Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008)

Complacency Insanity Loneliness more accurately pinpoints the trifecta Woody Allen offers us in his hat toss into the post 9/11 genre of the dysfunctional family/relationship. I have to admit that this is by far my favorite American genre to have surfaced since my beloved slasher film kicked the bucket in 1984 with the (still worthy) Silent Night, Deadly Night. Axe wielding Santa was, I guess, as far as we were all willing to go, unfortunately. For some reason or another, without a holiday to base a string of murders around, killing just wasn't entertaining anymore (but do see recent posts below for a more suggestive reason for this out-moded genre).

But back to the matter at hand. The dysfunctional relationship genre has perhaps its first appearance with Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). But the post 9/11 version of this theme is much more cynical than its post-Vietnam counterpart (Thanks to Kiersten for connecting war itself to the meditation that this anti-love genre wants us to undergo). For definitional purposes lets outline a few of this genre's most recent examples: The Squid and the Whale, Little Children, Margot at the Wedding, Broken Flowers, The Station Agent, House of Sand and Fog, Punch-Drunk Love, Lost in Translation, and last and definitely least, Wes Anderson's entire oeuvre (can all hipsters here face the fact that this guy has nothing more to say until he hits age 60, and this, only if, god help him, he somehow turns "political?")

The unhappy ending is a new trope in this genre and I kind of like it for that fact. But I guess I'm beginning to wonder if its a symptom of the fact that these filmmakers, despite how acutely personal their character studies have become, maintain a frustrating lack of imagination in their adherence to the humdrum definition of middle-class romance. Which is to say that these relationships are "dysfunctional" only to the extent that they are measured up to the 'true romance' of an earlier generation's definition of 'till death do us part.' If we were to abandon that as the goal, these stories wouldn't be seen as dysfunction, they would simply be stories of the grand escape from that definition of love, they would be understood as jail-break films. But the Shawshank Redemption is there to remind us that the process of such a difficult escape is just as intriguing as that day when, hopefully, all of us will get to eventually massage that sun-kissed sailboat with long restorative thrusts of gritty sandpaper. And maybe its just not watchable, but who among us will write or even imagine, nevermind risk searching for the actual thing itself in real life, the story of the relationship that isn't betrothed in complacency, insanity, or loneliness?

Vicky Christina Barcelona
offers us something midway through the film: a threesome becomes the most functional glimpse of a relationship Hollywood or even an indie film has shown us in years. Is this simply that good ole wishful thinking from a misogynist culture? Or am I too ambitious here to suggest that the film has momentarily begun to actually imagine love differently as something altogether unrecognized and unregistered by the state, that is to say, love as a collectivity?

1 comment:

kiersten said...

"it's a private matter."

Mordenti, i certainly hope the final lines of your most recent analysis are as true as i want them to be. because after the events of, say, the last 120 hours (Sarah Palin), i'm wondering if there's not a stifling pessimism penetrating the most intimate of relationships: that of resignation.

classical Hollywood "romance": two-party politics (albeit closeted, heterosexual, heteronormative).

contemporary Hollywood "coupling": neo-con, neo-liberal, some right-wing, less left-wing, lots of middle-torso.

at least the slasher films had purpose and follow-through. so even Santa wields an axe, but at least he gets the job done. now we're on to the dysfunction genre which is sadly more civil and wholeheartedly more pent-up. it doesn't get any better than _The Squid and the Whale_, honestly. but these days, when we turn to adult love, Walt and Frank are all grown up and they're all over the place. summer flings, dissatisfaction, irresolution. no one knows exactly what she/he wants. in a way, it's Trotsky's guide to love. don't define it until you get there, otherwise anything that comes along and fails to fit the definition won't be it. that's good, i think.

but it's no longer When Father Was Away on Business. it's the era of dad saying he's one thing but acting like another. and we're no longer twelve but we don't have the guts to knock him down. where's f'ing Santa Claus when we need him?

pardon the mess. i've got a slight fever...