Friday, July 25, 2008

Culture Snacks: French Film, Jazz, Dillard and Murikami

I've had time to read and catch up on "cultcha." Here are a few brief reports:

-- Tell No One, the French thriller, is the best movie I've seen for ages. From a novel by Harlan Coben, its tag line goes something like this: Eight years ago, his wife was murdered. Today, she sent him an email." Dustin Hoffman-lookalike Francois Cluzet is superb as the obsessed widower, and Kristin Scott Thomas, speaking excellent French, plays an honorable role. The subtitles are easy to read and everything about it is a pleasure. I particularly enjoyed François Berléand as a sympathetic police inspector. Adding to our enjoyment was that we saw it at the Landmark Theater on Pico Boulevard in West LA one Sunday morning where you pick your seat at the ticket counter and where a friendly, uniformed young man comes out at the beginning--an actual person, who seems delighted you're there!-- and welcomes you, making a few introductory comments about the film. The film has classic French touches, including the end (no, I'm not going to spoil it) but I found myself saying, "An American film would never end this way."

-- We visited one of our favorite music haunts, Rosalie and Alva's on Eighth in San Pedro right across from Shin-Shin, two times lately. The first time we heard the Quartet Equinox, intriguingly billed as "flamenco jazz." I like flamenco and could see the connection, but the riffs rapidly turned very esoteric and challenging, as in "Seven C's," a piece in 7/4 time that was incredibly cerebral and hard to follow. Listening to it was like trying to figure out a "very difficult" sudoku -- you know there's a pattern there, but you can't quite get it. As in the case of working out a sudoku, listening to this music is probably a good Alzheimer's preventative, but not too relaxing on a Saturday night. The second band we saw there was the Chris Dundas Group, another jazz ensemble including one of the same musicians, sax player Andy Suzuki. I found their offerings more accessible, drawing from the repertoires of Dave Brubeck and Keith Jarrett among others, but still, the long exploratory riffs began to feel more like work than entertainment. Perhaps it's just that my tastes lean more to the melodic and less to the abstract -- this music reminded me of the poems of Jorie Graham, when I'm often in the mood for Billy Collins. As always, however, the musicianship of these folks is stellar -- Rosalie and Alva's energetic son and music coordinator Matt never fails to bring the best to this appealing, small scale venue. They are often musicians' musicians, I think -- given the opportunity to do whatever they want to a very appreciative audience and great acoustics.

-- Just finished reading two novels I had on my pile: The Maytrees by Annie Dillard and After Dark by Haruki Murakami. Each has its pleasures. Dillard's style is syntactically odd with truncated rhythms, spare, reticent diction like one stone laid down after another and many weird expressions. It feels a lot like poetry and it's sometimes hard to get comfy with the flow. Example: "Girl Lou liked her easy Provincetown friends -- hardworking, laughing girls, half of them Portuguese, who directly stuck her like spat to their clump." Spat to their clump? When it works, it's lovely: "Unseen, a catbird sang baroque. The wind was clocking east. It cracked the cold sea line." By the last third of the novel, however, I finally got used to her way and enjoyed the unusual plot resolution, a kind of happy ending. While Dillard plays with the narrative thread, jumping back and forth infuriatingly -- but you see from my comments above that I'm not wholly comfortable with abstract leaping -- it eventually comes together, structurally finding its way to a traditional wrap-up. Perhaps, as she says of one of the central characters, Dillard has "outgrown eloquence."

Jay Rubin's translation of Murakami's 2007 novel is smooth and engaging. The story takes place over a single night, and as inKafka At the Shore, Murakami demonstrates a particular empathy for and brilliance at capturing late adolescent characters struggling to find themselves -- in this case, the charming Mari, whom we first see sitting in the front window of a Denny's. I enjoyed how she comes to know the sweet trombonist Takahashi, and the gruff but endearing manager of a "love hotel" Kaoru. It also tickled me that Mari's sister, the beautiful Eri, sleeps through the whole book, and in fact has been sleeping for two months. Mari's myth-busting attempt to kiss her sister awake in the last scenes is a poignant twist. Murakami's predilection for the surreal surfaces here as it often does in his work (in this story, Eri somehow is watched by a "Man With No Face" from a TV screen and then somehow finds herself transported, and trapped there in his blank room) and sometimes that makes me impatient. In the case of Dillard, it's her style that stood in my way initially; in Murakami, an indeterminant resolution is the name of the game, placing the story somewhere between magic realism, existentialism and hope. "Whatever it is, something is trying to send a sign to this side through a tiny opening in the consciousness," he writes in ending. "The night has begun to open up at last. There will be time until the next darkness arrives." But, but, what happened to the guy who beat up the prostitute? Will Eri ever wake up? Will Mari go to Beijing? Don't expect to get the answers.

Oh, aren't I a cranky dinosaur this morning.


Gillian Swart said...

I read "Tell No One" a couple of years ago, so I'm interested in this film. Thank you for making it seem even more appealing than it already was!

geewhy said...

I just saw "Tell No One" and loved it for its understatement. I tried to imagine how much more over-acting and "action" there would have been if it were made in Hollywood. Even the lone chase scene seemed more real to me.

Macy Swain said...

Oui, oui, the understatement was a pleasure. It was quieter. Or should that be only one "oui"? Whatever, such a relief.