confusing and hard. Having watched the film, I am tempted to suggest the game next time I meet up with friends for dinner in order to have a first-hand experience of the damage that such an intrusion of privacy can evoke (while enjoying biodynamic wine, naturally…).

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I adored the final scene where we are shown how the night would have ended, if the group of friends hadn’t played the game. It got me thinking which scenario would be best; the brutality of each other’s inner, indigestible reality served on a cold platter, or the continuation of hypocrisy and secrecy?! It is tempting to imagine a reality where everything is out in the open and thus, there are no deeper layers of people’s lives and feelings. On the other hand, drama goes hand in hand with human relationships and for some it would be a shame to separate those two… Also, it is undeniable that a sense of liberation and catharism occurs for all parties involved when something that has been kept a secret with great cost and mental effort is finally exposed.

Personally, I would choose to play every time.

Nocturnal Animals: A violent romantic thriller (2016), dir: Tom Ford

 

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Leaving the theatre, I felt I was never going to smile again. I had been walking for about half an hour before I reached home, feeling absolutely numb and hurt by what I had been witnessing for the past 2 hours. “Nocturnal Animals” is an incredible and a dark film, with a three-dimensional storytelling structure, an incredible cast, and an emotionally charged score by Abel Korzeniowski. Tom Ford calls it a “cautionary tale” and with good reason still,  I will call it “the lurking nightmare of missing your one chance for happiness in life”.

The film is a thriller and a strong, pure, and piercing drama about regret, revenge, and unfulfilled love. The storylines are directed with frenetic energy that is complemented by beautiful images and sounds. The film’s pulse is unnerving due to the unconcealed, rough reality that is artfully and brutally crafted by Ford, whose second work lacks the elements that made people accuse him of being a pretentiously stylised filmmaker in his first work, “A Single Man” (2009).

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The Basics: 

The film was adapted by Ford himself from the 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright. Admittedly, it demands considerable talent and ability from both the director/writer and the cast to convey the intertwined storylines with clarity and undisturbed flow of emotion. Therefore, I am happy to say that despite its complexity and richness, the film is incredible in the sense that the details and allegories that were carefully placed across the narrative evoke pervasive emotions.

Amy Adams breaths life into Susan, an art gallery owner who leads an affluent life who represents the image of an accomplished and stylish woman (a role model for the western civilisation, perhaps?). One day she receives a manuscript of the first book that her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) wrote and has dedicated to her. Susan barely gets any sleep at nights, so he used to call her a nocturnal animal, and that is how he named his novel. The ex-couple hasn’t had any contact for the past 19 years, and we learn from Susan that Edward was unwilling to talk to her when she contacted him 2 years prior. Susan is unfulfilled with her job and unhappy in her marriage (her cheating and cold husband, Hutton is Armie Hammer). She starts reading the novel in her stylish, lavish yet empty and hollow home when everyone is gone for the weekend.

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The story in the book follows a peaceful Texan (like Edward, and Tom Ford..), Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) and his wife and daughter through a nighttime road trip in the middle of nowhere. At one point, they are harassed and forced out the road by another car whose passengers are meant to turn their life into a horrific nightmare. The sequence of the scenes that follow, I believe are one of the most disturbing and tense in cinema, as they are filled with agony and suspense in a roughly realistic background. The next morning finds Tony devastated in the company of Detective Andes, portrayed by Michael Shannon, following the trails of the previous night’s incidents. A year after, Tony has a chance to avenge his family but that would mean that he needs to redefine himself and his limitations.

3 stories: Reality (Present – Past): Susan reads Edward’s novel and expects to meet him during his business trip in L.A. shortly. Interwoven into real life and fictitious events, we see the flashbacks of Susan and Edward’s relationship. Fantasy: The story of the novel unfolds between the real events and flashbacks. Viewers are called to make sense of the parallelism between the protagonists’ past relationship and Tony’s painful story.

My Thoughts:

My curiosity was piqued right from the beginning, when Susan receives the novel. I wondered what were the events that led to their separation that spurred his inspiration for a book. Having watched the film, I realise that it wasn’t so much the reason of their break-up, as to its consequences, meaning the psychological impact it had in his life (and hers..). The book works as her punishment and his revenge.

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“Do you feel your life has turned into something you never intended?”- Susan

Susan projects power, accomplishment and composure. Her younger self however, wished to break free from the conformity of bourgeoisie, and passionately declared that she was completely different from her mother. She chooses to embrace the way Edward perceives her to be and she finds liberation and self-esteem by his side.

In contrast to Susan, Edward is confident about his calling to be a writer, he is also thoughtful and very sensitive, which is the opposite of what Susan has been brought up into. He reminds Susan that she has what it takes to be an artist herself and introduces her into a less pragmatic and sensible way of living. Susan’s initial instinct is to embrace the unknown beauty of freedom and self-acceptance, and so decides to marry him. Initially, she is called to justify the marriage to her mother, but later on (2 years approximately..) she has to justify it to herself, as she feels unhappy in it, despite her love for Edward.

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Is it inevitable to turn into our mothers? 

I do not believe that “We all eventually turn into our mothers.” (says Susan’s mother, played by Laura Linney), but I do believe that our mother’s (and father’s) voice does not leave us throughout our adult life. It is our job to seek our true self, buried under numerous years of constant influence and manipulation (conscious or unconscious) by our parents, in order to set ourselves free and find the life that suits us best, not others.

Our heroine, Susan made a step toward her truth, then she got scared when her real life did not resemble the one she was “supposed” to have, so she left her loved one and found a more “suitable” match, and career path. Nineteen years later, Susan has accomplished things that have definitely made her mother proud. She feels “ungrateful not to be happy” in her privileged life but she is simply not! The truth is that her love for Edward has never left her, nor the idea of the life they could have had together. She burdened with guilt for having given into fear and doubt, about not having believed in him the way he believed in her, and for having robbed him of the chance to become a father when she aborted their child (“I believe this is going to hunt me for the rest of my life.”~ Susan).

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What scared me the most?

The extent of feelings: Edward experienced excruciating pain from the ending of their relationship, which led him to the darkest places of his soul where he was able to conceive his allegorical, haunting story. The violence and pain that I witnessed in the scene where the family confronts the 3 troublemakers won’t leave me anytime soon. My stomach was tight and I could barely breathe while I watched those relentless psychopaths attack and ruin the lives of an innocent and happy family. I can only imagine that the helplessness we see in Tony, is the same as the one Edward felt. It is unsettling to think that someone might could feel so devastated by the end of a relationship that these feelings of anger and loss would translate into a story of such despair and agony.

Misjudge love, and make the wrong call: I must admit that I have never felt so strongly about anything/anyone, let alone a romantic relationship that could instantly evoke identification with the characters. However, the film conveys sentiment with such intensity that it affects even those who like myself, do not have a similar story in their past. In addition, it helped that I can perfectly relate to Susan who struggles between what her gut tells her, and what cynicism and borrowed logic dictates her to do.

It is believed that love is rare and thus, precious. It is scary to realise how easy it is to underestimate your partner, reduce the importance of “love” and thus, reject your feelings (as well as your partner’s). To make matters worse, it is also commonly held that second chances in life can be rare, which significantly reduces our chance to find happiness. I might be slightly pessimistic in that respect but don’t you find major decisions in life to be intimidating? Some people are firm in their decision-making but what about those who struggle with making their mind? (even about what chocolate bar they are going to buy.. they pick one, eat it and then regret they haven’t bought the other one…). I wonder, how willing we are nowadays to fight for our relationships? In a time where intimacy and sex are acquired quickly and easily, are we perhaps consumed with our perception of the “ideal relationship” that makes all others (the real ones…) seem expendable? Are we always on the look for the next, the better partner that is around the corner?

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Edward’s plead to Susan stayed with me:

“When you love someone you work it out, you have to be careful with it, you don’t just throw it away. You might never get it again.” 

I feel the film presents a clear warning as to how we should treat the ones we love, as apparently true love is rare. It took Edward 20 years to let go of the ghosts of his past, and being a writer he found a rather creative way to do so but imagine an ordinary person trying to manage the psychological burden, and struggling to discover a non-destructive way to release the pain… In addition, Susan’s story shows that when you launch on a new path, having left ruins behind you, chances are that it will haunt you for the rest of your life and will sabotage your potential happiness.

My views on guilt is that we should rip ourselves from what we were taught to feel remorse about and reshape our moral code. However, Susan’s guilt is not distant and moralistic but alive and personal. She is guilty about the abortion, and the impact of her cruelty towards Edward but she is mainly guilty about the life she made for herself, in other words about ignoring her true feelings.

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The End

Despite his great suffering Tony still remains a “good man”, which is mistakenly perceived as a weakness of character (especially in Texas…). In the end he kills Ray, the alpha of the criminal group (exceptionally portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose powerful performance reminded me of the obsessive tension that Tom Hardy projects on-screen), and accidentally (or not?) kills himself. It is questionable whether he would ever be able to get over such a violent and cruel part of his life, the loss of his loved ones and the person he has become therefore, his redemption comes with his death.

It is evident that in Edward’s mind Susan’s betrayal takes the dimension of Ray’s actions towards Tony however, I believe that Susan can identify with both Ray and Tony. In the beginning of the film, Susan admits that she has been thinking intensely about her ex-husband, which means that she had already started putting things together as to the reason why her life feels so empty and cold. By the time she reads the end of the book, it is beyond doubt that she experiences the same feelings as Tony who cries in despair that he “should have tried harder to protect his family”.

The cross that Tony is wearing, is the same cross that Susan has around her neck, and the red couch the Tony’s wife and daughter were found raped and murdered belongs to the apartment where they used to live together (not to mention that when Susan calls her daughter, she imagines her lying in the same position as the women in the novel). I loved the scenes where the parallelism is drawn between Susan’s and Tony’ s reality, especially the one where we seem them posing as tormented statues in the bathtub.

I feel that Edward is aware that Susan is unhappy and regrets her decision thus,  Tony is the expression of her own suffering as well. Despite the fact that Edward was deemed the weak one, it is Susan that was betrayed by her own self, due to her weakness to make a leap of faith and trust he instincts instead of the cynical world around her. As a result, just like Tony, Susan was deprived of her child and husband that the nocturnal animal took away, and in order to redeem herself and reach a catharsis she needs to “kill herself”, meaning the person she pretends to be and has been responsible for her bad decisions. By following Tony’s (and Edward’s) example, she will be free of her past regrets and will be able to find peace in her present life.

The closing scene is the proof that Edward truly did let go of his past and is no longer concerned or affected by Susan. And it is the perfect vengeance because during the hours that she is waiting for him to show up at the restaurant, she feels more and more convinced of her horrible, incorrigible mistake.

“Life on hold” summarises “The Remains of the Day” (1993), dir: James Ivory

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I must have been around 12 when I first watched the film. It was among the Academy Award nominated films that were part of my “to-watch” list and I was determined to cross it out, despite the fact that the trailer had not triggered my curiosity. The strict environment of the British society of the past century used to cause me some sort of agony as a viewer, perhaps due to the suppressed feelings that these storylines are woven into. So I sat down and watched it, only to end up feeling unfulfilled and frustrated. I was so angry that “nothing happened” between the characters, even after the second chance they were given to reunite and finally, admit their mutual affections. Twelve years later, the film had a completely different effect on me and I would like to write about that.

The film is an adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel and introduces Mr Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), the butler at Darlington Hall who is taking a trip to West Country to visit Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson), a former housekeeper (at least 20 years back..) and convince her to resume her role. We follow Mr Stevens during his journey and discover their background story in flashbacks.

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“What I do find a major irritation are those persons who are simply going from post to post looking for romance.” ~ Mr Stevens

Mr Stevens considers his duty to be the highest principle in life, and the explanation for his self-imposed oppression is provided in the first part of the film. His father, a butler himself, has instructed him to place obligation and dignity above all other virtues. As a result, Mr Stevens becomes a servile, loyal and reliable man that allows himself a single ambition and desire; to serve his master to the best of his abilities.

The mask of duty and blind devotion that he wears in order to practice his profession make me wonder whether this unnatural avoidance of intimacy is a comfortable nest he has made for himself, and therefore blaming it on the job requirements could just as well be a convenient excuseI mean, what if he was a gardener, or a chauffeur, wouldn’t he still have found a way to abstain from earthly pleasures? (well.. except for smoking his cigars). Could the firm obsession with his responsibilities as a butler be a mere excuse for protecting himself from the uncertainties and dangers that lurk behind experiencing feelings? I realise of course that I might be projecting my own intentions and thoughts onto his, as I often trick myself in building walls that hold feelings away from my warm, cosy nest of a reality (yet by employing much less dogmatic means than his…).

However, one thing is certain and masterfully conveyed though Hopkins’ performance, Mr Stevens HAS feelings but he constantly suppresses them and often treats Miss Kenton with cruelty (e.g. after having exposed her affections ~in a subtle way~ he finds her crying and dismisses her once again by asking her to attend to a house chore). Acknowledging that fact about the film we can detect a certain similarity with “The Age of Innocence” (1993), “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995), and the “Splendor in the Grass” (1961), in all of which duty prevails over sentiment.

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“Yes. I am a coward. I’m frightened of leaving, and that’s the truth. All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me.” ~ Miss Kenton

The most heartbreaking scene of the film was their final separation at the bus station after having met after 20 years for the first (and last) time. However, the most painful and emotionally charged scene shows Mr Stevens being surprised by Miss Kenton in his room while reading a romance. Hopkins’s defensive body language and piercing stare contribute to the profound sadness I experienced as a viewer. The way he is observing her from up close and the hunger of his gaze could be those of a painter who has only one chance before she disappears forever, only a few seconds to grasp every detail on a butterfly’s wings so that he can portray her most accurately later.

Miss Kenton is a sensible, smart, hard-working woman who does not share Mr Stevens’ extreme views on duty. She is shaken when Lizzy (a housemaid) abandons the stability and future prospects of her job and appoints love as the most fundamental possession in life. She feels tired of waiting for Mr Stevens to express the slightest sign of affection so that she could still hold on to her hope for a more intimate relationship. Following an outburst she experiences that same evening he suggests they put an end to their briefings and in fact, replace them with the exchange of notes. She quickly apologised (“They’re very useful. It was only tonight.”) but the damage was already done. The scene made me wonder whether he traced her apologetic tone and chose to ignore it in order to punish her, or he simply did not possess the ability to spot her emotional state. This is a perfect example of how delicate the balance was between their estrangement and their friendship. A parallelism was drawn in my head; it reminded me of the way I approach a stray cat; I want to earn her trust to feed or caress her and although I do my best not to frighten her, one wrong move, a sudden wave of my hand perhaps, and she’s gone.

Miss Kenton returns from her pleasant evening, announces her decision and confronts Mr Stevens about his cold treatment. She finds a subtle way to highlight how significant his presence is in her life. Personally, I perceive her example about his mannerisms to be translated as such: “You are important to me, so I observe you and I know you well by now. I love the face you make when there’s too much pepper in your food, just like all the little things that make you so unique. I love telling stories about you because it makes me feel closer to you.” 

Despite being shocked by Miss Kenton’s marriage announcement Mr Stevens religiously keeps up his masquerade, and so he does 20 years later when she spares him from having to make his offer only to have her refuse it. The kindness of her character surprised me, as well as her endless efforts to bring emotion in the centre of their conversation, by being open about her feelings about her husband, Mr Stevens, and her life inventory.

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Lessons I learnt from “The Remains of the day”:

  • Do not allow yourself to strive to be only one thing, invest in various roles in life instead. What good will it do you if you strip yourself from the joys of life, in order to be the best employee? In the long run your life might seem deprived of meaning, or even worse seem like a terrible waste. In Mr Steven’s case, he realised toward the end of his life that the noble man he had served for many years was far from perfect and superior in judgement (He was labeled a Nazi sympathizer and a traitor due to his naivety, and died a broken man). Be open-minded and prepared for your emotional needs to potentially shift later in life. By being proactive and adaptable, and by leading a multi-faceted life, you don’t risk facing a dead-end street along the way.
  • Always express your feelings and be honest with yourself and others, even when your pride is at stake. I will not repeat cliché phrases regarding a lifetime’s  length however, regret is a terrible punishment we inflict upon ourselves. I believe it is a punishment because we always face a choice and we should normally prefer the route with the lowest emotional cost. Regret seems to be the premium emotional burden. Therefore, we ought to realise that placing our safety and risk aversion above a new, desirable prospect is a conscious choice that we make and has repercussions for our future. I suspect that if Mr Stevens had been entirely honest with himself and had chosen to act upon his impulses instead of burying them, he would have allowed himself a far more fulfilling life than the one he led. In other words, he would have been happier and would have made others happier, which is the ultimate duty of us all.

I’d like to close with an extract from the novel that contains the essence of the story:

“In any case, while it is all very well to talk of ‘turning points’, one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one’s life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had…..There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.” ~ Kazuo Ishiguro

 

Lessons I learnt from “A Place in the Sun” (1951), dir: George Stevens

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This a story of an ordinary man who tastes the extraordinary only to realise that life gets cruel and canny the moment you start believing that you could achieve your wildest dreams. Montgomery Clift delivers a captivating, raw and heartbreaking performance as George. Elizabeth Taylor, as Angela embodies the perfection of privileged youth with the addition of deep emotion and the purest intentions. Shelley Winters, as Alice molds a desperate and doomed creature with the help of her distinctive fragile, high-pitched voice and her haunting gaze.

Watching the film I found myself coming up with a few questions spawned from the story, which could be considered my personal moral take-aways of the film. The situation of the tragic figures fermented due to the norms of an obsolete society however, if we gaze upon it with a fresh mind there could be found intertemporal truths and problems.

The reason for that lies on our primal instincts for survival that represent the core of our human nature. Also, tragic circumstances or the so-called “ironies of life” have never ceased to torment our pitiful, mortal existence and they never will. In moments where our survival is threatened, we need to make decisions that help us prevail and move forward in life. They could, nonetheless pose a threat to our well-established truths about ourselves and the things we consider ourselves capable of.

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Q: What makes the better girl (or guy)?

“I love you. I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you. I guess maybe I’ve even loved you before I saw you.”, George confesses to Angela.

This quote is so rich in context as it adumbrates the source of George’s infatuation with Angela. She is the American Dream, the socialite you see in newspapers, graced with charm and elegance. In other words, her social status in combination with her kindness and genuine sentiment make her the perfect girl, a true Miss America. This divine existence also happens to accept and love him unconditionally right from the beginning (like almost every love declaration in the 50’s cinematic dramas), which makes him feel included into a world of wealth he is dreaming to become part of.

Alice, on the other hand is the chain that would forever hold him captive into poverty, misery and a destitute life.In the beginning, his need for human touch and intimacy in a strange city drew him to her but when new opportunities were born and his dreams started to materialise, Alice represented his past rather than his sunnier future.

A: The fact that you can imagine your future life with her/him because your ambitions for personal and social growth will be better achieved beside her/him. 

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Q: How much should I insist? 

It is painful to watch the scene where Alice, after having discovered the truth about the nature of George’s vacation, goes up to the lake and threatens to expose him. When they meet at the bus station she even goes on saying: “I’ll telephone the newspapers and tell them everything, and then I’ll kill myself”.  Harrowing  is also the scene where she describes her dreams about their common future, even though it becomes clear to her that her plans disgust George.

When blackmail, guilt and duty are the only incentives of a romantic relationship, the future seems bleak. Exerting pressure on someone who is emotionally unstable and clearly unwilling to share your dreams while on boat in a secret, dark location, then who is to be blamed if you end  up at the bottom of Loon Lake keeping company to the fish?

Beyond doubt Alice is the greatest victim of the story as she was desperate and totally dependent on George’s intentions. However, having the justice on your side is not a guarantee that you will get what you deserve. The more exhaustively demanding you become, the more you risk the danger of unleashing the monster inside others.

A: Body language and logic hold the key. The signs of intense distress are universal and easily recognisable. You might be in love and in need but circumstances shift quickly, therefore before placing your full trust into someone and becoming completely vulnerable, you should be sensible enough to prepare yourself for the worst possible scenario. 

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Q: What stands between my ambition and me?

George wants to be loved and feel included. The warmth of his expression when Angela describes her affectionate plans for their upcoming vacation together is deeply touching and transmits this relief that we all feel when unconditional love and acceptance knocks on our door (and with the promise of a luxury life as the cherry on top).

It is a fact that the obstacle is his girlfriend and future mother of his child, Alice and some people could argue their child as well. Abortion gets sadly off the table pretty quickly (although, it wouldn’t harm them if they looked for another doctor…) so Alice’s options are the stigma of promiscuity for the rest of both their lives (yeap..that is off the table too), or a respectful upbringing of her child inside a marriage.

George needs to choose between his happiness and that of Alice. Nowadays, resorting to spurious means could only be perceived as madness however, during an age of unbowed social norms, the only solution for him could be given if she were to disappear from the face of the earth. Of course, he grew up with a mother that served God and asked him to be ” a good boy”, which makes him more prone to guilt than murder.

A: In similar cases only the law and your moral code. An excellent choice of lawyer and a generous budget can save you from the legal repercussions of your murderous activities. Your moral code is initially formed according to your upbringing, but it can significantly change though your life. 

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Q: Guilty, or not guilty… ? 

“Things happen, you just don’t stay the same” – part of George’s apology to Alice.

George has suffered from poverty and social disadvantage all his life and just when his circumstances ameliorate, comes a “baby bomb” to shudder his chances for a better life. The tragic element of the story and George’s personality are the two reasons why I personally empathise with George. He is humble, hard-working and self-motivated, shy and private with his shoulders always leaning forward, covered by a shadow of melancholia. In other words, he does not fit the profile of a relentless, selfish, manipulative man, like the corrupted Tom that murders Dickie and assumes his identity in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999) to serve his best interests.

For George, who did not commit the premeditated murder but didn’t do much to save the drowning Alice either, the answer to my question lies in his prevailing sentiments and desires at the moment of the accident. What was he thinking falling in the water and listening to her screams? The interesting fact is that George doesn’t feel guilty up until the moment the priest suggests this way to unveil the mystery of his culpability. Asking him why he was physically unable to save her, what was crossing his mind during those few seconds.

Bizarre suggestion I would say… George wanted Alice dead for days and was handed the perfect opportunity to get rid of her without murdering her but by letting life take its course, so naturally his thoughts might have been “Is this God’s intervention to save me from a miserable future?! I could finally be happy with the woman I love!”, which is a very humane thing to do but not a highly moralistic, Christian thing to do apparently, thus the priest decides that “Then…in your heart was murder” .

My opinion is that no matter what he was thinking at that exact moment, he was already a sinner at heart. However, my question is this: Why should he blame himself out of a suggestion of what guilt means? It is perhaps for the best interest of our mental state not to ponder on theoretical and moral questions that could lead to our pointless torment, especially when there is nothing to be done (Alice was already dead.. not to mention that he would soon be dead himself).  Finally, it might do some good to admit our fragile nature and be more lenient toward our selfishness (as long as no one dies in the process of course…).

A: Guilt is there only because your environment taught you how to generate, preserve and feel it and it’s up to you to change that.