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March 3, 2010 8:53 pm
Here is a tale of two Lewises. One wrote a small but great children’s book that still delights, surprises and enchants. The other wrote a large, pietistic series of children’s books that push Christian sermons at us in the guise of adventure fantasy. The first author, Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice in Wonderland. The second, CS Lewis, wrote the Narnia saga. Here is what happened – in my theory – when the light bulb went on above the head of Linda Woolverton, who wrote the original screenplay for the new Alice in Wonderland
“What if we turn Wonderland into Narnia? What if an older Alice revisits her dream world, now called Underland, and discovers a giant battle in progress between good and evil? We could have a Red Queen’s army fighting a White Queen’s, a Mad Hatter as saintly mediator, and a lot of Armageddon spectacle sure to bring in the youngsters and spawn a video game.”
Thus is Hell born. You cannot believe the dreadfulness of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – gifted director takes on gaga script – until you see it. Enchantment has gone thataway. Once down the rabbit hole Alice, played with brave but doomed grace by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, discovers that her old chums all walk a darkening land bearing Tolkienish/Lewisite names. The dormouse is Mallymkun, the Cheshire cat Chessur, the caterpillar Absolem. Soon the throng is joined by dragons who seem to have come from Avatar. The tea party has 10 seconds to flatter us with incipient charm – its chaotic table and moth-eaten March Hare suggest a Samuel Beckett revamp (that would be a good spin) – before it too is sacrificed to sword, sorcery and showdown. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter shows promise for a little longer – this actor does deranged innocence better than anyone (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) – but finally he too drowns in the Sea of Tacky Bombast.
What a relief – in case you think I disapprove of all crypto-scriptural hokum – to turn to Legion
So to art. If an emotional drama should not wear its heart on its sleeve, where should it wear it? How does a screen story convey feeling without making a show of it? The week’s best film, the superlative Father of My Children
A shocking event changes the film’s story trajectory but not its technique. Hansen-Love still neutrally records her people, or at best slides around them with assiduous discretion, as if making an anthropological documentary. The actors, in turn, behave as if no camera is watching. They live and move and are moved as if for real. The producer’s family – an Italian wife (Chiara Caselli) and three daughters (one, full-grown, played by de Lencquesaing’s own daughter Alice) – becomes not just a convincing unit, fending off grief while helplessly expressing it, but also individuals, each with her vital signs incandescent in her face and gestures.
Even the film’s symbolic purposings are deep-seamed and undemonstrative: the Edenic innocence of a milky rock pool in which the children swim, the bucolic Knights Templar chapel where Grégoire spins a casually emblematic lecture about the downfall of the Templars and their fortune. The drama in this film that sometimes seems to have none is in the faces that register truth unmediated, whether in a quarrel or an idyll, in a burst of happiness or a silent storm of grief. I never saw characters weep so convincingly on screen, so uncoercedly and uncoercingly. We never feel marched towards either a mood or a message, but we always and unforgettably “feel”.
Atom Egoyan, a once-admired Canadian fast running out of auteur cred with films such as Adoration and Ararat, takes the jobbing option with Chloe
The film ends with a daft dose of thriller shenanigans. But before that it is kinky, captivating, even downright Continental: a Godard or Bertolucci plot given European-standard subtlety from Moore, who on this kind of form, in this kind of film, is America’s answer to Isabelle Huppert.
Neil Jordan’s Ondine
Finally Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop opens this week in a flurry of ostentatious secrecy. I commended it lately from Berlin. Full review next week.
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