Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Summer of Love, by Pawel Pawlikowski (2004)

Although I have been able to get some reading done over the past month, clearly I've had some trouble allotting sufficient time to this blog, and it's languished somewhat. In the interest of keeping some fresh content going (and out of a desire to do a bit of personal curating), I'm going to try to put up a few posts on some films from the past decade. That is not to say that these form a canon of bests or favorites, but just are films about which I think I might have something interesting to say. Some are favorites, however, and some contain favorite moments; others connected to something I was trying to define or understand about the times.

The films "My Summer of Love" (Pawlikowski 2004) and "The Dreamers" (Bertolucci 2003) work fairly well, I think, as conversation pieces. Both foreground the Blakean dialectic of innocence and experience, but whereas Bertolucci conceives of innocence as a form of maturity that can overcome or surmount experience (such a French idea, appropriate to its setting and subject), Pawlikowski takes the more conventional view of experience as profoundly threatening to the self, though he nevertheless comes off as the far less clichéd and in fact much more radical auteur.

Both films are very well-shot, though in vastly different ways: Bertolucci's understanding of filmmaking seems to be that it is about making shots (not merely "composing" them and certainly not "lensing" them), and if he succeeds a good deal of the time, the effect is antithetical to the spontaneity and freshness of the New Wave, ostensibly the object of Bertolucci's nostalgia. Pawlikowski, on the other hand, seems minutely concerned with burying the choreography and composition of his filmmaking in the "natural" movements of his characters and the organic contours of his landscape. Consider this scene:

The scene is perfectly choreographed, but on two levels—Tamsin (Emily Blunt)'s choreography of the physical space of the scene and Pawlikowski's choreography of its emotional space. Tamsin plays with Mona (Natalie Press), orchestrating the interchange as perfectly as the improvised dance steps which land her on the opposite end of the couch, able to finish off Mona's wine after she had already knocked back her own. Tamsin takes, then she moves you around and takes again.

The camerawork is very slight for most of the scene, although if you look closely there is a pendulum-like swaying in near-harmony with the girls' conversation. Then they begin dancing and suddenly we have a close-up of their faces as they dance. Up to this moment, Mona has been trying to keep herself at a distance, her attention not entirely fixed on Tamsin, but when we snap to this closer shot, we know Tamsin has won. And when they part and the camera now shows them at medium distance, not only has Tamsin switched seats with Mona in order to drink her glass of wine, but the camera settles with her; the swaying of the camera's attention between the two girls has been resolved, and in Tamsin's favor.

"My Summer of Love" is full of small moments like this; all three of its principal actors are superb (Emily Blunt has obviously done very well after this film, but Natalie Press and Paddie Considine are probably even better in it), the script is terse but very effective, and the scenery (and set dressing) is gorgeous. I actually haven't watched it since it was in theaters (the cinematography was so good I'm honestly a little scared that my rather small television would spoil it), but if I had a chance to watch it on a larger screen, it would be among the first films of the past decade I would re-watch.

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