A Movie to Celebrate Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and pay tribute to the Canadian spirit, I’d like to recommend the movie Maudie, about the folk art painter Maud Lewis (1903-1970). Born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Maud lived with her brother Charles in their family house until he sold it. In the movie, Maud overhears Charles telling their Aunt Ida he will pay her to accommodate and look after Maud in her home.

Maudie

Born with a small frame, disfigured facial features and deformed fingers, Maud suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis as an adult. Such handicaps however do not cripple Maud’s sanguine spirit and fierce independence. While staying at her Aunt’s place, she answers an ad for a housekeeper posted on the bulletin board of the local store. She jumps at the opportunity as she sees it as a way to move out of her Aunt’s and strive for her own independence.

The house that needs a housekeeper is home to Everett Lewis, a fish peddler in the village of Marshalltown, on Nova Scotia’s northwestern shore. Everett’s abode is a cramped, one-room hut with no running water or electricity. With her arthritic hands Maud cleans the floorboards and tends to Everett’s daily needs, cooking on the wood stove and bearing with Everett’s demeaning outbursts. The rule of the house is, he first, then his dogs, his chickens, and lastly, Maud.

Does Maud feel defeated? Well sure, but just temporarily. Her resilient and cheerful spirit can move even a mountain of a misanthrope. Not long after, she and Everett got married. “A pair of odd socks,” she says of their seemingly incompatible personalities. We hear it often nowadays, “diversity is strength”. The Lewis’s household is evidence to that.

And of course, there’s the economic factor.

Maud turns Everett’s dingy house into a pleasant abode. She begins to paint on every surface: the walls, windows, door, stove, washbasin with lively flowers, birds, and whatever she sees in nature. She also picks up small, discarded wood boards to paint scenery and snowscapes. Not long after, a sign “Paintings for Sale” is placed outside their tiny house to diversify the household economy.

Deer painting

Maud is one successful entrepreneur. Her folksy paintings soon draw the attention of passers by; the cheerfully decorated little house on the wayside soon becomes a stop for designated shopping and repeat customers, a point of interest for visitors. Later, it becomes a converging site for news crews and journalists. Each piece of board painting is sold for about five to six dollars, a card, 10 cent. Everett is the finance minister and holds the purse strings.

The movie presents Maud’s story with beautiful and absorbing cinematography. The pace is slow, allowing viewers to immerse in the outwardly harsh life of Maud’s, in contrast to her vibrant spirit and life-affirming talents. A tiny window is a frame of the world outside. The last part of the film comes to a sad note as Maud succumbs to illness of the lungs.

Now, to the making of the movie. The subject is Canadian, Maud Lewis is very much a Canadian folk art icon, her works are in the collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The filming location is Newfoundland and Labrador. But note this: the movie is helmed by Irish director Aisling Walsh (BAFTA nom Fingersmith, 2005), Maud is played by the English actor Sally Hawkins (Oscar nom Blue Jasmine, 2013), Everett is played by American actor Ethan Hawke (Oscar nom Boyhood, 2014). If I were a protectionist ruler, I wouldn’t have let them come in to make it.

But then again, this is Canada, eh?

 

~ ~ ~ 1/2 RIPPLES

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RELATED POST ON RIPPLE EFFECTS:

Séraphine and the wrought-iron chair 

 

 

 

 

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 

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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

Before Midnight (2013): Reality Check

Spoiler Alert: It’s impossible to discuss this film meaningfully without giving out the storyline, same with the two prequels.

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We are gleaners of memories. An interesting parallel applies to the two characters Celine and Jesse as well as ourselves as audience. But if you haven’t seen Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, it would enhance your viewing pleasure to watch them first.

Flashback: Before Sunrise (1995)

Before SunriseTwo young people, Parisian Celine (Julie Delpy) and American Jesse (Ethan Hawkes) meet on a train passing through Europe. They strike up a conversation and become so in-tuned with each other that when the train arrives Jesse’s stop in Vienna, he convinces Celine to get off with him even though her destination is Paris. There for just one night until sunrise, they walk around the city and talk about life, death, love, religion, relationships, and being transients… for they know this may well be their only encounter with each other in both of their lives. The next morning Jesse has to fly back to the U.S. As they part, they promise to meet again in six month at the same hour, on the same train platform. Throughout the film, we feel fate, or whatever you call it, has a strong presence in their short few hours together. We feel their sincerity in capturing those precious  moments, as we hear Celine’s words ring true:

“If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something.”

Flashback: Before Sunset (2004)

Before SunsetNine years after that chance meeting, Jesse is in Paris on the last leg of a book tour. He has written a book based on that memorable encounter nine years ago. At the Shakespeare and Company bookstore, Celine shows up. They now meet for a second time, again for a short few hours before Jesse has to leave on a plane to fly back to the U.S. Their conversation reveals that, alas, their well intended reunion six months after their first chance meeting has turned into a star-crossed, missed opportunity. After that, fate has led them down separate paths. Jesse is now married and has a son. Celine, still on her own, yearns for that first romance to develop but now seems even more elusive.

To the present: Before Midnight (2013)

Before Midnight

So we have been following Jesse and Celine like a longitudinal study, albeit meeting them just twice within this eighteen year period. In the first two films, director Richard Linklater has us follow Jesse and Celine in real time through long takes, walking along with them in Vienna and Paris, listening in on their conversations and see them pour their hearts out, just to be heard, to be known. Those were romantic moments. This time is summer in Greece; this time is reality check.

We see Jesse and Celine now married. What happens in between those nine years is that Jesse has divorced his wife in Chicago, come over to Paris, married Celine and together they have two lovely twin daughters. But things aren’t so idyllic, for Jesse is troubled by not being around for his now young teenaged son Hank from his previous marriage and whom he can only see in the summer. The film begins with Jesse seeing his son off at the airport.

For the next 15 minutes and in one stationary take through the front windshield of the car, we see a happy couple Jesse and Celine driving from the airport to a Greek country house, with their twin daughters sleeping in the backseat. We hear them talk, yes, they love to talk to each other, just as we’ve seen in the past.

In the setting of an idyllic seaside residence, Jesse and Celine join a small gathering of writers. we see them prepare and eat healthy Greek salads and discuss equally idyllic topics such as writing, love, knowing each other, virtual reality (yes, for the contemporary effect), and being transients in life. Again, that first train encounter comes to mind. In conclusion they drink to ‘passing through’.

The next act is reminiscence of previous Before films… Jesse and Celine walk to a hotel paid for by their writer friends, who have also taken up the duty of babysitting their twins so the two of them can fully enjoy each other for the night. For twenty minutes the camera follows them in real time strolling through some scenic rural town toward their country hotel, exchanging thoughts like before. But no, not totally like before, for now they are eighteen years older, 41, and each with emotional undercurrents running deep.

Five minutes in the hotel room, discordant riptides begin to surface. Talk turns into quarrel. Why, this is just too real. In the past, we see them only in romantic mode. Now as they expose their underlying thoughts and suspicions, tempers flare, words turn callous. We would silently say ‘ouch!’ occasionally.

The beginning scene of the first film, Before Sunrise, has become a stark foreshadowing… sitting near Jesse and Celine on that train, two middle-aged couple argue fiercely in German. Seeing their temper flare but not understanding what they were arguing about, Jesse and Celine ponder on the question of how two people can grow old together in harmony.

Now here in what is supposed to be an ideal get-away, for twenty minutes we are the invisible witnesses of a marital conflict, and we would want to stay in there to see what happens next, not because of the schadenfreude effect, but because this is just too real.

Romance is holiday, marriage is work.

Hawke and Delpy own these scenes depicting realistically what marriage could entail. Other films readily come to mind… Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage (1973) and Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (1992). Before Midnight is a contemporary version, with a highly watchable backdrop and natural performance. Unlike Bergman and Allen, Linklater is commendable in crafting a more positive ending. It’s refreshing to see a glimmer of hope at the end of nasty quarrels.

In the final act, Jesse attempts to woo his wife back. How he does it is most endearing. Every moment in the present is an opportunity to create a fond memory to look back to in the future. This complicated package called love is a piece of work. Director Linklater and his two stars, who co-wrote the screenplay with him, might well have passed to us the secret of marital success… Before too late, glean fond memories from the past to sustain the relationship at present; before too late, create more loving memories to carry it into the future.

One line from Celine in Before Sunset is most apt here: “Memory is a wonderful thing if we don’t have to deal with the past.” Jesse might have known this too well, not to leave the present a mess for future to deal with, but leave it as a pleasant memory to cherish in the days ahead.

With a trilogy of films beginning with the word ‘Before’ in the title, we should know that time is of the essence. Time to make the present a memorable past for the future, before too late.

That line still lingers as the film ends… ‘To passing through.’

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples for all three films

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