Sunday, May 31, 2015

French movie, Israeli movie

Some spoilers here...

Having a bit of a run on movies worth mentioning at the moment. In the last few days we've seen the Israeli film, The Lemon Tree and the French movie, The Big Picture (L'homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, which translates roughly as 'the man who wanted to live his life').

The French movie was well made, but left you with a rather flat feeling: it comes to a sudden halt at a point which could be said to be showing something of an epiphany in the main character's life, but it's very understated. Paul (Romain Duris) is a youngish man with a wife and two children, and a good job in a legal firm which it's likely he can take sole charge of soon: the co-owner (Catherine Deneuve) has learnt that she hasn't long to live. Somehow Paul manages to throw all this away, partly because of misunderstandings, partly because of not being able to talk sensibly to his wife, and partly because she's having an affair and he accidentally kills her lover. But no one else finds out about this. He makes it look as though the lover has gone away. And then he fakes his own death.

There are lots of plot-holes, as my friend calls them, lots of improbabilities. Paul is supposed to be a somewhat impetuous character, but he somehow meticulously plans not only how to get rid of the lover's body, but how to make himself vanish. Other unexplained matters irritate, such as how he manages to live without work by using only cash for several months after the events described above. The piece is slow in its first half-hour, and then after the lover's death it picks up, but there are still too many shots of Duris brooding. After a while you just wish he'd get on with things...

The Lemon Tree moves along quietly, but it has an intense performance at its centre: Hiam Abbass (an Israeli actress) plays a Palestinian widow, Salma, whose sole income is from a lemon tree orchard that is situated inconveniently on the border, right next to a house just taken over by the Israeli Defence Minister, his wife, and entourage. The security people advise cutting down the trees so that there's a clear view across the land; Salma, of course, is appalled at their arrogance, and fights for her rights.

The Defence Minister is a jerk, of course, but his wife sees through the situation a little more clearly, and after a lot of internal debate manages to do the right thing. Unfortunately it's rather too late, and the film has a bittersweet ending.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this movie is that it's been made by Israelis, and yet the Israelis are the baddies/villains/whatever. Only the Defenc
e Minister is really bad news, in the sense that he's juggling every ball possible at the same time; most of them come crashing down before the movie ends. His wife becomes increasingly sympathetic to the widow's situation as the movie goes on, but between her hands being tied, and her lack of will to do something to change things, she fails the widow, effectively. There are some unpleasant people on the Palestinian side, of course, most notably the 'elders' who, instead of aiding the widow, want to push her down even further. There are a lot of Biblical parallels in the movie: those who are supposedly acting righteously but not caring for the widows, for instance, and Ahab taking over his neighbour's vineyard. Salma, however, is a tough woman, and she doesn't let things knock her down completely, though there are plenty of knocks along the way.

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