Where’d You Go, Bernadette: From Book to Screen

When I first learned that Maria Semple’s quirky and clever 2012 novel would be turned into a movie, I had that umm… feeling. When I found out Richard Linklater would be directing it, it turned into a whaaat? Sure it’s not a Wes Anderson project?

On the surface a mother-daughter relational story, Semple’s book is deceivingly simple. Underneath the humour is her take on contemporary American society, the tyranny of technology, vulnerability of the non-conforming, sarcasm on the upwardly aspiring middle class, the rat race and its effect on parenting, the outsourcing economy, and even taking a jab on America’s quiet and polite neighbour to the north. As a target, I must give you the following excerpt from the book as evidence of Semple’s spikiness (or is it spunkiness):

You probably think, U.S./Canada, they’re interchangeable because they’re both filled with English-speaking, morbidly obese white people. Well, Manjula (virtual personal assistant from India), you couldn’t be more mistaken.

Americans are pushy, obnoxious, neurotic, crass… Canadians are none of that. The way you might fear a cow sitting down in the middle of the street during rush hour, that’s how I fear Canadians. To Canadians, everyone is equal. Joni Mitchell is interchangeable with a secretary at open-mic night. Frank Gehry is no greater than a hack pumping out McMansions on AutoCAD. John Candy is no funnier than Uncle Lou when he gets a couple of beers in him. No wonder the only Canadians anyone’s ever heard of are the ones who have gotten the hell out. Anyone with talent who stayed would be flattened under an avalanche of equality. The thing Canadians don’t understand is that some people are extraordinary and should be treated as such.

But that’s not in the movie. Why, the movie is a total stripped-down version without the incendiary, sarcastic swipes, or the laugh-out-loud funny, and ah… thanks, Maria Semple, for the words, “it’s flattened under an avalanche of” smoothened edges in characterization and plot.

By the way, if one reads deeper into the Canadian jab quoted above, it wouldn’t be hard to see the layered meaning. Aha, the joke is on which side of the 49th?

Bernadette (1).jpg

 

Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) has had her glorious days as an acclaimed architect, pioneer of the green building movement, a MacArthur grant recipient at 32, and a young woman succeeding in a male-dominated profession. Due to an unfortunate incident, her award-winning project was demolished without her knowledge, destroyed by a vengeful neighbour who bought it under an agent’s name. Devastated, Bernadette crashed out of her career, moved to Seattle with her Microsoft, TED Talking husband Elgie (Billy Crudup, a miscast). They bought a huge, dilapidated mansion. For twenty years she had ignored the maintenance of her home and self. The traumatic health issue of her daughter Bee’s (Emma Nelson) early years drives her further into the hole living as a reclusive agoraphobic.

Bernadette and Bee are the best of friends though. Mother/daughter relationship is well portrayed in the movie, a particular gripping scene is their singing the song ‘Time after time’ together in the car ending with a Bernadette meltdown. “You don’t know how hard it is for me.” Bee doesn’t know, viewers need to guess, but readers do, for they are supplied with ample back story. The movie, however, has trouble connecting the past with the present, or presenting sufficient motivation for the actions and behaviour of the characters.

As loving parents, Bernadette and Elgie have to fulfill a promise to Bee, that is she can have anything she asks for if she gets straight A’s; now they’re stuck with making a family trip to Antarctica. For two-third of the movie we see mostly interior shots of home and work building up a case to Bernadette’s disappearance. The momentum picks up only in the last third, the Antarctica episode.

The storytelling in the book is a lively collection of emails, notes, letters, hospital billing, and police report plus personal narrative to present the different voices from various characters. On screen, the Rashomon-like shifting of perspectives are converted into mainly two characters sitting and talking to each other. Surely Linklater is an expert in dialogues with his Before trilogy, where the camera follows two characters Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) talking throughout the movie and yet still captivating viewers as we watch them wander the streets and listening to them chat. But here, that magic is missing. Where’d you go, Linklater?

For the casting of Bernadette, Cate Blanchett is a good choice, her Academy Award winning role in Blue Jasmine comes to mind. Unfortunately, here she is not in her Jasmine form. The major issue is a weak script, hence the directing of it. The screenplay follows the book faithfully but in a minimal, abridged version. It begs the question: does a movie adaptation need to follow the source material to the dot? Here in this very different medium, dialogues are picked right out of the novel while the camera has not been fully utilized, nor any imaginative ingredients been added to the visual adaptation of this quirky and zesty book. Well, yes, it might have been faithful to the letter, but not the spirit.

The title question obviously doesn’t just mean the physical whereabouts of Bernadette but where her talent, creativity, and vitality for life have gone. There’s a scene with Bernadette meeting her previous mentor Paul Jellinek (Laurence Fishburne) who says it explicitly: “People like you must create. If you don’t, you become a menace to society.” Such is a thematic element that needs to be calved out more clearly, a talent caged in by her own disillusionment and her ultimate breakthrough. Don’t blame motherhood, and Bernadette doesn’t, for she sees a beautiful offspring flourishing in Bee. But is parenting a zero-sum game? The context and question should be handled with more depth and inner exploration. With not much contextual support, the case of a self-imposed, locked-up genius is left to the actor Blanchett to portray, and at times it seems forced.

Missing story elements cause lapses in the storytelling. Why does Audrey (Kristen Wiig), Bernadette’s neighbour and archenemy, suddenly becomes friend with her at the most critical moment? Or, during the mudslide, the camera hasn’t shown (without obstruction) what’s written on the sign, which has triggered much of the resentment between Audrey and Bernadette. Readers know, but not viewers if they have not read the source material.

At the end of the book there’s an “About the Author” page. Before writing fiction, Semple had written for the television shows Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. If one hadn’t known this tidbit already, a natural response would have been “no wonder!” It just points plainly to the ideal person who should have written the screenplay.

 

~ ~ Ripples

***

 

Related Reviews on Ripple:

Blue Jasmine: Homage and Reimagining

Boyhood: The Moment Seizes Us 

Before Midnight: Reality Check

The Budapest Hotel: A Grand Escape

 

Reading the Season: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

‘Reading the Season’ is my Christmas post every year. It’s always a pleasure to spend some quiet time amidst the hustle and bustle of the festivities to meditate on the essence and meaning of the Season. Yes, something like the perennial “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.

In recent weeks, one of my previous ‘Reading the Season’ posts has seen particularly high traffic, and that’s where I selected a few of Madeleine L’Engle’s poems. Indeed, the brilliant L’Engle had given us more than just A Wrinkle in Time. The versatile writer had 63 publications to her credits.

My favourite of her works is The Crosswicks Journal series. In there is the alchemy of wisdom, experience, and faith. Rereading Book 3 The Irrational Season this time, I came upon this verse which I didn’t notice much before. But this year’s different, for there’s a newborn in the family.

DSC_0453.jpg

 

Here’s L’Engle’s short intro before the poem:

“When I wrote the following lines I thought of them as being in Mary’s voice, but they might just as well be in mine––or any parent’s.” (p. 115, The Irrational Season)

Now we may love the child.
Now he is ours,
this tiny thing,
utterly vulnerable and dependent
on the circle of our love.
Now we may hold him,
feeling with gentle hands
the perfection of his tender skin
from the soft crown of his head
to the sweet soles of his merrily kicking feet.
His fingers softly curl
around one finger of the grownup hand.
Now we may hold.
Now may I feel his hungry sucking at my breast
as I give him my own life.
Now may my husband toss him in the air
and catch him in his sure and steady hands
laughing with laughter as quick and pure
as the baby’s own.
Now may I rock him softly to his sleep,
rock and sing,
sing and hold.
This moment of time is here,
has happened, is:
rejoice!

Child,
give me the courage for the time
when I must open my arms
and let you go.

**

And oh what letting go it was for Mary that day at the foot of a cross, that ultimate letting go, and with it, the awakening which must have brought her back to that first night when she gave birth in the manger.

***

Above Photo Credit: Diana Cheng. An evening view from Ontario’s Point Pelee National Park, September, 2018.

 

Past Reading the Season Posts:

2017: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

 

 

 

Spring Baby

They’ve come back, the Great Horned Owl couple.  Their perennial arrival to nest is as predictable as the grass turning green and the leaves bursting out from the bare branches. They even check into the same abode.

After a long wait since April, I finally got to see the new addition last week. This time, an only child.

Here’s baby peeking out to feast on the sights and sounds of spring:

Baby in nest

A close-up of this spring baby:

Baby close-up.jpg

Mom or Dad is always watching close by, here basking in the evening sun:

At dusk

Yesterday, it’s baby’s day out. Where’s Waldo?

Where's Waldo?.jpg

Look up, there he is, at the top of the tree trunk:

Camouflage.jpg

Trying out wings:

Wing.jpg

and showing off a downy coat:

Downy.jpg

As always, Mom is nearby, ever watchful:

Keeping watch.jpg

Posing for all the nature paparazzi below, here it is, the feat of turning your head 180º:

head turned.jpg

Enjoy while you can, soon you’ll be an empty nester, too soon.

 

***

TIFF16 Review: After The Storm

“After the Storm” was screened at TIFF in September. Next week, it will be at BFI London FF and after that, the Chicago IFF. My review was first published on Asian American Press. I thank the editor for allowing me to post my review here on Ripple Effects.

***

Japanese auteur Koreeda Hirokazu graced the Toronto International Film Festival once again this year with his new feature, “After the Storm”. Since 1995, with his multiple award-winning feature “Maborosi”, Koreeda has been a staple at TIFF, which has screened every one of his feature films. His recent works are still fresh in many viewers’ minds, “Still Walking” (2008), “Like Father, Like Son” (2013), and “Our Little Sister” (2015).

With all the avant garde and experimental, new waves of filmmaking bursting out at film festivals every year, Koreeda’s traditional style of storytelling offers a fine balance and an affirming voice. His films focus on the contemporary Japanese family, bringing out themes arising from the individual and extending to the universal. Humanity is what Koreeda is interested in, and his treatment of human foibles and failures is kind and forgiving. “After the Storm” is no exception.

Ryota (Abe Hiroshi) used to be an award-winning author. But for years he has not produced any more works. Divorced from his wife Kyoko (Maki Yoko) and sorely missing his 9 year-old son Shingo (Yoshizawa Taiyo), Ryota is at the bottom of his life. Months behind in his child support payments, he is laden with debt, entrapped by a gambling habit that’s hard to kick. It runs in the family it seems, for his late father had also been a gambler. With his work at a detective agency, Ryota would try all means to squeeze extra cash out of his clients, including deception and even extortion.

Koreeda’s dealing of Ryota is gentle and sympathetic. While he may look unkempt, the six-foot-two actor Abe Hiroshi has his charm and charisma. We see the nasty side of Ryota as he slips into his mother’s cramped unit in a housing project, looking for anything of value he could lay his hands on for pawning. A moment later, Koreeda lets us have a glimpse too of the other side of Ryota, that of a son to an ageing mother Yoshiko (Kiki Kilin). The mother-son portrait is witty and tactful, punctuated with heartwarming humour. It is a reunion of the two actors, also as mother and son, from Koreeda’s 2008 feature film “Still Walking”.

Mother knows best, even when your son doesn’t live with you any more. Deep in her heart, Yoshiko wishes to see her son reunite with her daughter-in-law Kyoko whom she is very fond of. She also treasures the affectionate bonding with grandson Shingo. If only they could get back together as a family, that would be a big relief and comfort, growing old can then be much bearable.

One evening, a passing storm keeps them together in Yoshiko’s home for the night. The impromptu reunion, though awkward, is probably gratifying for every one of them. Koreeda is, alas, a realist. Life is full of disappointments. However close they have come to bonding once again, the moment is short-lived. But the reminiscence and dynamics of the small family’s once intimate relationship regurgitates enough to spark off a renewal for Ryota. While they may continue on with their own separate ways, a new perspective has subtly wiggled in. Perhaps, there’s hope after all. The young, green grass covered with raindrops the morning after the storm is a refreshing metaphor.

koreeda

The film was shot in the housing project where Koreeda had spent his youthful years. That was where his mother lived after his father had passed away. In the Q & A session, Koreeda admitted that certain incidents in the film did happen in the director’s own family. When writing the script though, once he has created his characters, Koreeda would let them run free and so they would develop themselves. Their stories just came out naturally.

Answering questions in Japanese with a translator beside him, Koreeda humbly thanked his Toronto audience, whom he had in mind when he made his films, as TIFF had screened every one of his features. He noted that as we grew older, we had to deal with disappointments, for life often didn’t turn out to be what we’d like to see. “After the Storm” shows us that Koreeda has dealt with his characters’ life disappointments with a forbearing spirit. As for viewers of his films, Koreeda does not disappoint.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

***

Other reviews of Koreeda films on Ripple Effects:

Our Little Sister: A Respite from Summer Superhero Movies

Like Father, Like Son: Parent and Child Reunion 

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

In honour of Father’s Day tomorrow, I’m re-posting my review of the acclaimed Japanese film Like Father, Like Son. (Update: Director Hirokazu Koreeda’s most recent work Our Little Sister is a Palme d’Or nominee at Cannes 2015.)

***

I had wanted to see this Japanese film since it came out last year. Missed it at TIFF13 last September, its North American premiere after winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize in May. Glad it has finally arrived on Netflix, reaching a much wider audience than just festival goers, deservedly.

Like Father Like Son

Director Hirokazu Koreeda wrote the screenplay based on a disturbing premise: what if after six years of raising your son, the hospital where he was born contacted you and told you that your child was switched at birth, and of course, they sent their apology.

The hospital officials do not take this lightly. DNA tests are done to confirm. They have a lawyer with them, arrange to have you meet the other parents, mediate and ease the proposed switch back, which they recommend with a six-month preparation period, preferably before the boys start grade one in school. They even find out who the nurse is that made the error; due to her own frustrations at the time she knowingly made the switch. Of course, she is deeply sorry for what she had done and duly prosecuted. Monetary compensations are arranged.

But all the above have absolutely nothing to do with easing the shock and alleviating the trauma afflicted upon the families. Formality and legality do not soothe the pain; apologies and money cannot compensate for the abrupt termination of relationships.

Director Kore-eda has treated the subject matter with much tenderness and charm. The cinematography is stylish, the children and adults are all captured in a realistic manner with splashes of endearing humour.

The two families come from very different social strata, and the two boys have been raised in opposite parenting styles. Interestingly, only one of the families seems to take this news much harder. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful professional who spends most of his time in the glass towers of Tokyo busy at work. His son Keita (Keita Nonomiya), an only child, is raised in a protective environment. Mother Midori (Machiko Ono) is loving but also ambivalent about a husband who puts his career over his family.

The other family is a shop owner in a rural part of the country, their son Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang) is the eldest of three children. Father Yudai Saiki (Rirî Furankî) is every child’s dream. He spends his days playing with his children, fixes their toys, and exerts no rules, albeit Mom Yukari (Yoko Maki) might wish he could have spent more time working.

What makes a father? What makes a son? Fatherhood and bloodline tend to supersede all other factors in a patriarchal society like Japan. But the film reflects the point of view that not all families necessarily embrace such a value. Further, apparently there are different parenting styles even in a homogeneous Japanese society.

If there is ever a Japanese version of the movie Boyhood as we have seen from Richard Linklater, Hirokazu Kore-eda would be the ideal person to direct it. Like Father Like Son follows his previous work I Wish (2011) in its sensitive and incisive depiction of a boy’s heart and yearning. He can tear apart the facade of societal formality – but in a most tender way – and lay bare the hopes and needs, the essence of parents child relationships.

I must give credits to Johann Sebastian Bach, and the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. The beginning of Bach’s Goldberg Variations had been used in numerous films, but every time the soulful slow moving piano melody comes on, I am moved, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, and in so many different genres of films. Just from memory, I can think of The English Patient (1996), Hannibal (2001), Shame (2011)… It is so effective in augmenting cinematic moments without becoming clichéd.

Here, the Aria is well placed as director Kore-eda uses it as a motif to spur us into deeper thoughts. What makes a father; what makes a son? What is more important, blood or relationships? What is the role of a wife and mother in a patriarchal society? What is the purpose of giving birth and bringing up a child? What is fulfilling and meaningful to us as human beings? Indeed, a motif that can strike a universal chord of resonance that transcends cultures.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

***

Saturday Snapshot June 13: Birdspeak

Note: Click on the photo to enlarge for a better view.

**

Evening. Outside the home of the Starlings.

Home of the Starlings

Junior doesn’t look very happy. I’m hungryyyy!

Junior not happy

Now where is she? What’s taking her so long?

What's taking her so long?

Here you are… fresh worms:

Here you are, fresh worms

Now eat up, chomp, chomp, chomp:

Eat up

What? You want more?! This is my third trip already.

What? More?

After some time, Mom Starling finally comes back with more.

Ok, here you are, fresh worms! Now where did the monkey go?

Ok here you are, more worms

You want me to bring it to your room?!

Now where did he go?

Get off the computer!

Get off the computer!

***

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

ALL PHOTOS TAKEN BY ARTI OF RIPPLE EFFECTS

DO NO COPY OR REBLOG

***

Like Father, Like Son (2013): Parent and Child Reunion

I had wanted to see this Japanese film since it came out last year. Missed it at TIFF13 last September, its North American premiere after winning the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize in May. Glad it has finally arrived on Netflix, reaching a much wider audience than just festival goers, deservedly.

Like Father Like Son

Director Hirokazu Kore-eda wrote the screenplay based on a disturbing premise: what if after six years of raising your son, the hospital where he was born contacted you and told you that your child was switched at birth, and of course, they sent their apology.

The hospital officials do not take this lightly. DNA tests are done to confirm. They have a lawyer with them, arrange to have you meet the other parents, mediate and ease the proposed switch back, which they recommend with a six-month preparation period, preferably before the boys start grade one in school. They even find out who the nurse is that made the error; due to her own frustrations at the time she knowingly made the switch. Of course, she is deeply sorry for what she had done and duly prosecuted. Monetary compensations are arranged.

But all the above have absolutely nothing to do with easing the shock and alleviating the trauma afflicted upon the families. Formality and legality do not soothe the pain; apologies and money cannot compensate for the abrupt termination of relationships.

Director Kore-eda has treated the subject matter with much tenderness and charm. The cinematography is stylish, the children and adults are all captured in a realistic manner with splashes of endearing humour.

The two families come from very different social strata, and the two boys have been raised in opposite parenting styles. Interestingly, only one of the families seems to take this news much harder. Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful professional who spends most of his time in the glass towers of Tokyo busy at work. His son Keita (Keita Nonomiya), an only child, is raised in a protective environment. Mother Midori (Machiko Ono) is loving but also ambivalent about a husband who puts his career over his family.

The other family is a shop owner in a rural part of the country, their son Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang) is the eldest of three children. Father Yudai Saiki (Rirî Furankî) is every child’s dream. He spends his days playing with his children, fixes their toys, and exerts no rules, albeit Mom Yukari (Yoko Maki) might wish he could have spent more time working.

What makes a father? What makes a son? Fatherhood and bloodline tend to supersede all other factors in a patriarchal society like Japan. But the film reflects the point of view that not all families necessarily embrace such a value. Further, apparently there are different parenting styles even in a homogeneous Japanese society.

If there is ever a Japanese version of the movie Boyhood as we have seen here from Richard Linklater, Hirokazu Kore-eda would be the ideal person to direct it. Like Father Like Son follows his previous work I Wish (2011) in its sensitive and incisive depiction of a boy’s heart and yearning. He can tear apart the facade of societal formality–but in a most tender way–and lay bare the hopes and needs, the essence of parents child relationships.

I must give credits to Johann Sebastian Bach, and the late Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. The beginning of Bach’s Goldberg Variations has been used in numerous films, but every time the soulful slow moving piano melody comes out, I am moved, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, and in so many different genres of films. Just from memory, I can think of The English Patient (1996), Hannibal (2001), Shame (2011). It is so effective in augmenting cinematic moments without becoming clichéd.

Here, the Aria is well placed as director Kore-eda uses it as a motif to spur us into deeper thoughts. What makes a father, a son? What is more important, blood or relationships? What is the role of a wife and mother in a patriarchal society? What is the purpose of giving birth and bringing up a child? What is fulfilling and meaningful to us as human beings? Indeed, a motif that can strike a universal chord of resonance that transcends cultures.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Boyhood (2014): The Moment Seizes Us

Boyhood is a groundbreaking film. It has taken director Richard Linklater twelve years to shoot, most uniquely, with the same cast. The actors had to commit to many annual shootings over this twelve-year period. This is not a documentary. Written by Linklater himself, the film follows a linear narrative storyline of a boy named Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who is very patient indeed; he had to wait twelve years to have his work put on screen.

We first see Mason in 2001 when he is just six years old starting grade one and 165 minutes later, we see him at eighteen, entering college. He literally grows up in front of our eyes. You may shrug with a casual, ‘Ok… so what?’

Here are the implications of what this all means in the hands of a director with the gift of depicting perceptively the essence of human relationships, most notably, from his trilogy Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013). The passage of time is prominent in his trilogy with the films screened nine years apart. In there, we follow the chance meeting of actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on a train to their married life eighteen years later. While time is also of the essence here (just a pun, no hurry), Boyhood has a distinct difference.

Boyhood

Like time-lapse photography of a seedling to fruition we used to watch in biology class, Boyhood captures the life of Mason in one seamless unity. The editing is fluid and smooth. We see the passage of time from the games he plays (from Game Boy to Xbox to Wii), the social and political changes, the ephemeral shifting of pop culture, especially music (from Coldplay to Arcade Fire and those in between), and the evolving of technology. Most important of all, we see the human factor tossed and carried along in the current of time.

Linklater leads us to see Mason in the context of his family life, or whatever that defines it. What I see is not a happy boyhood. At the beginning of the film, Mason and his two-year-older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) have to leave their friends and move from small town Texas to Houston, where their determined single-parent mom (Patricia Arquette) can attend college to improve her job prospect. During this time, their divorced and absent dad (Ethan Hawke) suddenly reappears back into their lives.

Dad brings joy to the children. He is full of life and cares about them, at least while it is his turn to take them out. This may be ordinary in America nowadays, divorced parenthood, but I see the yearning in the hearts of the children on screen for a happy, reconciled family. There is deeper pain than just the loneliness we see on the surface of Mason and Samantha.

The brilliance of the director is in the captivating telling of what seems to be an ordinary, typical childhood. In a realistic style as if allowing me the viewer to be an invisible observer, Linklater makes me care for every member of this family.

But the character I find most admirable is mom Olivia. She does her best to improve her lot for the sake of her children. Her decisions may not be welcomed by them, and she makes mistakes, but she sticks to her guns with what she thinks is right and presses on. Ultimately she reaches her goal in getting a college teaching post. Arquette’s performance is understated and affective. My prediction is a possible acting nomination(s) for her come Awards Season.

We soon see Olivia remarry, this time to her psychology professor Bill (Marco Perella). It turns out to be a mistake. Bill later reveals himself to be a controlling alcoholic, abusive to his wife and kids. While Mason and Samantha gain a pair of step brother and sister of their own age, they now live under the roof of a harsh disciplinarian stepfather.

A poignant scene which I will not easily forget is after an abusive episode, Olivia disappears. Unable to find his wife, a fuming Bill has all four children sit on the sofa for interrogation, and gets each of them to hand him his/her cell phone. He checks the messages and usage history to see if any of them has communicated with their mother.

Mason has questioned his mom, “Why do you marry him? He’s a jerk.” Olivia answers, “So you can have a family.” Without missing a beat, he says, “we already have one.” Linklater has me at the edge of the seat, amazing with a film like this, to see how mom Olivia gets herself and her own kids out of such a dire situation under Bill’s roof.

In contrast, it is a joy to see the children with their birth father. And most importably, we see the bond of genuine love between the parents and their children despite the divorce. It is gratifying to see that, through the years, the adults grow up as well.

As time passes, we see Mason emerges to be an artistic youth, with a passion for photography. And yet, like his dad, he disregards rules and structures. We see him continue to seek out what it is that makes life meaningful. And yet, the adults in his life seem to be as confused as he is. Mason sees them make bad choices, struggles with his own, and questions ‘so what’s the point?’ Olivia too, after all that life hands her, and ultimately seeing her kids graduate from high school and herself achieving respectability with her college teaching career, utters “I just thought there will be more.”

Eventually, we see Mason at eighteen. The film ends with his first day of settling in a college dorm. He quickly makes friend with his roommate and his girlfriend and her roommate. They skip the orientation and go hiking. On the mountainous path, they sit down and talk, young people facing a brand new chapter in their lives. Like the vast mountain ranges, their future lays out in front of them, appealing and yet full of challenges and mystery. We see too that Mason has found a new soulmate as the girl shares with him, “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”

As the film fades to black, I breathe out a sigh of relief. At least, there’s no irreparable disaster. No matter what has happened in the past twelve years, the present is most livable, and the future is hopeful.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 

***

Awards Update:

Feb. 22, 2015: Patricia Arquette wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Feb. 21, 2015: Patricia Arquette wins Best Supporting Actress at Indie Spirit Awards, Richard Linklater wins Best Director.

Feb. 8, 2015: 3 BAFTAs Wins, Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress

Jan. 15, 2015: 6 Oscar noms, Best Picture, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing.

Jan. 11, 2015: 3 Golden Globe wins, Best Picture Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress.

Dec. 11: 5 Golden Globes noms: Best Picture – Drama, Richard Linklater for Best Director and Best Screenplay, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke for Best Supporting Actress and Actor.

Dec. 10: 3 SAG Noms: Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Best Male Supporting Actor, Best Female Supporting Actor

Dec.7: Boyhood wins Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Editing in the L.A. Film Critics Awards

Dec. 7: Boyhood wins Best International Independent Film Award at BIFA (UK)

Dec.1: Boyhood wins Best Picture, Richard Linklater Best Director, Patricia Arquette Best Supporting Actress from the New York Film Critics Circle

Dec.1: Boyhood wins Audience Award at Gotham Awards 2014

Other Related Posts:

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight

The Tree Of Life

Saturday Snapshot May 10: The Owl Family… Moonrise Haven

Here they are, all come out to enjoy the evening sun. In just a few weeks, the Owlets have grown so much they are about the size of their parents. How I tell them apart is by their still fluffy down. Here’s Owlie 1:

 

Owlet 1

 

He likes to try out his new wings:

Trying out new wings

 

Oops, caught in the branches. Flapping and struggling to get untangled:

Caught in the branches

 

And Mama’s reaction to all the fluttering? Totally unruffled. She’s too busy posing for me:

Mom stays put

 

Here’s the more quiet Owlie 2:

Owlet 2

 

And where’s Papa? As always, watching from a distance on another tree, calm and cool. Here he is, hooting away. That’s the first time I actually hear an Owl hoot, rhythmic calls, music for Mama and kids, and me:

Papa

 

Papa Hooting

Who teaches their young to fly and land safely? Don’t look at Mama or Papa, they don’t lift a finger:

Learning to fly and land

 

Who teaches them to play nice, and hug each other? That too, is instinct.

Who taught them to hug and play nice

 

Ok, for Mothers Day, let’s have a photo. I’ll entitle this one “Moonrise Haven”, with thanks to Wes Anderson:

Moonrise Haven

Ah… Natural parenting, so simple, almost effortless.

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

ALL PHOTOS TAKEN BY ARTI OF RIPPLE EFFECTS, 2014. 

DO NOT COPY OR REBLOG

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Previous Posts on the Owl Family (In Chronological Order):

The Great Horned Owl (March 2013)

Sign of Spring: Nesting (April 2013)

Spring Babies and Parenting Styles (May 2013)

The Hustle and Bustle of Spring (April 2014)

Within the Budding Grove (April 2014)

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The Dinner by Herman Koch: A Timely Read, for Lent?

Why is this book compared to Gone Girl? It’s nothing like it. The Dinner belongs to a totally different calibre. If I have to compare it to something, then I’d say, reading it conjures up Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Are there really some in our society who think themselves so superior that they ought to be above the law? The law, after all, is a human construct. Can we not bend it to serve our own interest, when the interest is out of love for our son, or wife, or husband?

The Dinner

The Dinner is Dutch writer Herman Koch’s sixth novel. It has sold over a million copies and translated into twenty-one languages. The book deals with subjects that are soul-searching: The dichotomy between nature and nurture; how much of our being and psyche is hereditary? What portions of our actions are a result of our own waywardness as lost souls? As I was reading, the movie “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011) came to mind. However, what is not present at least in the Kevin movie is the accessory after the fact component.

The Dinner starts off with quite an original concept. The author parallels the story development with a gourmet dinner two couples are having in an upscale restaurant. The Apéritif and the Appetizer are the foretaste of what we will get for the Main Course. What appears to be petty, disgruntled complaints and personal biases of the narrator’s in the early chapters turn out to be only a light appetizer, for the main course is when a horrific crime is revealed. The ‘horror’, though, isn’t limited to the crime per se, for it is chilling to read how everyone involved deals with the aftermath.

The main course is a gripping thriller based on a real-life crime. After reading the novel, I googled and did find the report on it. Koch tells the story effectively with his straight-forward descriptions written with journalistic detachment, and incisive observation as the notes of a perceptive psychoanalyst. Further, he informs us with the detailed thought process of his narrator. Here is a disturbing look at someone who is capable to love his wife and son deeply but hates everyone else that crosses his path. This is more than a thriller though, for the moral dilemma or rather, its characters’ lack of sensitivity to it, is what makes the book provocative.

I don’t think we are expected to ‘like’ or even ‘identify’ with any of the characters. The book is effective in that we are left as observers. And with that, hopefully, we just might think a little deeper into issues concerning our humanity, and in the next generation of humans we bring up. How much are our children a result of our parenting and examples, how much are they a result of their own choosing and decisions? Can nature or nurture excuse us from our errors? If Freud were around today, The Dinner just might be on his reading list. But, would he be able to offer a remedy to save us from ourselves?

The ending shares a similar thought with the Woody Allen movie Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). Now, as soon as I said this, some of you familiar with the movie might think I’ve dropped a spoiler in here. So, that’s the farthest I’ll go in describing the plot and details of The Dinner. The aftertaste may be haunting, but it is something that we should face as a human society.

Today is the beginning of Lent. I always feel such is an opportune time not so much about refraining from pleasure like abstaining from going to fancy restaurants for gourmet dinners, but in dwelling on the meaning of Easter. The Dinner may just have, inadvertently, reinforced the notion that we as individuals in a human society do need some form of saving grace after all.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated by Sam Garrett, published by Hogarth, 2012, 320 pages.

Spring Babies and Parenting Styles

I’ve been following this Great Horned Owl family for a few months now. At first I only spotted Papa, later I found Mama nesting nearby, now the two Owlets had come out too. Here’s my recent visit, the first Owlet I saw:

Owlet 1

Here’s the second one. Took me some time to spot:

Owlet 2

I didn’t have the chance to take a family photo, since each of them was on different branches, two adults and two young ones, but never far from each other though. Here you can see one parent (not sure if it’s Mom or Dad) keeping an eye on the owlet from a distance. Can you spot them both?

Parent Owl and Owlet

I love this… staying together, but also giving each other room.

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Here’s a family photo I did manage to take, albeit from afar. Two Canada Geese with their Goslings close by:

Canada Geese with Goslings

Ah… the different parenting styles.

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted on a new site now: Melinda of West Metro Mommy. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

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Related Posts on the Great Horned Owl Family:

Saturday Snapshot March 9: The Great Horned Owl

Sign of Spring: Nesting

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A Summer in Genoa (2008) DVD

A film that you have not seen in the theatre in North America. It premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and disappeared until it emerged on DVD in April, 2012. A Summer in Genoa is a fine film that has slipped through the blockbuster-craving, profit-driven distribution network.

This is from Colin Firth’s pre-Oscar days, a performance that could well be a foreshadow of his Oscar nominated role in A Single Man a year later.

In A Summer in Genoa, Firth plays Joe, an English professor in Chicago who has lost his wife Marianne (Hope Davis) in a car accident. As father to teenager Kelly (Willa Holland) and her younger sister Mary (superbly played by then 10 year-old Perla Haney-Jardine), Joe has to lay aside his grief to continue with his family life in taking care of his daughters.

Five months after the accident, Joe’s old colleague Barbara (Catherine Keener) has lined up a teaching position for him in Genova, Italy. It is summer. The beautiful, historical seaside city will be a totally different scenery from Chicago. Joe thinks that could be a good change for all of them.

How does a family deal with loss? Here we see each person has to face it individually before coming together as a family.

Acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom (A Mighty Heart, 2007) uses a naturalistic style to depict the three of them adjusting to a new situation in their own way. Through a hand-held camera, we are privy to the life of a family like watching a home video. As with any other family, their daily routine is ordinary and mundane. Yet because of their predicament, we care for these characters, especially with young Mary always drifting off on her own. We fear for her safety.

I’ve appreciated Winterbottom’s naturalism throughout the film, not only in the camera work, but with the ‘non-acting’ of the characters (using Bresson’s notion). They come across as real people dealing with daily issues we could relate to. On top of adjusting to a new city and nursing or ignoring a wound that has yet closed, a family still needs to go on living as a family.

We see Joe make breakfast for his girls, go to teach at the university, come home and make dinner. The girls go to their piano lessons, and Kelly takes her younger sister walking in long and narrow alleyways of the old city finding their way. We see Kelly making acquaintances with some young men, and how she riskily push the limits and attempt some youthful explorations. As for the younger Mary, we see her sorely locked in her solitary self of guilt and loss.

The young actor Perla Haney-Jardine’s performance as Mary is particularly poignant. With her father and older sister preoccupied with their own interests, she is left alone to deal with her private pain. She sees her mother appear to her, communicating to her with her presence and words.

The music selection is a major appeal to me. A film that starts off with the beginning theme of Chopin’s Etude no.3 and carries it as a motif throughout is sure to capture my attention. Music is also a legacy from their mother who used to teach piano at the university.

But I’m totally won over as this is read with a voiceover. A final class assignment Joe gives out to his students. He listens to the recording with them, his face lost in thought. It is so thematically perfect. As he ponders, he must have tasted the relevance of its words to his own predicament, raising his two daughters, through life’s ebb and flow. Here in this shot confirms Firth’s talent of ‘non-acting’.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held: 
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days; 
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

Special Features include equally naturalistic behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Another title for the film is Genova.

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