Chronology of story-telling: Fencer, Arrival, Rosalie and La La Land

Christmas 2016

It must be the holiday season. I’ve seen four films in the last couple of weeks. It seems the themes are the extensive use of flashbacks/chronology as a technique and the contrast of masculine and feminine energy and intent.

Rosalie Blum, Julien Rappeneau (2015)

I think I see French films because I keep needing things to remind me of or pull me towards France.  I love finding the familiar in French films. In Midnight in Paris, I smiled realising I’d eaten in the Polidor restaurant and in the Scarlet Pimpernel the vision of Mont Saint Michel sent a tentacle in the 1980s that only pulled me to visit 30 years later.

In Rosalie Blum, the setting seemed familiar and was confirmed by the tiny red and white balisage on the tree outside Rosalie’s house. I was dragged back to the landscape of my first Camino outing on the Vezelay Route. The bridges of Charite-sur-Loire and Nevers brought back those familiar French tourist feelings. Familiar also was the Nakshi Katha tapestry in the young woman’s bedroom – but this took me back to Bangladesh.

This film deals with family issues – mothers and absent fathers. They’re complicated, and they are a problem that doesn’t get solved.  I’m not going to say a thing about the plot, because it unfolds perfectly and if you know anything about it, the effect will be spoilt. What I can say is that like many films I’ve seen from this part of the world, there is a delightful interplay between generations and a cheeky, tricky little mystery that slowly gets explained. The wonderful charm of a French film, unravelling and revealling itself slowly, leaves ends that are not neatly tied.  This is life isn’t it! And the French get it.

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve (2016)

This clever film in the ilk of the Alien series, deals with the shock and terror of visitors from outer space and the global response to them.  Playing extensively with chronology in plot and setting, this film brought to focus the differing energies that can be brought to bear on common problems.  The ‘macho shoot-em up’ leading to crisis, while the patient and curious feminine communicating/reasoning towards understanding.  Ultimately it lays bare the only way forward for the human race: together.  Too much more explanation would give the film away. Great performances from Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. This one’s well worth seeing.

The Fencer, Klaus Härö (2015)

Fencing has always held some mystique for me.  This was expertly developed in Arturo Perez Reverte’s, The Fencing Master, and it has been beautifully showcased in The Fencer. In line with the chronology theme of these movies, the history of the main character unfolds in this film and along with it touches on the uneasiness of hiding and the need to find purpose in the limbo of hiding out. The realities are brutal in this small community where a teacher, finding everything being stacked against him, one item of sporting equipment at a time, uses his one enduring skill to engage with the young girls and boys of the school.  The dull but total threat of a totalitarian regime on a small communities that want the best for their children becomes clearer as the fencer gallantly provides the ultimate opportunity for his young but devoted pupils.  It is a beautiful, yet sparse film which despite the frosty setting, is imbued with great warmth and depth of character of the fencer, his students and their parents. Not lost on me was the juxtaposition of the nimble-footed chivalry of fencing with the lead-weighted power play of post WWII Europe.

La La Land, Damien Chazelle (2016)

A romantic, modern day equivalent of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie – casting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone to tell the age-old story of falling in love and following your passion.  Surprisingly, it was a musical, something I hadn’t realised before the first song, and as it often does with surprise musicals, I was a little taken aback. I should’ve known with the opening credits taking place with a massed highway (carpark) scene with hundreds of dancers.

With allusions to a Hollywood film of yester-year, with modest dress and good manners, it kept with the storyline of an actress struggling with resilience in the face of rejection and a traditionalist-jazz musician not wanting to let jazz die. Not surprisingly, it didn’t reach the Astaire/Rogers heights.

With a tinge of Sliding Doors, and once again messing with chronology, this musical film proved a spectacle which defies categorising. After John Legend appeared, I wondered if he’d written the score, but no.

It is a feel-good film (ie. take it or leave it) about the importance of never giving up on your dream, but also the reassuring support that your champions give you while you’re still aspiring.  It reminded me of the quote “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and will sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” C.S. Lewis