Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Singles commingle, for once

What exactly were the indie-rock band American Princes alluding to when they belted the following lyrics of their hit song “Real Love”?
I don't care about real love; I just want a world that can bear its own weight
I really don’t know but in the recent past I saw three movies that were thematically different but had the above lyrics at the heart of them. They are: Richard Linklater’s acclaimed Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Alex Holdridge’s “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” (2007).

These movies are made of stuff that make up the wet dreams of the urbane youngsters – free-wheeling conversations, references that are elusive, no maudlin climax, Hollywood fare but no trappings. For the cinephiles these movies are the best things that could have happened to them after sliced bread and Nanook of the North – shoe-string budget, Dogme-invoking camera sequences, mumblecore before mumblecore. In fact, Holdridge’s feature is shot in black-and-white.

The movies are about the heady intersection in the lives of two lonely people who may never again see each other but, at that moment, being with each other is almost inevitable. Their roadmap is as follows: Man (Ethan Hawke) meets woman (Julie Delpy) on a train in Vienna (Before Sunrise) and asks her to spend a day with him. When a flustered Julie manages to mumble a why Hawke blurts out the most telling rationale ever witnessed on Hollywood screen: “Jump ahead 10, 20 years, okay? And you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy it used to have. You start to blame your husband. You think about all those guys you've met in your life... and what might've happened if you'd picked up with one of them. I'm one of those guys. That's me. So think of this as time travel.”

Thankfully Julie takes the bait and for the next 75 minutes the viewer gets a fly-on-the-wall account of the weighty and compelling conversation between the lead couple that even includes Hawke’s Proustian dream of his dead grandmother (I am excluding Annie Hall as it doesn’t qualify with Woody Allen hogging all the limelight, rightfully of course). As fate would have it they part their ways in the early morning with a firm resolution to meet after six months.

Linklater, of School of Rock fame, has other plans and the young couple comes across each other in Paris after nine years in Before Sunset (2004). Obviously, the enriching conversation resumes where it was left albeit on a more sedate tone, keeping their ages in view. Forget the threadbare storyline these two movies work solely on the basis of their dialogues and the way actors mesh.

An unwitting derivative of these two successful films is Alex Holdridge’s 2007 release, which is nowhere closer to Linklater’s cerebral tone. I mean you won’t see a Hawke-like man mimicking Dylan Thomas tone while reading out Auden. Banana peels are strewn all over but the lead couple’s charm would win you over. It’s New Year’s Eve and post break-up Wilson (Scott McNairy) is still recuperating in seclusion in Los Angeles. Goaded by his friend he signs up on craigslist to find a date with a hook of “Misanthrope seeks misanthrope” so as to spend the evening in a more eventful way. Lo and behold he gets a prospective date in the form of Vivian (Sara Simmonds).

A very engaging scene is the first encounter of the lead couple when Wilson finds himself at his wit’s end that Vivian is searching “for the love of her life” on a dating site. Vivian rambles and Wilson loves her self-indulgence and, consequently, the viewer gets sucked in. And why not after coming to know that Vivian takes pictures of every solitary picture that she comes across. Why? Who would lose only one shoe, she says. The viewer would be as dumfounded as Wilson and that’s no mean achievement. Holdridge and Linklater are thorough romantics because cynics cannot make these movies.

Only grouse: I wouldn’t mind spending another hour with these couples or maybe I am asking for too much just like the male leads do in these movies.


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