Escaping through cinema – Five (re) discoveries
Deeply sunk in the pandemic isolation and surrounded by an increasing social pressure to accomplish everything you have ever set your mind to do, here I come with a warm and childlike list perfect for some truly needed chill-time, what I would call a victorious over-the-top cinema, untouched by social issues, indulging a great escape from reality, a different, fondant-like bubble stretched over a week. Of course, my recommendation is to watch the below films in order, but any other formula works just as well, since they complement each other. So, I watched these 5 films during a pandemic week* and they have succeeded in keeping me away from obsessive news, day-to-day concerns or stressing out on missed deadlines.
* safe to say that during this week I stayed out of masterpieces, somber movies, dramas & other depressing narratives
Monday: A retro-nostalgic girly romance – Le Fabuleux Destin d ‘Amélie Poulain (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
In the early 2000s, all the girls wanted to be Amélie: a haircut à la Arletty meets Louise Brooks, shy and with big eyes, wandering the soft streets of Paris as if floating on a cloud. Watching the film now is the supreme-breakout-pleasure: Jeunet not only paints Paris in a bourgeois nostalgia, where nothing goes beyond Montmartre, but also seems to be a tribute to some sort of “ethnic and cultural homogeneity” (Dayna Oscherowitz, Once Upon a Time that Never Was: Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, 2001). Here, Paris is a massive cliché legend – it’s exactly what foreigners imagine about the French, from their boulangeries to their female neighbors who talk about their dear husbands killed on the battlefield, while drinking a warm cup of tea. However, in the film’s defense, this prefabricated world (flamboyant and with a fragrance of antique store) is shown through Amélie’s imagination, is completely infused by her naive perspective (similar to the ’30s French poetic realism, i.e Marcel Carné, or the impressionism of Germaine Dulac). Bottom line, the film follows the love story between two reclusive collectors, each of them tending to its piece of existence.
Tuesday: A classic SF – Back to the Future (dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
I enjoyed watching Back to the Future once again, probably more than I should have; this time I haven’t noticed the kids’ sexism, I actually saw them as some endearing cartoons, added to the action to highlight the protagonist’s chivalry. The story is simple (revived in Rick and Morty, btw): a kid and a semi-crazy scientist find a formula which allows them to easily travel through the past and future. However, without any intention, the kid arrives in the 1950s, where he has to play Cupid for his parents, otherwise, at the end of the journey, he would no longer exist in any formula. The idea is ridiculous, but at times the execution is fantastic: you witness the spontaneous invention of skateboarding, the birth of rock’n’roll, and you see that ultimately the barrier between parents and children is no longer so meteoric. This film would make a good pair with a fantasy in the same category, Jumanji (1995).
Wednesday: Musical with hints of neo-realism: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (dir. Jacques Demy, 1964)
Les Parapluies … may be less known to the contemporary public than the friendly La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle, 2016), but fans of the musical genre have immediately seen that La La Land is a pastiche of Demy’s film – the set design, a colorful candy store that reflects the characters’ inner states, as well as the innovative musical acts (in Demy’s film, all lines come through singing), which makes it that much harder to put a film such as Les Parapluies in a certain category. The mix between high-brow content (sophisticated decorum and operetta performances) and the simple slice of love story between a man and a woman, makes Les Parapluies a true symbol of neo-realism, rather than an ordinary musical.
Thursday: Horror pastiche – Young Frankenstein (dir. Mel Brooks, 1974)
Young Frankenstein is a comic pastiche of two very serious products: Frankenstein (1931), directed by James Whale, and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), directed by the same Whale. However, Brooks doesn’t have an attitude of total irreverence towards the source material (Mary Shelley’s writings or Whale’s films, whose decorum has been partially recycled). Long story short, Frankenstein’s grandson (Gene Wilder), an ambitious doctor who now wants to get rid of his monstrous name and introduces himself as Fron-kon-steen, ends up following in the footsteps of the mad scientist and creates his own human, by the same recipe. But his aide, Igor (among others, a lunkhead with a made up humpback), picks up the wrong jar and brings him an abnormal brain – the monster is born not just damaged, but with a fervent sexual appetite. Nothing in this movie seems more horror – except for Frau Blucher, a mysterious Gothic lady who startles the horses.
Friday: Studio Ghibli – Spirited Away (dir. Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
The animation Spirited Away is probably Studio Ghibli’s most famous (and most valuable) movie: the story, an Oz-like fantasy (a little girl gets lost from her parents, enters a spirit world and starts rethinking her existence in her effort to get back to the normal life), has so many fantastic narrative nuances and gimmicks, that needs to be watched several times. In this universe, governed by a witch with an oversized head, ghosts wander the real world and trick human beings with gold coins, people can turn into flying dragons, and when you’re cursed by spirits, you may turn into an ant (and forced to carry around pieces of coal), a pig or a mouse, best case scenario.