The telephone wires didn’t follow the train tracks on my journey this morning as faithfully as they did for the main character on his way to New York. Some wires ran perpendicular to the train while others ran parallel for a little while and then trailed off. The film’s metaphor for communication was at best half-hearted and at worst a convenient fiction when reality didn’t reflect what the director / writer wanted to say.
There was little doubt about what he wanted to say because he went to the great effort of spelling it out in every other scene. The protagonist’s name is Frank [to be frank is to be honest and express things in an open way] and he talks to a woman on the train whose name is Alice which in Greek means truth. A couple more references to truth come up later in the movie as well but I stopped noticing them. The theme of truth, just like the telephone wires, ran alongside the movie and as Frank pointed out, you’re looking but you’re not seeing the actual wires, you see the PVC coating that covers them. Everything is one step away from reality and appearances can be deceiving. The filter in Frank’s reality was his wife who died eight months previously and who while alive spent much time censoring the news from his children to him. She made things nice, she wanted people to get along, I assume, until she dies and all he has left is the conversations and interactions with supermarket staff.
The scenes where Frank interacts with people who are paid to be pleasant are very funny and I laughed with the absurdities of these artificial connections. Seeking advice on wine from the man who stacks the shelves he is told about the ‘English wines from France and the Italian wines from all over Europe’. Later that night however he is home alone, cooking filet mignon steaks on a $600 grill because his children don’t show up to spend time with him.
If they won’t show up to see him, then he will go to see them and he will do so unannounced. In a French or Italian movie, this type of idea is sure to bring out the hidden depths of peoples lives that they prefer to keep hidden. In this movie however there is just a dawning realisation that the imagined depth isn’t there, it’s a shallow alley which you avoid on the way to getting on with your life. The cracks in their lives are obvious and over the top.
For a little while I kept up the hope that this would be a movie of self-denial about all the dreams that we have for ourselves and the reality for which we actually settle. This could have been an inspiring movie about recapturing the beauty and purity of when we were young and we wanted to be a fighter pilot, then a lawyer, then a journalist and ended up doing research. It could have been about realising that you weren’t listening to your authentic self and doing things that made you happy. It turned out to be about a man who had no real ambitions apart from those for his kids and they in turn had no real ambitions and everyone settled for the lives they had.
The one beautiful thing in the movie was the cinematography by Henry Braham who made sure that every scene was perfectly captured and framed. Similar to the themes in the movie, the way it looked was at definite odds with what it wanted to say. This wasn’t a search for reality; it was a search for something that looked like a nice version of the reality you wanted to see.
The film screened yesterday in Bristol at Cinema de Lux as a special preview which included a Question and Answer session with the director Kirk Jones. An article about the Bristol-born director is in the Evening Post.
For a more informative review read what Bristol Culture had to say at the following link.