Sunday, October 4, 2009

"The Page Turner"

I ran across a movie the other night in Ireland called “The Page Turner.” TPT is a French film and subtitled. I didn’t get to see all of it, and the subtitles required more concentration than I could muster, but the movie grabbed my attention. It is a story of revenge, the details of which I won’t get into since the plot can be found on the web. What really struck me was the style of the film. It provided such a sharp contrast to Hollywood films and reminded me why I admire French filmmaking (see Bunuel’s “Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” for a quick lesson on great French filmmaking). These films tell a story, yes, but the plot develops not only by the narrative and circumstance, but also through the silences. The actors’ glances and pauses, the camera angles, reflections, and music propel the story forward without computer graphics or surround sound. Tension develops not because of what is said, but because of the quiet when two characters are together.

“The Page Turner” would probably be a crashing bore to those who have grown up on Hollywood mayhem. For example, it takes place in the world of classical music. When was the last time Hollywood paid attention to classical music, and no, “August Rush” and the “Soloist” don’t count. In the TPT, the actors are required to play instruments convincingly and they pull it off. I believed that they were playing and if I didn’t, as is the case with so many Hollywood productions, I would have lost interest. Sawing at a violin is not the same thing as bowing.

The two lead actors of the TPT are Catherine Frot as the older Ariane and Deborah Francois as the title character. Frot is a glorious compendium of DNA. She appears to be tall and sturdy- not like a bodybuilder, but there is no doubt that she has a hard body. Francois is softer but equally beautiful, with luminescent skin. Both can say so much with their faces. American actors seem not to have this quality. Take Meghan Fox- her idea of saying something with her face involves keeping her mouth permanently open, sort of like a fish. I think to young actresses, this means sexy. Meryl Streep (see my “Kitty Foyle” review) can’t do anything without facial histrionics (e.g., see “Doubt” where she seems always to be saying to herself “That was so Oscar worthy”). Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, has a face so blank that I thought he fell into a vat of Botox. He is totally incapable of expressing anything except self-love with his face. Speaking of Botox, I can think of one scene in a movie with a Hollywood actor uses her face to express many emotions during a facial close-up. Nicole Kidman (yes, I know she is Australian) in “Birth” is sitting in a theater after having experience what seems to be a paranormal event. The camera focuses on her face and in a few moments we can see her excitement, horror, happiness, and pain. She is usually not my favorite, but she did pull it off effectively in this scene.

In PT, both Frot and Francois wear elegant and stylish clothes. They always look like they are going to cocktail parties. Between them there are no jeans, no tee-shirts, no bra straps, and no flab. Frot wears a form fitting black dress that exposes one of her shoulders. She looks like a Greek marble statue come to life. While maybe this is not how most women look or dress, it does add elegance to the movie that provides important contrast to its primeval revenge theme. The classical music throughout the film is magnificent and wisely chosen to underscore the drama. In Hollywood, music is manufactured to underscore the drama. To me, the former is so much more effective.

TPT, another in a long line of French psychological dramas, tells its story with subtlety. There may be plot holes, and there are, but the horror, without decapitations and blood spraying everywhere, is very effectively communicated. “The Page Turner” is a great horror movie without the externalities we have come to expect from Hollywood-born and bred horror.

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