Frances Ha (DVD) written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig; directed by Noah Baumbach; starring Greta Gerwig,
Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver, Michael Zegen, Charlotte d’Ambroise, Grace Gummer
When this movie came out, a lot of the comment had to do with the fact that director Noah Baumbach and co-writer, his girlfriend,
Greta Gerwig, had created something really special for her. It’s true. Frances Ha is a hopeful young dancer in New York.
(A bit klutzy for a dancer, to my mind, but never mind.) She bounces from one living arrangement to another, a different roommate,
a different apartment every few months. Through it all, her strongest relationship is with a girlfriend Sophie (Mickey Sumner).
They keep saying that they love each other. They like to say: "We’re the same person but with different hair." They
often sleep together but apparently there’s no sex involved. I could almost get that relationship but it would be lying
to say I could identify with any of the movie’s population of artsy, aggressive twenty-somethings who are so blatant
about sex and are given to making comments like: "This apartment is too aware of itself." The competitive, edgy vibes flying
around these rather desperate people made watching this presumed comedy somewhat anxiety-producing.
The black-and-white filming and the occasional burst of jaunty music feel as though they’re meant to remind you of
the screwball comedies of yesteryear, in which attractive and perky young women got into all kinds of mischief. There’s
some of that feel here but, at the same time, it’s oh-so-different. Frances is clearly not a girl who’s going
to end up with a Hollywood contract and a gorgeous husband. She is, as one acquaintance puts it, the kind of person who "can’t
get her shit together." Frances’ situation kept making me think of Amanda Wingfield’s lament: "Things have a way
of turning out so badly." But Frances’ response is nothing like Amanda’s dramatizing self-pity. If there’s
one thing distinctive about Frances, it’s that she tries not to let you see that she’s struggling. Not that she’s
some irrepressible, Pollyanna-ish optimist. It’s just that she seems to have made a conscious decision that the best
way to deal with what life dumps on her is to adapt, to improvise, to forge ahead. That strange last name of hers, as given
in the title of the movie, turns out to be a little joke on her tendency not to take herself too seriously.
The Hunt (DVD) written by Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg; directed by Thomas Vinterberg; starring
Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Susse Wold, Annika Wedderkopp, Alexandra Rapaport
Lucas works in a kindergarten in a small Danish town. He’s not exactly a teacher, more like a teacher’s helper.
He gets along great with the kids. But one little girl who had a crush on him resents the fact that he doesn't seem to return
her adoration. On a whim, she tells the school’s director that Lucas sexually assaulted her. Lucas’s life
begins to turn to a nightmare. Everybody in town turns against him. Eventually, the little girl retracts her story but that
only convinces people that she’s trying to repress the memory of the supposed incident.
As I recall, critics were much impressed with this movie when it came out, especially with the performance of Mads Mikkelsen
in the role of the accused. To me, it seems that his great reputation in Danish cinema must be based on his ability to hold
a blank stare and to refuse to show any emotion, no matter what the provocation. His is not one of those faces in which the
movie camera finds much. Some of the townspeople are far more interesting to watch: for instance, his pal Theo (Thomas Bo
Larsen), who happens to be the father of the accuser, and the school principal Grethe (Susse Wold). But the big problem with
the movie is that it’s a hopeless contest. There’s nothing poor Lucas can do. Nobody can take on a five-year-old
liar. (The eerily convincing Annika Wedderkopp.) There’s no dramatic struggle. All we can do is watch Lucas
twist in the wind. It’s a hopeless and depressing spectacle.
Museum Hours (DVD) written and directed by Jem Cohen; starring Bobby Sommer, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Ela Piplits
This is one of those offerings that lets you know you’re definitely watching a "film," nothing so crass as a "movie."
The pace is glacial, there’s virtually no plot, there’s lots of art, both of the cinematic kind and of the hanging-on-the-wall
category. The latter, thanks to the fact that the events take place mostly in Vienna’s Kuntshistorisches Museum. A museum
guard, Johann (Bobby Sommer), strikes up a friendly acquaintance with Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara), who is in Vienna
to visit a cousin who’s dying. Anne doesn’t have much money, so she spends a lot of time in the museum. She and
Johann look at paintings together, they go to coffee shops, they take in some of the low-rent tourist attractions.
What is the point of it all, if any? I think it may be a kind of rebuttal to our typical expectations of a movie. Filmmaker
Jem Cohen is, perhaps, trying to show us that he can create something for us to watch without much need of story or dramatic
development. He’s simply showing that lots of life is about chance encounters that don’t have very amazing consequences.
Stuff happens, that’s all. Both Johann and Anne happen to let slip remarks that give us little glimpses into potentially
intriguing aspects of their personal lives, but director Cohen seems to be saying: sorry, folks, we’re not going
there! There’s one moment when it might be expected that Johann and Anne would make a more intimate and meaningful
connection but the moment passes without either of them saying anything.
Part way through, what little action there is stops for a ten-minute lecture on Pieter Bruegel the Elder (given by Ela
Piplits). Oddly, such a pause doesn’t ruin things; in fact, it’s one of the most interesting parts of the film.
I think that may be because the lecture is discreetly echoing what may be the point of the movie. Bruegel’s paintings
were all about ordinary life, ordinary people enjoying simple, earthy pleasures. Even the Vienna we see in Museum Hours
is nothing like the elegant one of picture postcards. Instead, we get mostly railroad stations, traffic, pigeons –
all in grey, monotonous light that’s often occluded with fog. The long, slow shots have a contemplative quality. (Although
there are far too many lingering looks at flea market junk for my taste.) Maybe you would succumb to the spell of this film
if you were immersed in its atmosphere in a theatre. Watching it on DVD, I couldn’t resist reaching for the fast-forward