Sunday, March 19, 2017

Two For the Road

Year 9, Day 78 - 3/19/17 - Movie #2,572

BEFORE: Audrey Hepburn carries over from "Funny Face", and if you allow the possibility that most of the Fred Astaire films concerned such topics as love and/or marriage, then my annual February romance-themed chain is still going on.  It's possible that it never stopped, but I can't really be sure.  Tonight's film continues the theme - perhaps I should have saved some of these films for next February, in case I'm still doing this next February, but there's no way to accurately predict that (but probably...).  I just got a bunch of Richard Burton relationship-themed films (some with Liz Taylor, some without) and if I can delay those until February 2018, combined with the other relationship films I didn't get to this year, that's about 10 films, but that number could easily grow between now and then to fill up a month.

THE PLOT: A couple in the south of France non-sequentially spin down the highways of infidelity in their troubled ten-year marriage.

AFTER: The key word in that plot line is probably "non-sequentially", and I admit I missed it when I programmed this one.  Yes, the scenes are all out of order here - well, not entirely, because each road-trip depicted plays out in order, but there are four (or is it five?) road trips combined here, and the focus toggles between all of them.  So this is the type of structure that I usually hate, where the director (Stanley Donen, carrying over from "Funny Face") just gives us all the pieces, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, as if to say, "Here, YOU put it all together..." when that, in my opinion, should be his job.

I had no idea that this technique was used as far back as 1967, I'm more familiar with it being used in more modern films, especially science-fiction ones, and also in comic books from the past few years. Ideally it should only be used to withhold specific information, so that when information from a past or future scene is juxtaposed with one from the present, it lends another meaning to it, or enables the viewer to gain further insight.  And that does happen here, but the technique is easily over-used, lending itself to an "everything at once" approach that is not only disconcerting, but forces the audience to spread attention so thin, we're everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

I'll admit that some of the juxtapositions are very clever, like showing a character jumping into bed in one timeline, and landing in a swimming pool in another.  Or cutting between a pair of cooked lobsters served on one holiday, and our central married couple getting sunburned on a different trip.  But by the end of the film the scenes become shorter and shorter, until most of them probably average only a few seconds, and by then they're so different regarding the state of the marriage and the emotions involved that any viewer is bound to feel a little bi-polar.  We're happy, we're sad, they're in love, they're fighting, they're falling in love, they're falling apart.  By the end, I really didn't know if I should be rooting for the couple to stay together, or if splitting up might have been the better course for them to take in the end.

Wikipedia did help clarify the number of road trips that are mixed together here - there's the one where Joanna and Mark meet, obviously, a second where they're traveling with Mark's old girlfriend from the U.S. and her husband, a third trip where they drive around in a finicky MG car, then meet a wealthy man who becomes Mark's client, a fourth trip where they're traveling with their young daughter, and then a fifth and possibly a sixth where their marriage is tested in a certain way.  Finally there's the most recent trip, apparently the framing sequence for everything else as they remember past trips - and where things are (finally, possibly) resolved - but should it be this much work for me to figure out what happens when?

And, the bigger question for me, was there any attempt made to tell this story sequentially, only to find that it didn't work, or was it always planned to constantly jump around in time?  I guess I should be complimenting the film on the fact that it doesn't shy away from any of the complex issues surrounding a particular marriage, good and bad, so it has all the feels, both high and low - but the format is so distracting that it's hard to keep it all straight.

Also starring Albert Finney (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Eleanor Bron (last seen in "Hyde Park on Hudson"), William Daniels (last seen in "The Parallax View"), Claude Dauphin, Nadia Gray, Georges Descrieres, Jacqueline Bisset (last seen in "Bullitt"), Judy Cornwell, Gabrielle Middleton, Irene Hilda, Dominique Joos.

RATING: 4 out of 10 blueprints

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