Tag Archives: Marion Cotillard

Rust and Bone (2012)

That the soul carries weight is hardly a new thought. From the Bible to Titanic (“A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets”), art has long affirmed that the soul accrues scars over time, grows heavier with pain. That the body is also a repository of secrets, not as much. In The Gathering Anne Enright declares, “What is written for the future is written in the body.” This finds an echo in Alvin Yapan’s Sambahin ang Katawan, which locates human experience—fear, ambition, desire—in the flesh. This same intertwining of sentiment and physicality lies at the core of Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone.

Touted as “a love story that begins when two worlds fall apart,” the film chronicles human experience of pain, how it leaves marks on the body, which heals in time but never fully recovers. All tragedy brings with it scars, some more visible than others, some cutting deeper than most. Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts give excellent performances as Stephanie and Ali, unlikely lovers brought together by chance and tragedy. Human life takes the forefront in Rust and Bone, but here we are depicted as the most vulnerable of creatures, the most interdependent and at the same time solitary—pitiful when compared to the casual grace of orcas, the constancy of ocean waves. But out of this existence can arise a fragile beauty, a dented fortitude that comes only with pain and loss, which the camera captures beautifully in scenes too many to enumerate.

In this film all human experience is sensory, corporeal. Scenes alternates between the brutal and the sensual, often combining them into a single image. So we see rippling folds of flesh, stocking rolling down a thigh, spittle flying, blurry nipples, a lone tooth whirling in a splatter blood. Naturally, viewers feel disoriented. We don’t want to look, but we don’t want to tear our eyes away either. Violence is difficult to confront because through it we see the tenuous threads that tie us to life—risk, accident, love, the ineradicable need for connection. It is a tension that Rust and Bone handles splendidly, no matter how contrived.

In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann posits that art also makes its marks on the body. Even with a plot far removed from ordinary experience, Rust and Bone nonetheless inflicts a universal pain on its viewers, the simultaneous burden and joy of life. It is a transcendent feeling that apparently even commercial spaces like movie theaters now recognize. At the end of the screening, the lights did not go on immediately at Cinema City. Viewers were given a few minutes to wipe their eyes as the credits appeared on screen. Soon people would begin standing and putting on their coats, but in the immediate aftermath of the film nobody moved from their seats. It was a small moment of humanity.

‘Don’t leave me.’ ‘I won’t.’

The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012)

There are storylines, and then there are variations. Season after season, we see movies harking back to their predecessors: targeting the same audience and using the same time-tested tropes, with varying degrees of critical and box office success. But every so often there comes along a work that is not content with playing by the rules, that changes the game altogether. Off the top of my head: The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix—trilogies that changed the platform for all that came after. For the superhero genre, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight series is one such game-changer.

I spent almost six hours preparing for the finale last Saturday. Several hours before the 8:10 PM screening, I saw Batman Begins for the first time and re-watched The Dark Knight. I walked into the theater drugged with Batman information and fortified by an NYFD sandwich. It had been an adrenaline-packed day. By midnight I was dragging myself, but the marathon did give me a 20/20 view of the whole trilogy.

At least for the first half-hour, Batman Begins underwhelms. Although it’s an origin story, it handles Bruce Wayne’s childhood trauma carelessly, using terrible sequencing. The repeated flashbacks don’t work, and the sudden introduction of Ra’s al Ghul (who basically just goes, “Come, I’ll to train you to be badass”) seems too convenient and hard to believe. The story gets progressively better though, picking up when Bruce returns to Gotham. From that point on the plot unfolds gracefully. Bruce’s childhood terror of bats comes neatly into play when Scarecrow unleashes his panic-inducing psychedelic drug. This paves the way for the film’s most poignant moment, which occurs when a heavily-gassed, hallucinating Batman clambers onto a rooftop and rasps into a cellphone, “Alfred, help me.” The scene barely lasts a minute, but it shows Batman at his weakest, his most vulnerable, and he calls out to his oldest friend and says, “Help me.” After an unexpected twist, the conflict escalates into a familiar climax: mentor and mentee fight for the greatest city in the world. It’s not particularly astounding, but as far as superhero movies go, it is gratifying. Undoubtedly the film’s worst decision involves casting Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. She and Christian Bale have zero chemistry together. Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn’t really embody the character either, but she’s definitely an improvement.

Actually, with The Dark Knight, everything is an improvement. Since its release, the sequel has received worldwide acclaim, overshadowing its precursor by a wide margin, and for good reason. The Dark Knight goes well beyond what a good film should be. As an action movie, it does not disappoint. It is suspenseful, thrilling, and thoroughly captivating. In exploring dark moral themes, it is also thoughtful and fiercely intelligent, offering not black-and-white answers, but motley shades of gray. The ingenious interplay and overlap of the characters’ values creates a spectacle both difficult and incredible to watch.

What props up the movie’s ambition is its stellar cast. Christian Bale gives a consistent performance throughout the series, defining Batman in a way that will affect generations. Aaron Eckhart also delivers as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, rendering his rage-driven insanity credible and at the same time repulsive. Heath Ledger gives his best (and sadly, last) performance as the Joker, often stealing the spotlight from Batman. The Joker has already solidified his status as one of the greatest villains of all time, but through Ledger he becomes even more sinister, even more enigmatic. Thrice he asks would-be victims (including Batman), “Ever wonder how I got these scars?”—hinting, “Ever wonder why I turned out this way?”—and gives different answers, implying that there is no reason, that evil can exist sans cause.

Without a doubt, The Dark Knight marks an industry milestone, by superhero genre standards or any other. Coming on the heels of such an acclaimed movie, the third film was not poised for success. But even with lowered expectations—and as much as I do not want to admit it—the finale disappoints. Whereas The Dark Knight posits questions on meaning and morality, the third installment mostly provokes questions about plot. Its convoluted enemy storyline feels hastily patched together and shows holes in many places. Take just one point: Batman’s return. How did he re-enter Gotham from the Pit? How did he get back all his gear? And, for that matter, why hasn’t Bane destroyed his equipment yet? Five months is a long time to spend waiting around to fail.

Despite his bulging muscles, Bane (Tom Hardy) fails to command respect as a villain because of his lackluster terrorist-thug image. So we’re actually relieved to discover he’s not the mastermind—only to find out that it’s someone even more unimpressive, whose role until then had only been to provide Bruce Wayne with support, financial or otherwise. Uncharacteristically, Marion Cotillard gives a flat performance (maybe her role just isn’t compelling enough). Her final speech falls on deaf ears; we don’t really care about her father issues. What fans feel strongly about, even before production began, is Catwoman. Given Nolan’s previous female lead miscasts, fans had a right to worry. But Anne Hathaway gets to slap all haters in the face when she undergoes an exquisite transformation as the super-hot and versatile Selina Kyle. She easily proves herself one of the best cast choices in the franchise, right up there with Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s batman.

Hathaway aside, the finale still holds a lot of room for disappointment. Its clear division between good and evil may be fine for a regular superhero movie, but we’re not talking about a regular superhero movie. We’re talking about the conclusion to The Dark Knight series! We’re talking about the follow-up to the one film that changed the rules! Unfortunately, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, the much-anticipated finale finds a hard time reaching the high standards it set for itself.

Let me make this clear: The Dark Knight Rises is not a bad movie, far from it. It still attempts to ask big questions, but instead of soaring the way its predecessor does, it kind of flops and sputters along the runway. The film spends a long time cultivating a classist undercurrent, but it never really takes off because we don’t get the sense that things change after the riots. Presumably, order resumes, and up stays up, down stays down. Not like in The Dark Knight, where the Joker shakes Gotham to its core. I at least found one gem in a conversation between Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Detective John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), when the latter admits the former’s point about structures becoming shackles and relinquishes his badge in favor of a more…unorthodox crime-fighting path.

If The Dark Knight Rises fails at setting up a convincing conflict, it nonetheless succeeds in wrapping up the series. And it does so admirably, doing justice to each of its characters. Thematically, the conclusion of Batman echoes several points in his life: his emotional struggles, his failures, his parents’ vision, their subsequent death, Rachel’s death. All three scripts reflect this cohesion. Even Selina’s chilling whisper of “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne” from the 2012 trailer recalls a scene two films earlier, when Batman tells then-Sergeant Gordon, “Storm’s coming.” Subtle, but shows just how much care was put into the making of these scripts. No wonder Nolan was so damn protective of them.

“Haven’t given up on me yet?” “Never.” In Batman Begins, we see Bruce and Alfred regularly exchanging these lines. During their final confrontation, under different circumstances, Alfred gives a different answer—heartbreaking, but necessary all the same. This argument sets the audience up for the conclusion, which, in hindsight, seems to be what trilogy has been heading towards all along. From Rachel’s letter to Alfred’s ultimatum, the finale makes it clear that the story no longer belongs to the symbol, but to the man—that the day has finally come “when [Bruce] no longer needs Batman.”

Although obviously an action franchise, Nolan’s series is invigorating in more ways than one. While remaining strikingly original, it calls to mind other landmark works that develop the same themes. Ra’s al Ghul’s insistence on becoming “more than just a man” finds similar incarnations in V from V for Vendetta and Zero from Code Geass. And Bane’s point about the Pit, about there being “no true despair without hope,” calls to mind a line from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Among its achievements, the trilogy’s greatest feat lies in how it pushes boundaries. It shows us the philosophical possibilities of superhero movies, a genre until now largely confined to entertaining but safe productions like the recent Spider-Man reboot.

But, as the Joker would say, “Why so serious?” For all its intellectual high-wire twists, the series triumphs because it works on a more basic level: it knows how to please an audience. All three films come out generously sprinkled with action sequences featuring top gear from Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), among other visual spectacles (“Anne Hathaway on a motorbike? So worth it!” my friend TJ avows). It also doesn’t hurt that the movies weave key truths and emotions into their storyline, creating more than a few tearjerkers. “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Nolan’s trilogy is not perfect, but even with the worst of its warts, it still comes extremely well-recommended, even for non-geeks like me. It remains the best superhero series out there, and one that is not likely to fade from memory.

Batman Begins

‘A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can’t stop you, then you become something else entirely.’

‘Death does not wait for you to be ready! Death is not considerate or fair! And make no mistake: here, you face Death.’

‘Crime cannot be tolerated. Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding.’

‘Haven’t given up on me yet?’ ‘Never.’

‘Ignorance is bliss, my friend. Don’t burden yourself with the secrets of scary people.’

‘It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.’

The Dark Knight

‘You either die the hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’

‘If you’re good at something, never do it for free.’

‘Tonight you’re all gonna be a part of a social experiment.’

‘That’s the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make.’

‘They’re only as good as the world allows them to be.’

‘Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes people need more.’

The Dark Knight Rises

‘There can be no true despair without hope.’

Love Me If You Dare (2003)

It’s not exactly cabin fever (we had only been there a week!), but something was definitely in the air that night we watched Love Me If You Dare at the Writers Village. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but Gio, Vida, Karlo, TJ, Debbie, and I ended up watching this movie after dinner—probably as a last attempt to cling to our productive city habits. Valencia’s charms won us over anyway, but at least for that night we managed to drown out the cicadas.

Romantic movies seem to be my thing lately (Titanic, One More Chance). Despite the obvious love story, it doesn’t seem quite right to lump Love Me If You Dare in the group. It’s far from being a category of its own, but it definitely doesn’t belong in such a conventional, realistic set either. Real-life couple Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard star as childhood playmates Julien and Sophie, whose friendship revolves around a ceaseless game of dares. At first merely innocent and playful, their challenges escalate as they grow older, becoming more vindictive and dangerous at every turn—until eventually the game becomes their all-consuming obsession.

Julien and Sophie give up many things for love—a parent, marriages, children—but what they hold on to most fervently, what they never let go of, is the game. In establishing the rules of their relationship, it both binds and breaks them. One haunting question reverberates throughout the film: “Cap ou pas cap?” It’s a query posed as much to the characters as to the audience: Are you game? In asking this, Love Me If You Dare highlights its own absurdity, flaunting it, daring viewers to believe the incredible. Each scene adds to this growing sense of disbelief, finally culminating in two alternate endings—one charming, the other disturbing, neither seemingly real.

Even as I was sitting through this film, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d already seen this somewhere before. The camera tricks, the fast-paced narration, the witty repartees—the movie reminded me so much of Amélie—and it pales in comparison. Love Me If You Dare has some things going for it, and it might have worked with a more original framework (and a better lead-up to the ending, or a different ending); but as it is, the similarities are much too striking to be ignored, and it ends up falling short of its cinematic vision.

‘Cover your ears, cover them well. Do you hear how I love you? That’s all that matters.’

Big Fish (2003)

“In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth.” Thus William (Billy Crudup) introduces his father Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor), and thus we come to know him. But although William’s voice ushers us into the narrative, it is through Edward’s eyes that we see his life story unfold. Amid the last stages of cancer, the old man remains unable to forsake the storyteller in him; and, to his son’s consternation, regales William’s wife (Marion Cotillard) with gallant adventures of his youth—when time literally stopped as he first glimpsed his wife Sandra (Jessica Lange/Alison Lohman) and when as a boy he divined his death in a witch’s glass eye. Frustrated by his father’s fictionalizations, William resolves to uncover the facts through Jenny (Helena Bonham Carter) and for the first time recognizes the man behind the tales.

I don’t believe enough people realize the importance of having a good movie trailer—and the repercussions of releasing a bad one. Conventional blunders include either selling the film too short, as in Hugo, or revealing too much, as in Big Fish. While undeniably appealing, the difficulty with promotions that promise “an adventure as big as life itself” is that it places a heavy burden on the movie, raising expectations and robbing it of the chance to captivate audiences unawares. Had I not previously seen the trailer, I might have been more fascinated by Big Fish, but as it stands, the movie only fulfilled my expectations, without exceeding it—which is a sad thing to say about a film that grants so much import to the imagination.

Although its trailer cheated me out of (what seemed like) an incredible visual experience, the film did have other merits. The last scene between father and son is strikingly poignant. At that moment, William finally, finally comes to an understanding of Edward—why he embellished his stories, why he told them again and again, why he resolutely insisted on the impossible. At its core, Big Fish tells of the necessity of fiction to overcome the banality of life. Despite its annoying faithfulness to family drama tropes, it is overall a moving chronicle of one man’s desire to be bigger than life, something that mere biographical existence fails to offer.

We were like strangers who knew each other very well.

His birth would set the pace for his unlikely life, no longer than most men, but larger.

‘You don’t even know me.’ ‘I have the rest of my life to find out.’

Midnight in Paris (2011)

A peculiar fate binds love and Paris—and apparently, romance movies. From Maurice Pialat’s depressingly sober À Nos Amours to the more buoyant Paris, Je T’Aime, directors have shown a penchant for charting out love affairs in Paris. Woody Allen’s latest film is no exception. The opening scenes of Midnight in Paris showcase picturesque views of the city: a boat crossing the Seine, the iconic Moulin Rouge windmill, café sidewalks in the rain. The montage runs too long for my taste, but it does establish the city’s grandeur—curiously, not as a city of attractions (although there’s that), but as an everyday residence, where one can gladly brave occasional showers without an umbrella. But in case three full minutes of postcard pictures isn’t enough to hammer home the idea, Woody Allen further underscores the point with an actual line in the movie: “That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”

Indeed, Paris has held firm to its reputation as a magical place, where—at least for those “temporarily passing through”—logic takes a back seat and anything can happen. In this enchanted realm, inhibitions are relinquished by the mere mention of the city’s name. Following this tradition, the film sets at its center the nostalgic malaise of urbanites, the longing to transport oneself to a different era: “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.” But although Midnight in Paris indicates disconnection and discontent, watching it made me feel fulfilled, in no small part because of the fantastic vicarious experience it provides. Maki and I easily identified with Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), an aspiring novelist whose literary career is built on Hollywood screenplays. Visiting Paris with his fiancé (Rachel McAdams), he feels inexplicably drawn to the city, where on a midnight stroll he discovers an anachronistic world and a girl named Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, but I also understand that it’s not for everyone. For one thing, not all would appreciate its myriad references, which are what make the movie so gratifying. In one scene, we meet T.S. Eliot. In another, we hear Salvador Dali exclaiming, “I see a rhinoceros!” It’s both absurd and exciting. Although selective in its viewership, Midnight in Paris promises an amusing ride, filled with surprises that make you hungry for the next adventure.

‘No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.’

‘If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.’

‘I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face…it is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men.’

‘The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.’

‘You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city? You can’t.’

A Very Long Engagement (2004)

I like to think that I am rarely at a loss for words, but this time I am. When Damien suggested that I watch this film I downloaded a copy immediately, although I did not know yet what to expect of it. Ace told me that it was lengthy and somewhat dragging (true to its title, she said), and so even as I started playing the movie last night I supposed it would just be a run-of-the-mill production, something to help pass the lethargic hours of the holiday season. I was wrong.

Online synopses will tell you that Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s A Very Long Engagement is about a young woman’s (Audrey Tautou) relentless search for her fiancé (Gaspard Ulliel), who might have been killed in World War I. Much of the story occurs during the last years of the war, structured in flashbacks as Mathilde pieces together the history of Bingo Crepuscule, where five soldiers (including her childhood sweetheart Manech) are condemned to death for self-mutilation. In her investigation she traces the fates of all five men, along the way encountering characters like Tina Lombardi (Marion Cotillard), a murderous prostitute seeking vengeance for her lover’s death.

I can go on and on describing the plot, but what in mere words I cannot say is how beautiful the cinematography was—the only thing I can tell you is to go watch it yourself. Memorable characters like the charming, polio-ridden Mathilde and the inflexible, sorrowful Tina Lombardi abound in the movie. Admittedly its convoluted plot made it difficult to follow at times (exacerbated by my distressing unfamiliarity with French names), but that is my only complaint. More than the horrors of war the story is a testament to the overwhelming tenacity of love: I for one could not help but surge with hope at almost every bend and turn. I believed in Manech, hoped with Mathilde; perhaps the only thing I failed to do was cry. Although the movie was unable to sufficiently suspend my disbelief, I found myself consciously disregarding it in favor of hope. That fact alone, I think, speaks volumes.

Comparisons with Amelie (2001) are unavoidable, since it’s the same director and actress. Like many others I find myself preferring the earlier film, though I’m not entirely sure why. But still I cannot deny very much enjoying A Very Long Engagement; I did not even feel those two hours.

The first time Mathilde and Manech made love, he fell asleep, his hand on her breast. Each time his wound throbs, Manech feels Mathilde’s heart in his palm. If Manech were dead, Mathilde would know.

‘If you can’t cry, try talking. If you can’t talk, say nothing. But sometimes, talking can bring on the tears. Tears say what you can’t say, if you get my drift?’

‘You’ve known he’s dead for three years. I call that stubbornness.’ ‘No, I call that hope.’

‘Revenge is pointless. Try to be happy, and don’t ruin your life for me.’

‘I regret nothing. Except my hair.’

‘Stay where you are, Mathilde. Just stay where you are. I’m on my way.’

In what she would refer to as her ‘Milly expedition’, the sun, the sky, and nature are with her.

Mathilde leans back against her chair, folds her hands in her lap, and looks at him. In the sweetness of the air, in the light of the garden, Mathilde looks at him. She looks at him… She looks at him…