Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Film Review: I'm Going Home

"I'm Going Home" *** (out of ****)

I have a little known rule but whenever a movie starts off with "Sous le Ciel de Paris (AKA Under Paris Skies)" playing over the opening credits, I know the movie has to be good.

"I'm Going Home" (2001) was directed by Manoel de Oliveira, considered to be the greatest Portuguese filmmaker of all-time and the oldest living filmmaker in the world at the ripe old age of 104. At the time when he made this film Oliveira was 93.

Like so many great filmmakers on the world stage Oliveira is not well known in America. Here, sadly, audiences like to watch movies with men in tights (AKA comic book adaptations). Movies have become a business which is preoccupied with the 18-29 demographic (which I am a part of but clearly I do not think the same way as my peers). That group is not interested in the work of great filmmakers such as Oliveira or Theo Angelopoulos (one of the giants of cinema we sadly lost this year). These men make movies about adults confronting adult problems while not wearing a mask or flying.

In my own attempt I have tried to fight the good fight and introduce readers to the work of directors like Oliveira. I have already reviewed his "Belle Toujours" (2006) a sequel of sorts to Louis Malle's classic "Belle de Jour" (1967). Also I have written about "The Convent" (1996) and "The Strange Case of Angelica" (2011). It must be noted these movies will be radically different compared to the average mainstream Hollywood movie. The pacing is different here. There is more dialogue and less action. Not a winning endorsement for some. Better to watch car chases and superheroes fight supervillains.

The first scene in "I'm Going Home" follows a stage production of Ionesco's "Exit the King", where Gilbert (Michel Piccoli) plays a dying, some might say absent minded king being told he must die and give up the throne. He gives grand speeches about life and death. About his place in the world and what a world without him would be like.

At this moment we are thinking about the actor playing the part and the director. Piccoli is a veteran of French cinema. Born in 1925 he has been directed by some of the greatest directors in cinema. With Jacques Rivette he was in "La Belle Noiseuse" (1991), one of Rivette's greatest films. Piccoli worked with Claude Chabrol, the father of the French New Wave movement, in "Wedding in Blood" (1973), with Hitchcock in "Topaz" (1969), with Louis Malle in "May Fools" (1990) and Angelopoulos in "The Dust of Time" (2008). What would cinema be like in a world without Piccoli and Oliveira? These men have left a big footprint on cinema. They are older and we should be thankful for the wonderful art they have supplied us with.

After Gilbert's performance he is informed of a terrible accident. His wife, daughter and son-in-law have been killed in a car accident. The only family he has left is his grandson.

Now before readers start to jump to conclusion let me take a guess and predict you think the movie will now be about Gilbert and his grandson, Serge (Jean Koeltgen). How they will start to bond and become closer in the face of this awful tragedy. It will become a film about age and death. Gilbert will notice his own immortality. He will look at his grandson and realize his days are numbered. The film will deal with grief and the process we go through when our love ones die. Raise your hand if that's what you thought.

It gives me great pleasure and joy to tell you, you are wrong. And put your hand down, I can't see you anway!

I wouldn't have mind seeing the movie I just described but what I came away with watching "I'm Going Home" is a movie about habits and routines. The movie does not concern itself with the grieving process. Instead it is about how do we continue our life when our routine has been broken? When the things we count on are no longer there.

Being an actor Gilbert's life is pretty standard. He acts. He understands the theatre and the life an actor leads. He prepares the same way for each new role. He likes to go to a cafe and sit in his favorite seat near the door, have a cup of coffee and read his paper. Every morning, before going to school, his grandson walks into his bedroom and tells him hello. Gilbert then stands up and stares outside the window to see his grandson off to school while his nanny packs his lunch.

Life is simple. We fall into rountines and are sometimes unable to function if the routine is broken. It is as if our safety net has collapsed. One day Gilbert goes to his cafe when another man enters. A man who usually arrives after Gilbert and sits in the same seat near the door and has his own cup of coffee. But, oh no, he has arrived earlier and there is Gilbert. What will this poor man do? Now he must sit in a different seat. He stares at Gilbert. Who is this stranger sitting in "his" seat? He wants the world to know the discomfort this is causing him. He has been taken out of his comfort zone. Gilbert soon leaves the cafe and when the man notices this and runs to his old seat and to find someone else has beaten him too it. Is there no justice in the world?

But Gilbert's world will begin to change to. An American director, John Crawford (John Malkovich) needs to find an actor for his production of "Ulysses" by Joyce. Shooting starts in three days and the role requires to be spoken in English. What will Gilbert do? He needs time to think over the role, study his lines in English. But an answer is needed immediately. Gilbert agrees. He faces new challenges in the role.

In one scene I like very much, the director is watching a dress rehearsal. Oliveira keeps the camera on the director as we hear the performances in the background. At first I thought what is Oliveira up to. Then a thought occured to me. We are watching someone, watch a performance. Just as we the viewer watch a performance. Oliveira has added another layer to the dynamic of film viewing.

For me "I'm Going Home" is one of Oliveira's best films. I like the themes and I enjoy watching Piccoli, who was in Oliveira's "Belle Toujours" and "Party" (1996). Piccoli makes us care about the character. We understand who he is, what his intentions are and what he expects out of life.

Some viewers may not like the ending. It ends too soon, nothing is resolved. But that is an old compliant when it comes to Oliveira's work. What more do you need to know? Life goes on. Each day brings us the same events. Nothing changes.