La Belle et la Bête (2014)

la-belle-et-la-bete-photo-52cc32a725361Thanks to the Alliance Française French Film Festival I was finally able to see Christophe Gans’ live action adaptation of La Belle et la Bête (Beauty and the Beast), last week. (I say ‘finally’ but it was only released last year, so not too long to wait!) It was interesting to see this film not long after the announcement of the Disney live action film. I’m still not sure I’m excited for that one or not – not in the way I’d been excited for this version, at least. Belle is played by Léa Seydoux, who is steadily becoming one of my favourite actresses and la Bête by Vincent Cassiel.

I’ll admit, I’m a very aesthetic person so I’m highly affected by how things look. Luckily film is a visual medium, so I suppose that comes in handy (maybe – I’m not sure if one is really meant to admit to being somewhat of an ‘aesthete’ these days). I also have fairly specific visual styles that I prefer when it comes to cinema, most of which I can’t entirely describe (because I haven’t taken the time to think about it – could be an interesting blog post one day?). I can say that this film fell distinctly into one of them. If it had been less good looking I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much but I can see myself watching this several more times, and drooling over the beautiful visuals again and again. Some of the CGI/effects were a little OTT (but not jarring) and the small creatures I’ve forgot the name of looked a bit too much like the big-eyed TY Beanies for my taste (though Belle’s playful teasing of them was charming). But just so beautiful, overall. I honestly wanted to cry at how beautiful is is (did I mention I’m really affected by the aesthetic qualities of things?)

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I wish more movies looked like this (but, then, would it become less exciting?). Not Surreal, because that word is always misused. It was more than reality. Hyperreal. But still a little bit fake.The scenery looked like matte paintings from old technicolor films. The colours were sumptuous. And then there’s the costumes by Pierre-Yves Gayraud. It looked exactly like I think a fairy tale film ought to.

The wikipedia article on the French critics’ response describes what I felt in a more succinct way (and the references are spot on):

They praised the colours and contrasts of the landscape, which they said recalled the work of American painter Maxfield Parrish, and the visual style, which they compared to films by Mario Bava and Tsui Hark.

la_belle_et_la_bete_pixIn terms of content, I would’ve liked more development of Belle and the Beast’s relationship. I like the use of Belle’s dreams to find out more about the Beast’s life as a human (and, with one issue I shan’t go into, I loved the reason he became the Beast) but there was still a large jump, for me, from Belle being scared of the Beast to being in love with him. I think if she had been less scared of him or they had spent more time together, I’d have found it less unsettling and not too quick. I think there will always be uncomfortable elements in the relationship between Belle and the Beast but many people have gone over these and I shan’t rehash it. It is still a story I (and obviously many others) find compelling, which is very interesting to me. Something to ponder.

There definitely could have been more for Seydoux to do but we got a feel for her character, despite that. Most of her character came through in the scenes with her family, especially with her father, but we still see both her loyalty and playfulness when she’s at the castle. The ending of the film was lovely and immensely satisfying (after a vaguely frightening confrontation between the ‘baddies’ and some giant statues, which were once the Beast’s pals). It’s right up there with Ever After for endings of fairy tale films for me.

I doubt this film will be to everyone’s tastes but anyone with an interest in fairy tales (even if it is one of the many we see over and over again), costume design nerds and anyone with an appreciation of a beautiful looking film ought to see it.

Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, 1997

This was another post that had sat in my drafts for months. It’s not as polished as I’d like it to be, nor does it say everything I wanted it to, but I know I would never publish it if I waited for it to be ‘perfect’.

When I wrote about The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned some of the movies that were important to me in my teen years. One of these was Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. I was probably 14 or so when I watched this film, with my best friend at the time (she was the Michelle to my Romy, the Betsy to my Arlene and so on) and since then it has been one of my favourite films. I’ve not only shared it with that particular friend, but other friends, too, equally important to me over the years. The two friends that I shared it with most are still very important to me and in my life.

It became a favourite because I liked the clothes, it had one-liners that my friends and I could quote, a great soundtrack as well as being a funny, feel-good film.

But, why is Romy and Michele still an important film for me? There are a few reasons, one of which is nostalgia/sentimentality, but the biggest one is that it prioritises friendship (between women) over romance and it shows just how important friendship can be.

When Romy and Michelle fight it’s not over a guy in one way or another – it’s because Michelle feels undervalued in the friendship. That Romy doesn’t view her as an equal contributor. And, yeah, they do fight over who’s cuter but the catalyst for the argument is that Romy doesn’t think anyone would see Michele as a ‘thinker’ and it hurts Michele’s feelings.

But then Michele has a dream (one of the stranger dream sequences inserted into a film) in which she and Romy grow apart and grow old, without being friends, and she is heartbroken. She asserts herself to Romy at the same time as making it up to her, realising that most of their fight stemmed from Romy’s own insecurity that her life wasn’t impressive enough to present at their high school reunion.

Michele does end up with a boyfriend but the film doesn’t end with them together in their ‘happily ever after’ – it ends with Michele’s ‘happily ever after’ with her best friend, Romy, and their new boutique.

I also like that neither Romy nor Michelle are wealthy – in fact, Michelle is unemployed and Romy is undoubtedly working minimum wage. And, even though they have great clothes (which they design and make themselves), their apartment is fairly small. I mean, they even share a room! I’ve always wondered what happened if they wanted to invite someone over for the night, actually…

It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Romy and Michele are white, hetero and conventionally attractive cis-women. And when cinema does present women’s stories it is still overwhelmingly through women such as them. I think it’s important to address that and to address the limitations of films. But as a film that is important to me, personally, there are few more important than this one. And it’s never not satisfying to see Romy tear into Christy.

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Oh, and there’s Alan Cumming. He joins Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in one of my all-time favourite dance sequences, which I shall leave you all with. (I get a little misty eyed each time Michele says ‘Only if Romy can dance with us.’ <3)

Ever After: A Cinderella Story, 1998

So, long time, no see, huh? Oops! I have a bunch of posts saved in my drafts I was trying to ‘perfect’. Well, they’re never going to get posted that way, so I’m just going to go for it and start posting again.

In my early teen (or possibly pre-teen) years I went through a period where I was obsessed with Drew Barrymore – I know I’m definitely not alone in this. I cut out pictures of her from magazines, I hunted down a copy of her book Little Girl Lost, I had a poster-picture book (some of the pages made it to my wall, others were just perused) and I tracked down as many of her movies as I could at my local video stores.

I don’t remember exactly what age I was when this happened but I know that I had pictures from Ever After: A Cinderella Story cut out from magazines and stuck on my school diary. And I know that I saw it at the cinema. In fact, I’m fairly certain I saw it twice. I instantly fell in love and, to this day, it remains a favourite.

Source.

Then I grew up and realised that so many women around my age list it as a favourite, as well – in Sarah Hentges’ book Pictures of Girlhood she notes that it’s often cited as the favourite Cinderella retelling by feminists. (And many, no doubt, cite Barrymore as an important part of their childhood and/or adolescence.)

I find it interesting that this film both subverts and upholds fairy tale tropes (many of which we are familiar with through watered down Disney versions of the folk tales, if not always the original tales themselves). Danielle is not your Disney version of Cinderella – she not only saves herself (from Pierre le Pieu played by Richard O’Brien who does slimy so well!) but also saves the prince when they meet a band of travellers who try to rob them.

Danielle asks if she can have anything she can carry and, when assured she can, simply picks Henry up and puts him over her shoulders, and begins to walk off with him. The result is one of my favourite scenes of all-time. The astonishment of both Henry and the travellers at Danielle’s actions could be seen as poking fun at a woman doing such a thing, but I just think it shows Danielle’s ingenuity and courage.

Danielle also saves Henry symbolically: from the ennui that threatens to overtake his life and by making him see that his privilege is something he can use to help other people, rather than the cage he believes it to be.

Danielle may not have complete control of her life, but she is not simply waiting around for someone else to complete her life or make her happy, either.

Unlike Prince Charming and Cinderella, who only meet at the ball and dance together, Henry and Danielle get to know each other over a series of meetings and Henry falls in love with Danielle for her personality. There is no love at first sight, here. But there is love under pretense – Danielle’s personality is all real, but Henry believes her to be the Comtesse Nicole de Lancret, not the servant she truly is. When Henry finds out who she is he shuns her but eventually realises his mistake (after being scolded by Leonardo da Vinci, an amusing addition to the tale) and goes to save Danielle…who has already saved herself. (As I mentioned earlier, from Pierre le Pieu.)

“In all my years of study, not one tutor has ever demonstrated the passion you have shown me in the last two days. You have more conviction in one memory than I have… in my entire being.”

Henry to Danielle, whom he thinks is Nicole

Henry also gets a lot more personality than the early Princes Charming of Disney. And Dougray Scott with that floppy, swoopy hair. Swoon.

Anjelica Huston is fantastic as Rodmilla, the not-very-nice-but-not-entirely-evil stepmother, who is clearly more complex than the mean women of fairy tales; she was a woman abandoned by the death of her second husband and has become increasingly desperate to keep up appearances.

Another trope we see in Ever After is the virgin/whore dichotomy, though it is more subtle than in other films. Danielle is rarely, if ever, presented as sexualised, even when she is kissing Henry. This is possibly due in part to the younger target audience, but she is also often associated with nature and can be read as ‘pure’. This is largely  in direct opposition to Marguerite who is flirtatious and overtly sexual at times. The camera never ogles Danielle, but it does highlight the provocative nature of Marguerite’s outfits.

Rodmilla and Marguerite are still punished (for their ambition and vanity as well as their cruelty to Danielle) but in such a way that allows Danielle to show her compassion. At least they didn’t have their eyes pecked out, right?

And, just as in the tales we are familiar with, there is still the ‘happily ever after’, though as the voiceover of Jeanne Moureau says, it’s not important whether or not they lived happily ever after, but that they lived.

Like all media, it’s not perfect. Sarah Hentges has cited it as the favoured Cinderella of feminists, while still critiquing the problematic aspects, and others have dismissed it as a feminist retelling entirely. Me? I think Danielle fits in well with the (pop)feminist rhetoric of the ’90s, and I still see her story as a refreshing retelling of Cinderella. The film will always hold a place in my heart because of childhood nostalgia, too. And I will never be over that iconic ballgown. Sigh.

 

Girlhood in Australian Films?

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been looking at movies that deal with girlhood in one way or another as part of my thesis. It got me thinking about how much of the discourse around this area is centred on the USA (and, within that, as mentioned in Hentges’ book, white, hetero, middle class, and so on). It’s understandable considering how American films tend to dominate the mainstream and many of the authors I have found are, themselves, American. So, I thought it would be interesting to look at girlhood in Australian cinema. Some films that immediately came to mind included: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Looking for Alibrandi, Starstruck, Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger, Travelling Light, Somersault, Caterpillar Wish, Sleeping Beauty, Muriel’s Wedding and possibly aspects of Strictly Ballroom and The Sapphires.

Pia Miranda in Looking for Alibrandi, 2000

Pia Miranda in Looking for Alibrandi, 2000

I thought I might write a series of posts about some of these films – instead of all of them, together, because that would be an incredibly long post – and how they fit into what I’ve read on girlhood in cinema. In all honesty, I tend to get ideas like this and then lose steam so my interest may wane but then it may come back. I haven’t done any research into what other people may have written either on the topic in general, or on these films specifically, so if anyone has any suggested reading before I go off on my own search that’d be ace. Also, is this kind of thing something others would want to read?

Abbie Cornish in Somersault, 2004

Abbie Cornish in Somersault, 2004

I’ve rather lost direction with this blog – though, to be honest, I’ve never been very certain of it from the beginning – so maybe I need to refocus myself and this idea relates to my thesis so it could help me keep on track with that, as well.

 

Also, for anyone interested in an Australian run feminist film zine then I suggest checking out Filmme Fatales, ASAP!

Movie Books | Pictures of Girlhood

As part of my thesis I’m looking at movies about girls. Yeah, that’s super vague but it leads me on to the point of this post. So, writing about movies about girls means I need to read what others have written about them (which I would do for personal interest anyway but now it’s actually ‘for’ something. Huzzah). I’ve got a list of books to get through and the first one I read was Pictures of Girlhood: Modern Female Adolescence on Film by Sarah Hentges, published in 2006. I figured, seeing as I have an incredibly neglected movie blog, I may as well do some half-arsed mini ‘reviews’ on the books about movies as I read them, if anyone is interested.

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It’s an easy read and great as an overview because of the sheer amount of films covered in its 233 pages (the filmography at the back lists 91 films I think, I kept losing count) which meant that some films are glossed over while others are discussed in more detail (which included the author summarising the entire plot in the text and making some comments on the plot details).

The scope is American films (mainly, there are some from other countries) made in the ’90s, again, mainly as films dating back to the ’50s were mentioned. And one of the best aspects of the book is the discussion of the limitations of girlhood as presented in American cinema. There is little surprise that it is largely white, hetero and middle to upper class. It wasn’t just mentioned once, however, and the fact that this limited presentation of girlhood was returned to again and again by Hentges was important to me. I also liked that Hentges was able to discuss problematic aspects of films while still acknowledging their empowering points, too. And, of course, Hentges does discuss films about girls on the margins (girls of colour, poor girls and girls who do not identify as straight) but notes that these films are almost always ‘independent’ or non-mainstream. She also covers the limitations of these films, themselves.

One thing that irked me was that some plot points were inaccurate and it made me wonder what other inaccuracies there were about films I hadn’t seen. They were only small things – that Les in Bring it On didn’t seem to know whether or not he was gay when the film is explicit, in my opinion, about his sexuality, referring to Verena as the only girl in The Hairy Bird who still has her hymen when the quote is actually about how Tinka is the only girl who doesn’t have her hymen and I believe a quote from Mean Girls was attributed to Saved! (Though both films were being discussed at the same time, so it’s easy to see how that could happen.) Maybe I’m just being picky but it was something that bothered me though not enough that it stopped me from enjoying the book. And not enough that I wouldn’t recommend it.

The only other problem was that, because so many films were discussed, I started to lose track of which characters were from what film when they were discussed later in the book, out of context. A little reminder may have helped.

As an aside, I was a bit baffled by her discussion of But I’m a Cheerleader! as she describes it as nearly Hollywood-like in its happy ending – my interpretation of her tone was that this was a bad thing? Surely girls who are not straight need stories with happy endings about them, as well? Of course, I could have read her tone wrong. And it is unlikely to read a book, or even article, and agree with every point or interpretation the author makes.

Aside from those issues, and obviously disagreeing with some points, I felt like this was an important book. There are definitely a lot more texts being written on women in film, feminist film texts and other similar books but (and it could just be my limited reading) I still feel movies about girls are viewed as less important so books like this are important. If that makes sense. It’s also given me a list of even more films that I want to watch! Whether or not I can find them all is another thing, of course.

Has anyone else read this book? Or maybe similar ones? As I said, I’ve got a list to go through but I’m always keen for more.