Sunday, July 08, 2012

Two comedies

I thought Weleda was the name of a flower, but it turns out to be a brand name for a line of health products.  These products are sold worldwide, even in New Zealand, but I've never heard of them.  Plainly all that advertising has been wasted on me, guys!

Equally, in the last two days I've watched a couple of movies that were also completely unfamiliar to me.  One is Italian, the other French (though most of the cast is Russian, and the first half of the film takes place in Moscow).

The Italian one would have to be the most lightweight movie I've seen in a long time.  It's called Pranzo di Ferragosto, has its director (Gianni di Gregorio) in the leading role as Gianni, a fifty-something bachelor who lives at home with his mum, drinks a lot of wine, seldom pays his bills and in general seems a bit of a waster.   Ferragosto is a major Italian holiday, and dates back two millennia.  Pranzo is merely a word for dinner, or lunch.   Because Gianni is in debt he finds himself having to look after three old ladies for the holiday as a kind of barter system for not paying his bills to his landlord and his doctor.   Along with the mother, the women take over, in the nicest quietest gentlest way, and if Gianni thought he had enough to do with placating his mother, he soon finds four women are more than quadruple the problem.   There's almost no story apart from that: the old women discover each other as friends and confidantes, Gianni runs round feeding them a lot and trying to get them off to bed (rather like adolescents) and in the end everyone comes out happy - or at least a little happier.

The four women in the cast are all non-professionals, and do a lovely job of conveying the four very different women in the story.  Not that 'lovely' is the word to apply to the actress, Valeria di Franciscis, who plays Gianni's Mum.  With a hideous wig that barely balances on her head, and a face covered in enormous dark spots, and strongly indented wrinkles and lines, and scarlet lipstick across thin lips, she must be one of the ugliest actresses ever to be seen in the movies.  But that's what old age does to people: makes them a lot less pleasant to look at than they were when young.  The other three women are a good deal less ugly, though they have almost as many lines and wrinkles.  

Mélanie Laurent
There are a lot of older people in the French film too - The Concert.  Because it concerns people who are no longer in the prime of life, age is something of a factor, though not quite to the extent it is in the Italian movie.  The Concert is about a once-famous Russian conductor now reduced to working as a cleaner in the Bolshoi Theatre.  This was the result of him having a number of Jews in his former orchestra and not being willing to give them up in order to further his own career.  As a result of a fax slip-up, he decides to persuade the former members of his orchestra to reform and take a trip to Paris where (supposedly) they've been invited to perform in lieu of the LA Orchestra, who've had to drop out.  With some difficulty he collects together the musicians from all sorts of reduced circumstances, as well as taking on as manager the very man who interrupted his last concert all those years ago, and made a laughing stock of him. 

In spite of that outline of the story, this is actually (for most of the film) a comedy - in fact it verges on farce at times.  The characters are all larger than life and some are drawn with very broad strokes.  The only truly serious character in the film is the young violin soloist (played by the gorgeous Mélanie Laurent) - her past and the loss of her parents haunts her somewhat, and she turns out to be part of the reason behind the mad trip to Paris.  Laurent has the unenviable task of 'playing' the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (in a reduced version) at the end of the movie: this would have to be one of the best simulations of violin playing I've seen in a movie.  

There's a large cast that works well together, wonderful music and the most interesting subtitles I've ever seen.  Several of the Russians have to speak French during the movie, but their French is obviously a bit less than perfect, and this is reflected hilariously in the subtitles.  

Of the two movies, I wouldn't greatly recommend the Italian one, unless you're content just to take it as it is: a piece of fluff with a minimal message about old age.  The French one won't be to everyone's taste either - it doesn't entirely seem to know whether it's a comedy or a farce or even a drama, but still manages to pull itself off.  Nevertheless, as an evening's entertainment, it has a number of good points, not least the wide-ranging music.  

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