I write firstly about three cinematic works featuring the irrepressible Natalie Portman. They denote a respectable filmography that is not necessarily a greatest hits medley but manages to bring a brave, unconventional inflection to her choices. On that count, she is a cut above the rest. So irrespective of the fickle critical ballast attached to each, I iterate here that I could personally connect with them. From a cinephile’s perspective my readers will agree as well. HERE THEY ARE, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
We all have stars in our eyes. A yearning, an ambition to look beyond the ordinary. The spaces in which we get the opportunities to shine with our singular and often unique talents become our mortal planetariums. It’s an universe of human desires. Perhaps that’s what Rebecca Zlotowski aims with the title to her quietly beguiling, ensnaring bilingual feature film. It has the human psyche as its starting point and overarching thematic element. I found it immersive on multiple levels and for purists of cinema, it’s a treat.
The beginning of experimental cinema, avant garde, elements of the paranormal and upper crust decadence all converge here. Cross cultural meeting of the twain in American influences and French auteurism in a Second World War timeline is pertinent in the establishment of new personal / cultural narratives. This is a pre French New Wave cultural caravan addressed here in Planetarium , years before Truffaut, Renoir and Goddard burst onto the scene. A flux of transition is underway when two American sisters(Natalie Portman and Lily Rose Depp) , part of an act that summons the mystical areas of sentience through seances, summoning the dead for rich patrons, land in Paris. It’s not long before a sophisticated producer ( Emmanuel Salinger) is riveted and this unlikely professional setup is translated to the big screen by him, in hopes of bringing an experimental verve to a stagnant French cinematic canon as against the dynamism of American films . This is where the twain meets in this cross continental union. In the process, he plans to capture an actual apparition on camera with the younger sister’s abilities to conjure spirits and launch the photogenic elder one in a screenplay involving the mystique of her abilities. The idea of belief, incredulity and the works permeates the screenplay throughout. Filmmaking and magical renderings of images coalesce with the idea of fantasy and reality, where seances and the whole behind the scenes trajectory of canning scenes with Natalie in the film within the film structure probe a deeper mystery of being, of seeing and believing. A genuinely sensual, visually appealing verisimilitude is recreated of the era in close ups and beautifully lit interiors. The storytelling grips us on account of this natural attuning to the various strands that are lucidly brought together, without excess or showy theatrics as is the betokened norm in French cinema per se. Hence a sense of apprehension for these sisters in this new venture is maintained.
On the performative front, sexual passivity and avoidance is conveyed well by Natalie as also her ambitions . She has her inimitable tic to convey petulance, innocence and clever grasps.
Amira Casar(so good as the mother of Timothee Chalamet in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME ) is excellent, especially in a party scene where her insular haughtiness clashes with the intellect of a professor who enters late ;as is Emmanuel Salinger as the beady eyed gentleman who can never be trusted at face value, a man who shows an erotic charge during the seances, tracing a hidden past, and has the tides of time render him alienated when his Jewish roots open up racist tremors . This is a film beholden to the performances and the evocative mood of a slow boiling, internalized human tale of chances and changing circumstances.
One image of Lily Rose in particular, with the period specific machinery attached to her for mapping her mind in the institution, is evocative of METROPOLIS’ humanoid protagonist. That said, the production design( Katia Wyszkop) , cinematography (George Lechaptois), music (Robin Coudert) and costume design (Karin Charpentier and Anais Romand) are appropriate to the era and deserve applause.
PLANETARIUM centers on an idea of career advancement and the rootedness in kindred is ably demonstrated by a strong sisterly bond. The uncertainty of success within annals of cinema, a fledgling one at that, and craving for fame in front of the camera wrap themselves around the sombre point of this tale’s concluding minutes. Give this your time and an open mind. Yes the morbidity of death on the part of one of the sisters slows things down to a standstill but the unraveling of Salinger simultaneously paints an interiority of fickle human allegiances. The screenplay suggests more than it shows in these complex areas and I find that admirable. PLANETARIUM is much more than what meets the eye, a rendering of a passage of time where life is grasped in the chances collected by youth and how fleeting it all is, the trappings of fortune and gentrified society.
THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (2008)
Based on Philippa Gregory’s 2001 novel, written by Peter Morgan of THE CROWN fame and directed by Justin Chadwick, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL left me stunned by the kind of backlog of our collective past that went unquestioned and has continued to negatively define our gender discourses.
Here, women are bartered, mothers and fathers make clean sweeps on the premise of societal upliftment and the men plunder their dignity and supplant them with easily endowed privileges at their disposal including facile marital unions. If you look at it the manipulations rallied across the board, on the part of the females as well, is a direct relative of this toxic sexism dividing tenets of normalcy. You wonder if there was nothing to everyday dealings back in the day than the histrionics of scoring matrimonial alliances and fielding nubile girls to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, that’s the real state of affairs. Forbidden decrees are exercised way too readily in the name of empires and kingdoms. The women hence become spoils of war, even those raised to be above a common stature, within the aristocracy.
The court intrigue regarding the pronouncement of fates for the BOLEYN sisters( in this film), Anne (Natalie) and Mary(Scarlet Johannson), who became a part of a lecherous Henry the 8th’s(Eric Bana) revolving doors of conquests – a harem, really – is a telescoping of the degradation human motives are able to conjure. History is not merely a vantage point but a beast of burden.
From the trailers viewed years ago, the sisters were painted as black and white and Anne was seemingly the victim. The picture shifts on the two when one views the film. I don’t know about historical accuracy but it’s presented well here.
The human vices are a continuum of the Tudor era, bleeding into the Me too epoch where men in power continue to exploit women at the very top echelon. You can expect the pathetic trickle down effect then. We are unnerved but the performances keep us riveted to the self destructive tendencies of a populace and foundations of a society that is skewed beyond repair.
Lastly, it boasts of some great actors like KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, MARK RYLANCE, JIM STURGESS, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH and EDDIE REDMAYNE. THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL is the opposite of A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS in which Thomas More protested against Henry’s corruptible influence. Here, Henry’s male hegemony is delineated with the correct stance of misplaced pride and overwhelming power available to men to this date.
THE OTHER WOMAN (2011)
THE OTHER WOMAN introduces us to a twenty something woman (Natalie Portman) who has assumed the most derided role in a social scenario but it lets us in on the human trauma that truly defines her self defense : her chips are down after losing her three day old baby and yet the world feels it is obligatory for her to play the role of a wife and stepmother. The whispers behind her back and the dirty looks and stares do not go away. It could never be for the first and true anointed wife of the man. The film is compelling as it focuses on a pretty muddled knot of our contemporary times where marriages disintegrate and second innings too are fraught. A cultural conditioning is probed.
The lack of maturity displayed by adults as opposed to conventional wisdom is a prominent strain that puts it in a relatable mould .Here the child of the embittered parents has a clear view of the chaos than the adults around him. Divorce leaves a bitter aftertaste for everyone, the children grapple with the larger familial fallout and women wind up pitting their pains and fears onto others of their sex. Also, there can be nothing remotely amicable about a bitter marital bond, a divorce and the relationship henceforth between the two women. It’s morally complex terrain on which broken relationships are housed and a well represented micro world is crafted in THE OTHER WOMAN. I felt for the lead personage who has chips on her shoulders and navigates around murky waters of grief and soiled empathy. As the other woman, even plain sympathy for her period of catharsis, let alone acknowledgement within her contained society, is hard to come by.
On the other hand, Lisa Kudrow expertly lays bare the cold sting of her hot headed imperiousness as the first wife so even an unintentional cruel remark is delivered with the purpose of performative exactitude. The bitter ones are always rife with more exploratory possibilities. Kudrow lets us see the cumulative poison of her personal station exceeding her grasp and going beyond her own control.
Scott Cohen as the husband is good too.
Flawed individuals are explored here, issues of infidelity too and reality of how words used in moments of despair and flying tempers cut to the bone . A family unit is never a holier than thou prefix to larger communities. THE OTHER WOMAN looks at two broken pieces.
There is instance of a casual conversation that caught my attention, regarding a pedantic idea of diversity according to Natalie’s character. It’s a glaring truth regarding her overall mental make up ( and of the majority) She is a woman on the verge of a breakdown. A lot of other qualities course through her being. She makes it possible to feel for her inner suffering as society refuses to give her closure even as her kindred make efforts. Natalie imbues her with a realistic understanding of the situations around her. She has everything stacked up against her and since she is in her late twenties there’s room for her to grow .
It’s the bond between her and the stepson(Charlie Tahan, excellent) that is beautifully etched. They are unlikely friends and allies even though there are struggles galore.
THE OTHER WOMAN, directed by Don Roos, spotlights the essential need for empathy for everyone , free from labels or just nebulously defined social straightjackets. Also while watching a scene that features Charlie Tahan and Elizabeth Marvel (as Natalie’s sister) together in an interaction , I was reminded of their pairing as mother and son in last year’s melancholic THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS.
Due to the paucity of time, I am unable to accommodate my writings on the documentary WHITNEY (2018) and the contemporary retelling of the Biblical epic NOAH (2014) this time around.
They will be discussed in the next post.