Saturday, October 21, 2006

Friday Night Movie

October 21

There is a weekly film series in Fairhope, over at the building that used to be the Episcopal Church, just two or three blocks from my house. They show movies that anyone could rent, just not necessarily ones that we do, so some of us are willing to shell out $4 for the priviledge of going out to the movies in our own neighborhood. The nearest bona fide cinemaplex is up at the mall, at least 30 minutes away through bothersome traffic.

Last night’s show was one I had been planning to see: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. A thoughtful parable set in the contemporary West, it involves a sad story of a cruel border guard, his hapless victim, and a good-hearted Texan who wants to see wrongs avenged.

Not my usual chick-flick fare (I had been thinking of renting The Break Up, and would have had the video store not been out of copies), but I absolutely loved the film. It was full of odd stories, lonely and empty characters, and situations I would never have been able to anticipate. Directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, it had the kind of integrity you expect from him – solemn, wise, and somewhat inscrutable. Beautiful, desolate, dusty West Texas settings helped with the evocative and gut-wrenching saga. A pretty actress (who happens to be January Jones, Tommy Lee's daughter) played a vapid young woman, bringing a sincerity and appeal to an extremely thankless role. Dwight Yoakum, with the awkwardness of an amateur who is perfectly cast, was convincing as the lawman who wanted out of the whole thing.

Somehow I loved Julio C├ęzar Cedillo, the actor playing the title role, from his first entrance and the line, “Vaqueiro. No Mas,” when he was asked his line of work. With flashbacks and forward cuts we are taken through his story and he is like a shining light throughout the film, even as a corpse. Just as Barry Pepper personifies a man beyond rememption, his presence makes life worth living and doing everything possible to redeem the most despicable. Melissa Leo was spot-on as the waitress with a sideline of entertaining all the available men in town.

I could find nothing to fault in the film. I left it with a few questions and would like to find someone else who saw it to discuss it with, so I recommend it to you. Maybe when we get together we'll remember to solve some of the riddles of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.


Benedict S. said...

Our local bunch here in the foothills have formed a similar group for watching (in our case) rarely seen films. Our first was a production from India called "Water." It focused on a little known custom practiced in some parts of that country in which widows are forced to live the remainder of their lives as single persons. I thought before I saw it that the film would be a bloody bore, but it turned out to be an unforgettable love story.

We meet for a potluck and movie watching in the large basement of a friend's house. Tonite we're to see another foreign film. I'll let you know tomorrow what it was. (Right now, I forget.) I'll see if the group is interested in the "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." I love the guy's given name. Same as a soothsayer's in "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Finding Fair Hope said...

Sounds as if you live in an enlightened community. I never figured out why our film series is so tame -- just things you can get off the shelves in your local video store. I wouldn't call any of them art films, and some (The Peter Sellers Story) aren't even very good films, they are just the ones the two group leaders select. Once in a while there'll be something foreign or offbeat, but there is no theme nor rhyme/reason that I can discern. I go because it's so close to my house, and often I'd rather view a movie with a few people than alone.

The Three Burials won a few prizes at Cannes and I think was nominated for an Oscar or two, and deserves to be in anybody's film series.

In the pre-show announcements John Tardieu, one of the leaders, said that when making the film Tommy Lee Jones had required the cast and crew to read Albert Camus' l'Etranger so they might better understand the theme.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Correction, World! There is a mistake in this post. I saw Tommy Lee Jones on an interview say his daughter was in the film Three Burials. Since there were no children in the movie I assumed the daughter was the beautiful January Jones, and checking the Internet, find he was married at the time she would have been born. But nothing anywhere suggested January Jones was his daughter. I've just googled every wife he ever had. Low profile. Therehere's precious little biographical info about Ms. Jones either. Tommy Lee Jones does have one daughter, Victoria, who is 15 years old, and I suspect she's somewhere in the picture.

Benedict S. said...

Hmmm. Too late with the correction, at least for my reputation as a "know-it-all." I repeated that info to a "knows-better-than-me" movie goer last evening while pimping for the "Three Burials." Out of what I think was politeness, the man merely gave me a look and said, "I didn't know that."

But because you have mentioned in your comment Camus' book, "The Stranger," you are forgiven. I had occasion to mention that same book to our Wednesday morning discussion group. We are studying another neighbor's book, Kim Beach's, "Questions for the Religious Journey," and had somehow worked our way around to existential angst. I mentioned Camus' books, "The Stranger" and "The Plague," especially their tone and style (at least in translation), as Camus' way out of the darkness of deep depression. Camus created the character in "The Plague" who keeps rewriting the first sentence of his "masterpiece" while the plague rages, as one way to symbolize (for one unlettered reader) the role of falseness (or of false faces, masks) in what passes for authentic life. It's when we wake up -- usually in the dread of night -- to the emptiness of the Godless universe, that our masks slip away and anxiety consumes us. Even if the character had got the sentence "right," it would still be only words and all words have meaning only to the extent we have created meaning.

Perhaps that's where blogging comes in handy, or all forms of art. We create a reality that pleases us, and to the extent it continues to please us, "the plague" -- that actually gives life an authentic meaning -- and the empty thing that life would be without our persona-lized identities, becomes somethng we can manage to forget. Reality slips our mind.

Some interpret Camus as having, in those works, made a pessimistic commentary on the emptiness of life. But if death is the only thing that gives life a meaning, if the universe really is empty of purpose, it is of course, only a certain sort of meaning. This blog, and John Sweden's art, and Bert Banana's foolishness, and the Mouse's vacuous ramblings, serve the very human purpose of creating a human meaning. We become active participants in the creative force that reality really is. The idea that change is inevitable -- death being a mere change -- becomes (in a very becoming way) a way of describing a moving art form with which we can either join forces or fight against or, if we are victimized by angst, be destroyed by. We do not by our art dispel death of its kind of meaning, but we make of life something worth living.

I wish I were as felicitious with words as you are, that I could say this without all the dashes and parentheses. My failure to do so is, I suppose, like the Camus character's first sentence, a thing that points to the open-endedness of creativivity -- a work that's never quite done ... but is always meaningful ... in its way.

Bert Bananas said...

While this may not have the impact it did for me, I'll tell my story anyway:

I was standing smack dab on the border with Mexico, at the Otay Mesa crossing. I was five feet from Mexico, at the "USA to Mexico" crossing. The "Mexico to USA" area is heavily guarded and controlled. At the former there's just car lanes and a pedestrian walk way.

As I'm standing there, a Border Patrol bus pulls up and parks at a curb. The bus is parallel with the border and the front door is facing Mexico, probably 20 feet from the border. I'm between that front door and Mexico. Being of a curious bent, I simply stand there and watch.

The bus door opens. It was completely full of Hispanics. Or Latinos. Or to finally be totally unpolitically correct, it was full of Mexicans. And like I said, completely.

See, there were three Border Patrol agents on the bus. The driver and two others. They had on these dark green uniforms. And they were just as "Mexican" looking as the people getting off the bus, shambling back to the home they wanted to replace.

It didn't change my mind about keeping Illegal Aliens out of the USA, but it did tickle my sense of irony that the "accident" of birth allowed one set of "Mexicans" to throw out a second set of "Mexicans." I wondered what the "good" Mexicans thought about the whole situation.

Benedict S. said...

Bert, they probably thought the same sorts of things the "good" Americans thought about punishing Iraq for 9/11 and the "good" Germans thought about giving Jews Hell for "killing Jesus."

I saw a film Saturday night, name of "The Harmonizers," which was based on historical events that occurred between 1927-38. The picture was made in Germany (~1997) and was adequately subtitled, even to the point of rhyming the lyrics of the catchy tunes sang by the extremely popular group. As performers, the group, five male singers and a male pianist, did very well, touring Europe and even America. Perhaps they would have become immortals ... if three of the men had not been Jews.

My enjoyment of the film was heightened by the two German ladies who sat next to me, sisters born to what may very well have been a good German family. They hummed the background music and sang along with the German lyrics of the songs the sextet performed. These ladies, both dear friends, and what was left of their family escaped East Germany about 40 years ago. They're now radical progressives, wholly committed to "never again" politics.

After the film, which ended less tragically than it might have, I expected my two companions to be their usual bubbly selves, brimming with tales of the "Comedian Harmonizers" (as the group was called), but I was mistaken. When the lights came up, E___'s & L___'s eyes were downcast and they were remarkably silent.

Perhaps their sadness had been stimulated by the movie's last great scene. The group was to perform in Munich, and the theater was SRO ("without advertising"). But an hour before the curtain was to rise they had been notified, in writing, that this was to be their last performance. The new anti-Juden laws prohibited "mixed groups." One of the men declared that he would not perform, that heaven and earth could not get him onto the stage. But of course, he relented, and did perform ... after reading the decree aloud to the audience, and informing them that, now that the truth of the group's "mixed" religion was out, the price of admission would be refunded by all who chose to leave. One or two actually did leave. But the rest stayed. The Harmonizers then sang their last song.

I will not describe the song, only the reaction to it of my two friends. When they tried to sing along with it, their voices failed them, but their tears did not.

Perhaps some day, Bert, the world will lose its shyness in the face of ironic horror. Perhaps....