Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

Paris Je T’Aime (2006)

Paris has been called many things. A little fiddling with Google search yields three immediate results: city of lights, city of art, city of love. The last is the most tenuous. Michael Schürmann (author of the travel guide Paris Movie Walks) says, “First of all, it is important that we agree on the sheer absurdity of the notion. Love is not something to which any city could or should stake an exclusive claim. There can be a ‘city of love’ as much as there can be a ‘city of indigestion’ or a ‘city of nosebleed’…” Indeed, Google “city of love” plus any beautiful city, and the search results are bound to be staggering (although you won’t find anything to top Paris’ 192,000,000 results). But no logic can ever stop international romantics from imagining that perfect Eiffel Tower picture with their beau. I imagine this sentiment is probably what sparked the concept behind Paris Je T’Aime.

I first encountered this movie in Under the Stars 2008. Wide fields and a black sky constitute a romantic evening, but scattered sound does not encourage an attentive audience, so I only really watched it this week with Maki. Paris Je T’Aime consists of eighteen short films set in the various arrondissements of Paris. Alongside an international ensemble cast (that I will not attempt to list here), the film also throws in entire sequences with mimes, vampires, and even the ghost of Oscar Wilde. I wanted to ask the directors: What were you smoking? (Incidentally, hashish also features prominently in one the shorts.)

This is not the kind of film you can extract a clear synopsis from. The lives we see here are very diverse, yet at the same time it feels as if we’re just watching one stream of activity—representative pulses of Parisian life. Paris Je T’Aime offers a lightheartedness not often found in other romantic dramas. It also contains drama, but somehow even that feels light. Here, everything is simpler than we make it out to be: people go through everything with a smile or tears and in the end it’s all the same—we are merely passing through. Not flippant, but open to the endless possibilities of life. In the face of such levity, nothing is too heavy a burden—not even loneliness, divorce, death, falling in and out of love. In the end all we have is nostalgia.

‘Sitting there, alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before or had always been waiting for, but I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive. That was the moment I fell in love with Paris. And I felt Paris fall in love with me.’

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Thor (2011)

All right, it was a short-lived vow. Still, I wouldn’t have broken it for something like Thor if it hadn’t been for the sake of company. Last weekend I went to a movie theater with DA, Jes, Sarah, Marck, Ed and Ryan. I didn’t even want to watch this, but I hadn’t seen these guys in a while and online reviews say it’s pretty good so I thought, why not? Turns out theater-going isn’t so bad after all, as long as you’re seated in time for some trailers and you have a strong bladder. About everything else, you can only hope that other people get there on time as well and don’t stand up too often.

Spanning the three realms of Earth, Asgard, and Yodenheim, Thor offers a cast of immortals: Chris Hemsworth as the god of thunder, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster, an astrophysicist Thor meets after his father banishes him to the human world. In Thor’s absence, betrayals and racial conflicts rock his native Asgard, eventually exposing an unexpected opponent he must defeat in order to restore peace.

Superhero movies tend to follow a certain formula, we all know that, and recent mass production has made stereotypes of many characters. But I like the humans in Thor. Erik, Darcy, and Jane are quirky, funny, perhaps even endearing if given enough screen time. The gods, in striking contrast, fall into the easiest stereotypes: wise father, wayward son, loyal friends. Of all of them, Loki’s character has the most potential. He has an interesting background and a complex personality, yet all this is brushed aside in favor of the title character. Unfortunately, Thor is boring, predictable. Everything about him is unconvincing: his early decisions, emotional growth, even his romance with Jane. Then again superheroes are generally like this: maybe the entire franchise just doesn’t appeal to me (except for Iron Man, but we all know Tony Stark doesn’t really have superpowers).

All in all, Thor strikes me as average. I wouldn’t call it a waste of money, but I definitely could have gone without it. The special effects are awesome, and I actually like the ending—minus some cheesy lines between father and son. It’s entertaining enough, if that’s just what you’re looking for, but it’s not something I’d want to see again, or even remember for a long time.

‘For the first time in my life, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.’

‘I have no plans to die today.’ ‘None do.’

Closer (2004)

“What a floozy,” Alice describes herself in one scene. Incidentally, you can also say the same about the movie. Closer flirts unabashedly, with alluring images of intimate interactions and beguiling exchanges of playful (sometimes snappy) bantering. Fast-paced and entertaining, it doesn’t give you time to think, much less question what’s happening on screen. But it’s not like you need to—most of the time you’re enjoying yourself too much to even think about thinking. A casting and editing success, the film possesses an undeniable charisma, an irresistible magnetism that lures you inside its world without reservation—easy seduction at its finest.

The movie follows the intertwining romances of four characters: Alice (Natalie Portman), Dan (Jude Law), Anna (Julia Roberts), and Larry (Clive Owen). It shows them grappling with inconstant emotions and struggling to locate meaning in their relationships. But as they weave and unweave the tenuous threads of their affairs, they find themselves drawing dangerously closer to one another, eventually losing themselves as they deal with inevitable departures.

Essentially a series of heartbreaks, Closer makes use of several lines made familiar by other romances. But although tacky when taken out of context, these lines found fitting places in the movie’s script. In those scenes, at those times, from those characters, they did not seem at all trite. Instead they resonated with emotion, made perfect sense in those situations. Besides Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, I have never seen or heard so many heartrending statements anywhere else. My heart broke at almost every scene. I died with almost every line.

What makes the dialogue work so well is the emptiness of the characters—mere vague silhouettes, really. We hardly know anything about them, so we get to impose ourselves: make choices along with them, fight for them. It’s what makes the film so difficult to assess, because at some point a part of you gets pulled into it so deep it’s hard to see anything else. But towards the end I caught sight of a chink in its near-impenetrable armor. Frivolous might be too strong a word, but I found that in this movie “love” is a word bandied around too carelessly. And though it had me hooked for the most part, the last ten minutes shattered whatever illusions I might have had about it. It was just one change of heart too many.

‘Hello, stranger.’

‘It’s the only way to leave: I don’t love you anymore, goodbye.’

‘You’ve ruined my life.’ ‘You’ll get over it.’

‘I’m waiting for you.’ ‘To do what?’ ‘Leave me.’

‘Look at me. Tell me you’re not in love with me.’ ‘I don’t love you.’ ‘You just lied.’

‘Don’t move. I want to remember this moment forever.’

‘How? How does this work? How do you do this to someone?’

‘Where will you go?’ ‘Disappear.’

‘You’re wonderful.’ ‘Don’t ever forget it.’

‘No one will ever love you as much as I do. Why isn’t love enough?’

‘Oh, as if you had no choice? There’s a moment, there’s always a moment: I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it, and I don’t know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one.’

‘Don’t say it. Don’t you fucking say you’re too good for me. I am, but don’t say it. You’re making the mistake of your life.’

‘Thank you, thank you for your honesty. Now fuck off and die.’

‘I love you.’ ‘Thank you.’

‘Are you flirting with me?’ ‘Maybe.’

‘I love you, I love everything about you that hurts.’

‘Lying’s the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off. But it’s better if you do.’

‘What’s so great about the truth? Try lying for a change. It’s the currency of the world.’

‘Don’t stop loving me. I can see it draining out of you.’

‘I love her.’ ‘Boohoo. So do I.’

‘You were perfect.’ ‘I still am.’

‘I don’t love you anymore.’ ‘Since when?’ ‘Now, just now.’

‘Where is this love? I can’t see it, I can’t touch it. I can’t feel it. I can hear it. I can hear some words, but I can’t do anything with your easy words.’

Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan is a visual riot. It does not fail to beguile with its marvelous camerawork and transitions, unfolding to the tune of hair-raising music. It has the entire movie industry abuzz, and for good reason. Rife with tension (sexual and otherwise), it kept me on my toes throughout its duration. Director Darren Aronofsky drew me so much into the plot that my head hurt after watching. The movie captivated me with every twist and turn. It’s a breathtaking experience, being swept away by a film and spinning along with it, and it is not something we come across very often: an achievement only heightened by its rarity.

The film opens with a young dancer (Natalie Portman) vying for the lead in her ballet company’s production of Swan Lake. The director (Vincent Cassel) finds her perfect for the White Swan’s part, but doubts her ability to handle the more crucial role of Black Swan, who seems better suited for the newcomer (Mila Kunis). Unwilling to relinquish the starring role, the aspiring prima ballerina pirouettes her way into a perfect embodiment of the Black Swan, at the same time spiraling further and further into madness.

Critics have heaped praise upon praise on Natalie Portman’s acting in this film, and I cannot help but follow suit. She provides her character with such authenticity that we are compelled to sympathize, even with such a twisted persona. It especially thrilled me to watch her perform as Swan Queen. And this is also why I feel unsatisfied with the Black Swan’s part at the end. I found it too short. I wanted more. The film’s anticipation of it since the beginning promised me as much. I had hoped to be completely captivated, seduced by the Black Swan, and was instead disappointed by her short appearance, for despite the film’s title the White Swan takes center stage, at least during the ballet.

Black Swan is not perfect, but it’s presented in such a way that made me accept it wholeheartedly, minor discontents and all. The obvious love that went into its creation shows through, just like in Aronofsky’s earlier work Requiem for a Dream (2000). Neither film made me feel happy (quite the reverse, actually), but instead gave me a sense of fulfillment that surpasses happiness. I felt disturbed and satiated; both movies haunted me for several hours afterward: I could not have been more delighted.

‘I had the craziest dream last night about a girl who has turned into a swan, but her prince falls for the wrong girl and she kills herself.’

‘Everything will be better in the morning. It always is.’

‘Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go.’

‘That was me seducing you, when it needs to be the other way around.’

‘I just want to be perfect.’

‘The only person standing in your way is you.’