Thursday, October 23, 2008

While I Was Sleeping II


15 years in the making, Andy Garcia's The Lost City is a beautiful, deeply personal, if flawed film. In his ode to Havana, Garcia weaves a slightly wonky tale of a wealthy Cuban family, torn apart by the revolution. Two of the three brothers take up the cause, but Garcia's Fico tries in vain to maintain the status quo and continue his life as a successful nightclub owner.

Fico's reticence to react to the disintegrating world around him reflects Garcia's own slipping grip on this film. His story seems to get lost in the telling; this part drama, part love story, part political thriller mish-mash could perhaps have been held together by a strong lead character, but Fico remains aloof from the action, and the audience.

I was also completely confounded by Bill Murray's performance as The Writer. I'm always a fan of his endearing character roles, but his very presence was confusing: was he Fico's alter ego or perhaps a quirky Greek Chorus? The latter makes sense as this is certainly a tragic film.

Garcia's strengths lie in his portrayal of family and of music. Both aspects are at the heart of this story and are the source of its successful moments. Aside from producing, directing and starring in this film, Garcia also composed the original music. Such is the depth of his commitment to The Lost City, that you can forgive him its flaws. Perhaps, though, Havana may have been more beautifully revealed by someone less devastated by its loss.

Another ode to a favourite city of mine is Cédric Klapisch's Paris. Unlike Havana, I have been fortunate enough to visit Paris a few times and hence watched this film from my sick bed, wishing myself back to the banks of the Seine. Klapisch's Paris is told through the nostalgic and longing eyes of a dying Pierre (another standout performance by Romain Duris), who plays sentinel over the city as he awaits a heart transplant. Pierre's harangued social worker and single mum sister, Élise (my favourite Julliette Binoche), moves in with her brood to be with her brother.

The other colourful characters in this multi-narrative tale include an historian of Paris who falls in love with one of his students, an architect about to have his first child, an ethnic North African girl looking for a job, a group of local market vendors, some de rigueur fashionistas, and a Cameroonian man about to set sail for the promised land. These vignettes are well conceived and carefully interwoven, resulting in a wonderful and heartfelt snapshot of Paris.

Klapisch wisely avoids labouring the obvious cliché of Pierre as Paris: the romantic city, the beating heart of rose-coloured, bespectacled people everywhere. Instead he subtly teases out the themes of the heart - of hope, love, loss and life - within the lives of his characters. To be sure there's a healthy dollop of romance doled out with all the reality, and the final shot is more than a little rosy-lensed.

But if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself entirely caught up in the celebration of the everyday, the eternal, the magnificent, Paris.


Kate said...

I ADORED Paris - the movie and of course the place. I was lucky enough to see this at the French FIlm Festival (eavesdropping on older French women drooling over M. Duris!) and felt it was such a thoughtful, non-Hollywood look at the city. Different to Paris Je T'aime, as well.

I can't wait to go back for the fourth time very soon!

Glad you're up and running, too!

Alice said...

Much as I'm tres happy for you celebrating submitting your PhD by taking a fabulous trip overseas, I'm not above being jealous!

I'll have to settle with Paris Je T'aime instead, though I can't believe I still haven't seen it.

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