The Big Chill

The Big Chill

The title of this post is the title of the film I want to write a few words about. Why come up with a better post title if this one is so damn cool? The Big Chill is a movie made in 1983. Yeah, it’s a long time ago. Deal with it because this movie is something really special. It takes the viewer back to a time and place where relationships are real. Where everyone feels something. Where being together, as a unit, is the most important thing in the world. It is a film about life and second chances with the suicide death of a close friend as the main running theme of the movie.

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Look closer and you’ll see something more than just a dramedy.

The 80s were real, man. You can feel it. You can see it. Yes, this movie has it all. Stylish running shoes, weird dresses, tight shorts, multiple wigs, boots, sweaters, thick glasses. It’s a real throwback. We follow a group of old friends from college come together after the funeral of an old friend who died by his own hand. These guys, the main characters, they’re real. They are the real deal. Each one of them tries to escape the thought of expressing feelings regarding the death of Alex, the friend from college. They are clearly afraid of death, and maybe a bit selfish and self involved as well. That’s why they have each other, for support. They go way back and Lawrence Kasdan, writer and director, and his phenomenal cast know how to deliver this sense of familiarity and authentic friendship. Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, William Hurt. These are only some of the big names of this beautiful group of actors, who are in complete control of this story. You see, some movies are meant to be visual, and others are character driven. This one is the latter. Sometimes it’s not even about words but rather the looks these people give each other, the movements, the laughs they share. The past is the main actor. We don’t need to know anything. We only know that these friends have been there for each other for years. Some have grown up, others haven’t. Some have had terrible relationships, others have their loved ones right in their arms. It’s life. And it hits you right from the start.

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Friends from way back.
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Tight shorts on a cold Monday morning.

A friend dies but life goes on. Death can spark another life. It can stimulate someone to catch another breath. It can make someone stronger. In this case, Alex’s death helps the remaining characters reflect on their own decisions, their own past and their own future. Start a family. Own a club. Write a book. Get married. Lay off the drugs. All of these characters have their own weaknesses, and their friend’s suicide helps mend and heal all the wounds they’ve suffered since the college days. Embrace death and look for the light. Kasdan writes honestly and directs it with a slight sense of melodrama. His protagonists don’t act as individuals but rather as a group. They reinforce each other and make each other better. That’s what friends are for.

That’s what The Big Chill does. It gives you strength and makes you believe in the power of movies.

”I haven’t met that many happy people in my life. How do they act?”

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Who says you can’t be friends without sex?
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Little Man, Big Picture

Little Man, Big Picture

Tarkovsky strikes again. I finally got through his final movie, the Swedish language film The Sacrifice, the last work of his released in 1986 right before the filmmaker’s premature death.

Tarkovsky is someone who I consider to be one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and perhaps, of all time. His films resemble slow, majestic, mature poems. His characters represent themes. His settings represent character and emotion. The Sacrifice is the prime example of what a Tarkovsky film is like. It is a film about a man celebrating his birthday with his family when he discovers that World War III has erupted on that exact day. The man, played by Erland Josephson, used to be a poet, an actor and is now a journalist who  in order to avert the apocalypse decides to give to God everything he values in life. Therefore he will make a sacrifice. His life, his family, his home. Everything will turn upside down.

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Great fear.
The film is very slow paced. Hell, there are only around 100 shots in the whole movie compared to some action sequences nowadays that consist of 100 shots in a span of 4 minutes. Tarkovsky’s long slow tracking shots set the tone right from the start. One of my favorite opening scenes: the man stands by a Japanese tree, trying to support the plant and prevent it from being cut down by the merciless wind. A child joins him, his son. They tie the tree safely and begin to walk home. The man talks about history, poetry and soon is joined by an old friend. They continue to debate and quote great poets, mostly Shakespeare. The man recalls his acting days. Time has passed. The man knows it. Every truth, every secret about this man’s life we learn through carefully composed and staged shots. Sometimes they’re poetic, and sometimes they’re plain haunting. But that’s Tarkovsky for those who haven’t yet seen his work: the director creates visual peace and harmony in order to get through the incoming chaos and pain. His movies feel like tormented souls wrapped in beauty and serenity.

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What do you make out of this?
The Sacrfice is no exception. The movie feels like a tribute not only to Tarkovsky’s son (mentioned in the credits) but also to the great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, someone whose movies always relied heavily on dialogue and wordplay and scene blocking. it is a loving tribute from one filmmaker to another. And yes, Tarkovsky does put a lot of words into this film, mainly long monologues and sudden bursts of dialogue when the family is involved. However, words are just words, for Tarkovsky imagery is the only thing that counts. It’s not even about symbolism. It’s about the movement, the colors, the sounds, the slow passing of time. Tarkovsky plays with the lighting, with the sound effects of water dripping and fire burning, with the patient montage of every scene. Nothing feels forced. Everything seems to flow naturally and that is the point The Sacrifice makes. There is peace in disaster, in death and in destruction we just have to decide which side we are on. Do we lose our mind just like the protagonist? Or do we fight through it like the boy?

Tarkovsky never gives answers to his audience. He lets it flow. Like water.

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Losing your mind can be dangerous.
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It really can.
 

 

New Wave

New Wave

A quick update from my summer holiday. Cinema is a gift. Cinema can expand borders of any kind and can easily destroy any obstacles on the way. It makes you think and it challenges the hell out of you. It can do that. You just have to look in the right places. I’ve began my Jean-Luc Godard watch. During these couple of weeks I plan to revisit all of his works. For now, I leave you with a few notes.

  1. Breathless (1960)  – Godard’s debut is like the title suggests, a breathtaking experience. It is a film, that like so many other works from the French author, explores the relationship between two human beings who are not suited for one another. They love each other and at the same time they feel disgusted by the other’s presence. The camera creeps in whenever there is a real connection between the two lovers (played by the beautiful Jean Seberg and the young, dynamic Jean-Paul Belmondo) and fades out once the connection is cut in half. The two lovers, immersed in the loveless city of Paris, are the typical example of New Wave protagonists: insecure, scared and ambitious. They have dreams, but Godard doesn’t let them fly for too long.

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    Lovers. Their destiny is unknown.
  2. Vivre sa vie (1962) – Godard searches for answers in the world of prostitution. We follow a young woman who wants to become an actress despite being poor and alone. It is presented in twelve episodic tales that portray the life of a Parisian woman (the iconic Anna Karina)  and her slow descent into prostitution. This film studies spaces. Godard begins to shape his style that will later on consist of one question: what is real? The camera is always there to limit our view. We want answers but we have to work in order to get them. We have to get dirty, just like the young woman.

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    Distant dreams.
  3. Contempt (1963) – probably my favorite Godard and his most hated one by the public. It is his most mature work, and one that feels strongly inspired by the works of Antonioni, another master at telling stories that deal with everything and nothing at the same time. For Godard relationships are just a mere excuse to be with someone else. Lovers exist because the world says so. Not because we want to. Contempt is a story of two people who learn to hate each other. It is also a film dedicated to cinema. It is a film dedicated to music and culture. Brigitte Bardot, the beautiful star of the 60s, plays the wife of a playwright. The two drift apart from each other and their relationship becomes a Greek tragedy. Godard would go on and continue the use of his long shots, filmed in Technicolor, in order to highlight the hopelessness we are born into. For Godard, everything is about cinema. Love can wait.

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    The look of love/hatred.