Krzysztof Kieslowski's 'La Double Vie de Véronique' (1991)

Irene Jacob in 'The Double Life of Veronique'
The more I attempt to analyze films by Krzysztof Kieslowski I realize that I shouldn't worry about figuring everything out. Mystery is an integral part of the ambiance of Kieslowski's work. In the case of The Double Life of Véronique, two women from different countries who were born on the same day and look exactly alike are aware of each other and able to learn from each other's mistakes and experiences even though they have never met. How these women are connected to each other is never explained nor do Kieslowski and co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz even attempt an explanation. The Double Life very much comes from the perspective of what if someone had a doppelganger without regard as to how or why.

Kieslowski seemingly shoots this film as though trying to remind the audience that they are spectators, perhaps even voyeurs. The characters and the camera often look through things, such as Weronika peering through her glass ball that causes the scenery outside the train to appear upside-down and her father looking at a painting through a magnifying glass. This recurring image of looking through objects and surfaces also brings the idea of perspective to the forefront of the film. Kieslowski challenges the viewer's perspective very early with the inverted Polish cityscape, which the audience may not recognize until seeing the subsequent shot of the little girl being held upside-down by her mother. In some shots, the camera tilts almost as an afterthought, as though catching up with the character's perspective, reminding the viewer that events are being seen through a particular set of eyes.

As one can infer from the title, the idea of doubling is central to the film. Of course, the main characters are doubles, but Kieslowski takes the concept so much farther than that both story-wise and visually. 'The Double Life of Veronique' posterKieslowski often captures characters and their reflections in the same shot and includes other visual "doubles" like the upside-down cityscape in Weronika's glass ball. Alexandre's profession as a puppeteer also introduces a different presentation of a double. Puppets are created in the likeness of human beings, doubling people in a way, and for Alexandre puppets act as doubles on which he may project his emotions. When Alexandre realizes that Véronique has been watching him in a mirror during his puppet show, witnessing his emotional response to the story, he reacts and seems exposed in a way that he did not feel when he thought people were watching only his puppets. And as in Red, the idea of doubles or doubling offers characters second chances, most notably in Véronique's case.

As he does in the Three Colors trilogy, Kieslowski, with the able help of director of photography Slawomir Idziak, delights in creating beautiful images from mundane occurrences and objects, like the dust from an old ceiling floating down like snow. Idziak, who again teamed up with Kieslowski for Blue, does lovely work with lighting, creating perhaps a fourth "color" film: gold. Zbigniew Preisner's haunting, melancholy score is pushed to the foreground, as it is in Blue, underscoring the similarities for me between Kieslowski's and Preisner's work: both men appreciate silence. Preisner's frequent use of rests distinguishes his compositions from others', and similarly Kieslowski's films are some of very few that often have long stretches of complete silence — no dialogue, no ambient sounds, just silence.

Irène Jacob, who also stars in Kieslowski's Red, may play two women who look alike but Weronika and Véronique are certainly not interchangeable. Weronika seems very much like Valentine from Red: warm, open, and almost child-like in her joy and manner of experiencing the world. Weronika greets all of life's experiences, even being rained on, with a welcome embrace. Véronique, however, approaches life with much more reserve and caution. Jacob gives the impression that had Kieslowski captured a longer span of Weronika and Véronique's lives that the former would have made most of the "mistakes" while the latter learned from them. But as either woman Jacob is a joy to watch, offering a thoroughly engaging, nuanced performance. I almost shudder to think how the film would have turned out had Kieslowski cast his first choice, Andie MacDowell. And making an impressive performance all the more remarkable, Jacob learned Polish to perform her part as Weronika, even though her lines were ultimately dubbed by a native speaker because of Jacob's accent.

As I watched The Double Life, particularly the second half, I was reminded of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's delightful, fairy-tale romance Amélie. Véronique finding Alexandre at a train station by listening to a tape of ambient noises seems very much like something Nino and Amélie might have done during their unique courtship, though The Double Life lacks the whimsical, fantastic tone of Amélie. Instead, The Double Life feels like a fairy tale treated as a noir piece, with its somber tone and moody lighting. This film not only deserves but demands multiple viewings to untangle the intricacies of Kieslowski and Piesiewicz's script, which is perhaps Kieslowski's point in all of this, asking the audience to think about the unseen impact of our lives on others'.
'The Double Life of Veronique'

Charles Herman-Wurmfeld's 'Kissing Jessica Stein' (2001)

It is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed: it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most enigmatical will live the relation to another as something alive.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Kissing Jessica Stein is something of a rarity in a couple of respects. First, it is an intelligent romantic comedy. All of the ingredients of a classic, mainstream rom-com are here — two people meet cute, begin a relationship, encounter an obstacle, and overcome it — but Kissing Jessica Stein asks its audience to think a little about sexual identity and things don't wrap up neatly at the end. Second, the film explores the relationship of two women who are choosing to be queer in a way not meant to titillate men, both in the film and in the audience.

An editor for a New York newspaper, Jessica has become frustrated with dating and spends her sleepless nights painting pieces that she does not display and reading mountains of books that fill her apartment. After her bitter and generally surly ex-boyfriend-cum-boss Josh lambastes her for being too critical of the men she has dated, Jessica decides to try something completely different and answers a personal ad from the women-seeking-women section. She meets Helen, a curator of a contemporary art museum who juggles three boyfriends but wants to explore sex with other women. The two women click and despite their conflicting attitudes about sex — Helen wants to get to it while Jessica doesn't feel that comfortable — they begin a relationship. Trouble arises, as it always does, when Jessica doesn't tell Helen about her brother's upcoming wedding and Helen gives her an ultimatum: take Helen to the wedding or break up. Jessica tells Helen that she cannot come out to her family, but her worries are assuaged after her mother reveals that she knows about their relationship and she supports Jessica. However, Helen soon realizes that Jessica really wants the best friend quality of her relationship with Helen that she could not find with men and that Jessica has confused a few moments of sexual desire with a sexual attraction to Helen.
Heather Jurgensen & Jennifer Westfeldt in 'Kissing Jessica Stein'
This post is the first that has made me balk at the director as auteur theory that has dictated the titling of these posts because Kissing Jessica Stein is very much the product of co-stars, co-writers, and co-producers Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Jurgensen. This project started in an improv theater class where they met and turned some sketches into a stage play. The play became a screenplay, which was purchased by a production studio and then bought back by Jurgensen and Westfeldt to finally be made into an independent film. These women have put a lot of effort, love, and themselves into creating Jessica and Helen's relationship, which translates onto the screen. Their chemistry truly sparkles as they create Jessica and Helen as fully realized, realistically flawed individuals. They are supported by an excellent cast of mostly theater actors, with Tovah Feldshuh and Jackie Hoffman particularly standing out as Jessica's very Jewish mother and pregnant co-worker respectively. Also, watch out for Idina Menzel as an enthusiastically curious bridesmaid.

I've been reading a particular website that focuses on queer women in entertainment for over a year now, and while many older lesbian-themed films have garnered quite a few references during that time, Kissing Jessica Stein has only been mentioned twice, both times in negative contexts. So I have to imagine that a section of the queer community does not like this film based on content rather than quality, and I can see why. As I mentioned previously, this film portrays two women choosing to be queer, and since many queer individuals think that homosexuality is biologically determined they may balk at the idea of being queer by choice. Indeed, an abbreviated form of this argument appears in film within the discussion between Martin, Sebastian, and Helen at a flea market. Lesbians in particular are wary of the concept of queer by choice because the idea is often conflated with the I Kissed a Girls who engage in lesbian sexuality to arouse their boyfriends. Personally, I see a clear difference between the two, the former being an understanding of one's queer identity and the latter being a consequence of heterosexual men's appropriation of lesbian sexuality for their sexual pleasure as a way to control women's sexuality. In fact, a real highlight of this film for me is the seduction scene in the restaurant because it acts as a reclamation of lesbian sexuality from straight men. When two men approach Helen and Jessica in a restaurant not realizing that they are on a date, Helen baits them into talking about why men find lesbians titillating. While the men describe what turns them on about two women together, Helen fondles Jessica under the table, thereby using the men's expression of how lesbian sexuality excites them to arouse her girlfriend.
Jennifer Westfeldt & Heather Jurgensen in 'Kissing Jessica Stein'
The ending also causes problems for some queer women because Helen and Jessica don't stay together. Again, I find it refreshing to watch a romantic comedy that explores a relationship that isn't "the one," the one that supposedly lasts forever after the credits roll, and I don't think that the film criticizes Helen or Jessica for being in a queer relationship because they do not end up together. Many people dislike that Jessica runs into her ex-boyfriend Josh at the end of the film, because they interpret the encounter as evidence of the bulk of bi-phobic rhetoric, namely that bisexual women will ultimately leave relationships with women and retreat to the safe world of heterosexuality. First, I see the scene as more of a conclusion to Josh's storyline. He plays a prominent role in much of the film, so for him to disappear after the wedding, his passion for writing newly reawakened, would feel like his character arc had been left unresolved. Second, even if Jessica does get back together with Josh sometime after the credits roll, so what? Jurgensen and Westfeldt didn't write a film about Jessica and Josh's relationship: the movie is about Jessica and Helen and how their well-developed and respectfully presented relationship affects each other in believable, positive ways. In Helen's case, she seems to realize that she prefers relationships with women and begins dating another woman, while Jessica has become generally happier and less neurotic, quitting her job to pursue her art, and the two remain good friends. It's difficult for me to be unhappy with that ending.

Calling Kissing Jessica Stein a movie about lesbianism or even bisexuality is perhaps both inaccurate and limiting. This film explores the fluidity of sexuality and the tenuous line between friendship and romance with warmth, intelligence, and humor. The missteps, if one can call them that, are few. Helen's easy transition from dating three men to one slightly frigid woman seems suspect and Josh's transformation from embittered to sensitive could have used another scene. But mostly I have only extremely positive things to say about this rather groundbreaking and insightful film, which has become a favorite.
Jennifer Westfeldt in 'Kissing Jessica Stein'

Michael McCullers' 'Baby Mama' (2008)

After some spot-on impressions of political personalities and heavily pregnant rapping this past year, I would bet that not many people doubt Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's comedic talents. In 2008 Poehler became the first SNL cast member to earn an Emmy nomination, and Fey is running out of room on her mantle for all the awards she has won for 30 Rock, her critical darling of a sitcom. 'Baby Mama' posterAnd yet somehow, even with that powerhouse duo as his leads, writer-director Michael McCullers manages to make only a mediocre comedy.

Kate Holbrook, a single, successful executive of a natural foods company, wants to have a baby. After trying artificial insemination she learns that she has a very small chance at conceiving, so Kate decides to try a surrogate pregnancy instead. When Kate's surrogate Angie, a South Philly working girl, breaks up with her boyfriend, she moves in with Kate and the two women must learn to coexist despite their clashing personalities. Predictably, Kate and Angie become friends, and Angie starts to feel guilty that she lied to Kate about being pregnant. The artificial insemination didn't take, but Angie soon realizes that she really is pregnant by her ex-boyfriend. The truth comes out eventually, but Kate doesn't mind so much because in the meantime she has hooked up with a local business owner named Rob and has gotten pregnant the old-fashioned way.

Obviously McCullers, who used to write for SNL, isn't culling any new territory in devising the storyline — Baby Mama is pretty much The Odd Couple set to the ticking of a biological clock. But even great comedies don't tend to rely on their overly original plots to entertain. Baby Mama fails because the jokes aren't very good. McCullers' script doesn't try for a lot of big jokes, and a lot of the small ones fall flat because they just aren't that funny. The segment of the film that produced the most consecutive laughs for me was the scene in which Kate tries to get Angie to take her prenatal vitamin, but most of that dialogue felt improvised rather than scripted. Indeed, much of the laugh-out-loud material seems to be the result of improvisation.

I appreciate that McCullers has made a film with strong female leads, but Thelma & Louise this is not. Baby Mama is a movie about women having babies — McCullers isn't exactly challenging gender roles here. Yes, Kate starts the film trying to be a single mother through surrogacy, but ultimately both she and Angie have babies the way people are supposed to, through sex in a heterosexual relationship. The main characters' outcomes suggest that the film shares Rob's dismissive attitude toward surrogacy and alternative methods of reproduction in general.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler do the best they can with the material, and the potential obvious in their chemistry makes the pedestrian script all the more frustrating. As the love interests, Greg Kinnear is likable but forgettable as Rob, but Dax Shepard improvises several good lines as Angie's blue-collar boyfriend Carl. Romany Malco gets a few laughs playing Kate's very hands-on doorman, and I enjoyed seeing Malco in a much, uh, gentler comedy than his other endeavors, such as Weeds and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I like Malco, but I get a little weary of so many iterations of "bitch," "pussy," and "nigga." Sigourney Weaver is wasted in an unneeded, unfunny role as head of the surrogacy agency, and Steve Martin delivers an uncomfortably odd performance as Kate's hippie boss Barry. Remember when Steve Martin used to be really funny? Yeah, I'm having trouble with that one too.

Baby Mama is a pleasant enough movie, and I suppose it's worth a viewing for Fey and Poehler fans. But if I want to watch a movie full of SNL folks that's not an SNL movie, I'm going to reach for Mean Girls instead. In the future, Tina should stick to her own material.
Tina Fey & Amy Poehler in 'Baby Mama'

Krzysztof Kieslowski's 'Trois Couleurs: Rouge' (1994)

Irene Jacob in 'Red'
Red concludes the Three Colors trilogy in Switzerland with Valentine, a student and part-time model living in Geneva whose sole contact with her family and her boyfriend is by phone. One night she hits a dog with her car and, not knowing what to do, she takes the wounded animal to its owner, a detached and seemingly uncaring retired judge. Valentine and the judge make a somewhat unwilling acquaintance when Valentine realizes that the judge, whose legal career has made him jaded and disillusioned about justice, spends his days listening to his neighbors' telephone calls with surveillance equipment. Valentine's censure of his activities reawakens the judge's humanity and he composes letters to his neighbors confessing what he has been doing. Intertwined with the development of Valentine and the judge's friendship, a young lawyer named Auguste is betrayed by his lover Karin in events eerily similar to what happened to the judge many years ago.

Irène Jacob is wonderful as Valentine, playing her as infectiously good-natured, open, and unaffected in almost child-like way. Jean-Louis Trintignant creates an emotional foil to Valentine: where Valentine is open, the judge is closed and inscrutable. The judge is arguably the "villain" who redeems himself, but Trintignant doesn't play him twirling a black mustache. Rather, Trintignant portrays the judge's transformation from surly and uncaring to newly humanized very subtly. Jean-Pierre Lorit and Frédérique Feder give solid supporting performances as Auguste and Karin.

Red explores the political idea of fraternity, represented by the titular color on the French flag, and of the three films it offers the most literal interpretation of its theme. Valentine embodies the spirit of fraternity throughout the film, acting as an essentially decent person would: she contacts the judge after accidentally hitting his dog, she rushes to help close windows against a brewing storm in an auditorium, she says, "Have a good day," to someone never even shown on screen, and she finally helps that short, elderly person deposit a glass bottle into a recycling bin that is just out of her reach. The central relationship of the film, that of Valentine and the judge, is one of friendship, and that friendship is almost healing for both of them. The judge recovers his compassion and faith in people while Valentine really connects with someone. Even though she has very open, giving personality, Valentine does not seem to have very many friends in Geneva, and her family and her boyfriend live out of town. Perhaps the unanticipated divergence from the traditional interpretation of fraternity lies in the platonic love that emerges between her and the judge.
Jean-Louis Trintignant in 'Red'
Though I suppose that Kieslowski might stretch the definition of fraternity a bit to include an idea of connectivity. Red is very much about connections, both obvious and invisible. Indeed, the film begins with the camera "going inside" of phone lines to follow the transmission of a phone call, connecting one person to another via wires. Kieslowski also explores unseen connections, such as music that both Valentine and Auguste listen to and the parallels between the judge and Auguste's lives. Perhaps Kieslowski suggests that this conceptualization of fraternity connects people, whether they see it or not, and Valentine represents the ideal of fraternity, acknowledging that connection through her actions.

is also a film about second chances. The judge has a second chance at connecting with people through his friendship with Valentine, and his dog's pregnancy offers him a second chance at being a loving pet owner. As the ending suggests, Auguste and Valentine both will have a second chance at finding love with each other, which also allows the judge's story of love and loss to have a different ending. Indeed, Kieslowski connects the three films in the final scene through this idea of second chance as well as the boat wreck. The surviving couples are either experiencing or offering a second chance at love.

While Polish cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski's beautiful photography is peppered with rich, beautiful reds, the color imagery of Red seems less specific than that of White or Blue. I do not intend to insinuate that Kieslowski's choices of red objects were not deliberate, however his use of the color seems less reserved. Red saturates the palette of this film in a way not seen in the trilogy's previous entries, but the color does retain its association with fraternity. For example, Valentine wears an item of red clothing when she visits the judge and the dog's collar is also red. But the color is more pervasive and less obvious in its representation of fraternity, which perhaps underscores the idea that Kieslowski suggests fraternity connects people in ways both seen and unseen.
Irene Jacob in 'Red'

Sue Kramer's 'Gray Matters' (2006)

Heather Graham in 'Gray Matters'
Gray Matters offers a clever twist on the standard love triangle, but writer-director Sue Kramer bungles its execution with poor plotting. Coupled with a miscast lead and pointless secondary characters, the film fails to deliver on the promise of its premise.

Gray shares a close, verging on co-dependent relationship with her brother, Sam. They usually stay home in the evenings to watch movies in the apartment they share when they aren't going to dance class with couples in their sixties. They are even mistaken for a couple from time to time. When Sam proposes to Charlie, his girlfriend of 24 hours, Gray's worries that she won't find love are compounded. Things only become more mixed up for Gray when Charlie gets drunk on her wedding night and they kiss right before she passes out. Charlie doesn't seem to remember the kiss, but Gray feels both guilty for kissing her brother's wife and confused by the feelings that the kiss brought up.

I like the premise of Gray Matters, I really do, but I would have executed it completely differently. I don't understand why Kramer feels compelled to hurry things. Charlie is the first girl Sam sees when he and Gray try to meet people and they get engaged in less than 24 hours. Gray does three dates in one night, trying to convince herself she isn't gay, and then almost immediately accepts her sexuality even though she spits after kissing Charlie. Tom Cavanaugh & Heather Graham in 'Gray Matters'Kramer has no need to feel rushed because many scenes could have easily been excised. Many of the early scenes attempt to be fun and cutesy to no real purpose. I think that they are trying to show Gray's developing infatuation with Charlie, but they don't do anything but show Gray and Charlie spending time together. They do not develop character or introduce any complexity into relationships.

The subplot involving Sissy Spacek as Gray's therapist could have been removed completely. All she does is unceremoniously shove Gray back into the closet when Gray comes out to her. I would have much rather seen Gray dish to Molly Shannon. Alan Cumming isn't really needed either, but I don't mind him as much because he probably creates the weightiest character in the whole film. I would have preferred to see Kramer ditch the tired bad date montage and focus on Gordy as a legitimate love interest for Gray by making him a co-worker or something other than a cab driver who happens to pick up her twice. But really all Kramer needed in the way of characters was her love triangle and a confidante for Gray. I feel like Kramer ignores what makes her story unique when large chunks of time go by and Sam remains unseen.

I also don't understand why Kramer decided to give Gray the rather unfunny, uninteresting, unsubtle, and unoriginal trait of being indecisive.

I wouldn't say that I don't like Heather Graham, but I have never been impressed by her acting. (She was OK as George Michael's somewhat gauche, Saddam-loving ethics teacher on Arrested Development.) She never really manages to own a scene and is frequently overshadowed by other actors. Despite my many complaints about the script, I do think that there is some potential in Kramer's dialogue. However, much of the charm and humor of the dialogue is lost in Graham's stilted delivery. Graham also never seems very smart to me. Gray may know that Truffaut isn't a kind of mushroom, but I'm not convinced Graham does. And based on the interviews I've seen of her promoting this movie, she seems as aware of LGBT issues as a paper clip. But I will give props to Graham and Bridget Moynahan for really going for it with the kiss.
Moynahan is also a bit of a disappointment in casting. She makes Charlie likable enough and she has good chemistry with both her co-stars, but she doesn't do much with the character besides run around in lingerie. Tom Cavanagh plays Sam with a feckless charm and of the three leads he seems to have the best handle on Kramer's material, despite his sometimes mumbled delivery. Molly Shannon is excellent as usual in this supporting role, stealing all of the scenes that she's in. Sissy Spacek is decent though unneeded, and Rachel Shelley doesn't stretch herself much by playing Julia as a season 2 Helena Peabody.

I do not know for certain, but I assume that Kramer is straight. According to Wikipedia, Kramer loosely based the screenplay on her sister's life, and her portrayal of Gray definitely has an outsider feel to it. I don't know of anyone who talked about her partner not being respected when she dies when they came out. Kramer seems to understand the political rather than personal aspects of coming out and queer identity, which translates to Gray Matters lacking a real emotional resonance.
Bridget Moynahan & Tom Cavanagh in 'Gray Matters'

Elizabeth Gill's 'Goldfish Memory' (2003)

And they say goldfish have no memory
I guess their lives are much like mine
And the little plastic castle
Is a surprise every time
And it's hard to say if they're happy
But they don't seem much to mind
–Ani DiFranco, "Little Plastic Castle"

Goldfish Memory
is a surprisingly charming little independent film from Ireland that follows many romantic relationships through a vignette-style of storytelling. The title refers to the oft-quoted though scientifically fallacious fact that goldfish have a memory of about three seconds. Writer-director Elizabeth Gill compares this idea to how people act in regards to love, quickly forgetting their latest heartbreak when they meet someone new, which is the central idea of the film. Goldfish Memory begins with about three core characters: Tom, an English professor who seduces his students; Angie, a television reporter and a lesbian; Red, Angie's gay best friend who avoids commitment. Angie begins to date Clara who had just broken up with Tom, Tom moves on to a new student, Red fixes his eye on a man who has a girlfriend, and those are just the first relationships of the film. Most of those relationships end and give way to new ones, some of which end and give way to new ones, and so forth.
Goldfish Memory
The storytelling style that Gill chooses, greatly influenced by both Robert Altman and Richard Linklater, facilitates her goal of exploring "goldfish memory" in love by allowing Gill to progress quickly through time and relationships and to manage her large ensemble cast. However, the quick cuts between scenes muddles a sense of time and inhibits the audience from really bonding with the characters. In the end, I felt as though the characters introduced early — Tom, Angie, Red, Clara, David, Isolde, even Renee — had been well-developed and I felt a connection with them. People introduced later in the film did not have the same emotional complexity, and I didn't really care about Rosie and her subsequent relationships with Larry and the groom. Gill could have dumped a couple of the relationships to spend more time on the others, or she could have made the film a bit longer. Goldfish Memory has a running time of only 85 minutes, and Altman regularly made 2-hour+ films to deal with the large ensembles that he preferred.

Alice Pieszecki would be happy to know that Gill also explores connectivity, in addition to this concept of "goldfish memory." Angie recites to Red the overlapping love lives of some of her lesbian friends, and the relationships of the primary characters intersect as well. With the exception of one, all of the relationships portrayed in the film become sexual at some point, even a friendship. Clara provides the bulk of the connectivity, sleeping with Tom then Angie then Isolde, who dated Tom after she did, and finally hitting on the ex-fiance of Red's boyfriend's ex-girlfriend. Through this connectivity, Gill also looks at how former relationships influence current ones.
Peter Gaynor & Keith McErlean in 'Goldfish Memory'
Gill proves herself to be quite a talented writer. She really knows how to draw characters and uses small moments to reveal them, such as Tom pouring the drink he had prepared for Clara into his own after she breaks up with him. And scenes like the one in which David and Red shopping for a stroller exhibit Gill's ability to accomplish multiple things within a scene, providing a window into their relationship and demonstrating how they are handling Angie's pregnancy. The film also has several funny moments with most of the humor stemming from and forming character. For example, the argument between David and Red after David learns that Red got Angie pregnant:

David: If I wanted a wife and kids, I could have stayed with Rosie, you know.
Red: Why didn't you? You said you weren't gay.
David: I'm not! You said you were gay.
Red: I am!

However, Gill does resort to some slapstick comedy toward the end that I don't particularly like. A man is tackled and another man runs into a telephone pole in a span of less than five minutes. I enjoyed the performances as well, especially Flora Montgomery's portrayal of Angie and Jean Butler's of Renee. Both of these women lend their characters a lot of depth and warmth, combating the choppy editing to create a lasting impression on the audience. I also really enjoyed Demien McAdam, who managed to make Conzo, a very cheesy and relatively inconsequential character, remarkably funny.

Gill earns some queer-friendly inclusion points by having both a gay man and a lesbian as central characters. While they suffer through confusion and heartbreak just like all the others, the gay and lesbian characters conclude the film in seemingly stable relationships. However, the bisexual characters do not fair so well. Three characters do not fit neatly under a gay or straight label: Clara, Isolde, and David. Gill's characterization of Clara and Isolde perpetuates many of the stereotypes associated with bisexuality. They are both young, attractive, college-aged women who date a lot of people not very seriously, and their relationships with women could easily be written off as "experimentation." Neither of the women seem to be in long-term relationships when the film ends. David perhaps balances Clara and Isolde to an extent, as he seems to prefer monogamous, long-term relationships and he concludes the film paired off with Red. However, David never identifies himself as bisexual, gay, or queer. Only Clara uses the 'B' word, which maybe makes her characterization most significant in this context.
Goldfish Memory

20 Favorite Film Scores

Bad films can have good scores, and good films can have bad scores. A good score can elevate mediocre acting and a bad score can turn a poignant scene to mush. Most of these scores belong to films that I enjoy, though not all of them. But each of these perfectly capture the atmosphere and the spirit of the film, and the music evokes certain moments and images from the movie whenever I listen to it. And most importantly, this music stands on its own outside of the film, ultimately making it just really good music.

Amélie (Yann Tiersen)

American Beauty (Thomas Newman)

Being John Malkovich (Carter Burwell)

Casino Royale (Burt Bacharach)
Casino Royale

Charade (Henry Mancini)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Tan Dun)

Edward Scissorhands (Danny Elfman)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Jon Brion)

The Fog of War (Philip Glass)

Ghost World (David Kitay)

The Godfather (Nino Rota)

The Hours (Philip Glass)

Igby Goes Down (Uwe Farhenkrog-Petersen)
Igby Goes Down soundtrack

In the Mood for Love (Shigeru Umebayashi)

North by Northwest (Bernard Herrmann)

The Piano (Michael Nyman)

Rabbit-Proof Fence (Peter Gabriel)

The Red Violin (John Corigliano)

The Royal Tenenbaums (Mark Mothersbaugh)

Trois Couleurs: Bleu (Zbigniew Preisner)

Krzysztof Kieslowski's 'Trzy kolory: Biały' (1994)

Zbigniew Zamachowski in 'White'
The second film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy, White follows Karol Karol (that's not a typo), a hairdresser from Poland whose French wife divorces him, seemingly because they have not had sex since their marriage. Without a job or a place to stay, Karol resorts to playing music on his comb in a train station, where he befriends a fellow Polish citizen named Mikolaj who helps smuggle him back into Poland. Upon his return to his home country, Karol sets out to earn money and become a successful businessman. Once he has established a sizable estate, he fakes his death and leaves all of his assets to his ex-wife, Dominique. When Dominique returns to her hotel after attending his funeral, she finds Karol in her room where she admits that she still loves him and they make love. Karol leaves the next morning just before the police arrive to question Dominique about the suspicious circumstances of Karol's death.

At the end of the film, Karol, who lives in secrecy with his brother, visits Dominique who has been imprisoned on suspicion of his "murder", which is how Karol and Dominique finally achieve equality, symbolized by the color white on the French flag. Both of them have been removed from society and stripped of rights: she by her status of being an imprisoned "criminal" and he by his status of being "dead". As with Blue, Kieslowski and Piesiewicz use the concept that they are exploring in an unexpected way. However, while they ultimately dismiss their re-imagined concept of liberty, Kieslowski and Piesiewicz suggest that Karol and Dominique have a real chance at mending their relationship once they have achieved this different idea of equality.

Watching White immediately after Blue can be a bit of a jolt. The tones and main characters could not be more different. White is very much a comedy, though a dark one. Zbigniew Zamachowski turns in a nicely balanced and at times almost Chaplinesque performance as Karol, able to make slapstick moments like being shit on by a bird both funny and a little heartbreaking. He also goes from those moments of broader humor to tongue-in-cheek moments, like when Karol exclaims "Home at last!" after being beaten up by disappointed thieves who stole the suitcase he uses to smuggle himself into Poland. Zamachowski always goes for a smile or a giggle rather than a big laugh, which perfectly fits the tone of the film.
Zbigniew Zamachowski & Janusz Gajos in 'White'
The aura of Julie Delpy's character Dominique hovers over the film's proceedings as Karol tries to both get back and get back at his ex-wife; however, Dominique only appears in about 15 minutes of the 91-minute running length. Delpy is the perfect actress to be the blond, alabaster-skinned beauty of Karol's dreams, and it's a testament to her performance that Dominique is such a powerful presence in the film despite her brief screen time. In fact, I really want to see more of Dominique. I want to know more about a woman who sets fire to her own beauty salon to get her ex-husband to leave, who makes Karol listen to her have sex with another man when he calls her one night. She is like a very beautiful cat who will purr and rub against your legs but scratch you if you try to pick her up.

Even though I tell myself to pay more attention to how Kieslowski uses white in this film, after two viewings I still haven't made very good observations about the color symbolism. Perhaps it's just the nature of the color white, but I don't find it as noticeable as, say, red or blue. However, the instances in which Kieslowski uses white that I have noticed do seem to relate to moments when people attain equality: sharing the simple pleasure of sliding across a frozen lake on a sunny day, a wedding day, sex that reaches orgasm. The one tricky white object that I'm still mulling over is the statue that Karol brings with him to Poland. Obviously, the statue reminds him of Dominique and acts as her placeholder, and a reminder of Dominique for the audience, while they are in separate countries. Perhaps the statue is a representation of Dominique with which Karol has equality at that time? It doesn't matter that Karol can't communicate with or can't give pleasure to the statue because the statue cannot do those things for him either. And it won't ridicule him for his "deficiencies" as Dominique would.

Kieslowski also includes several images of voyeurism throughout the film, however the voyeurism seems more benign than its presentation in most films.

While I mean this comment as no disparagement to the film, White doesn't quite feel like it is part of Three Colors to me, probably because of its much lighter tone and male lead. The film also doesn't feel as tightly made as Red and Blue — sometimes it seems as though a scene or two has gone missing. However, White is certainly an enjoyable film with very fine performances by Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy and, as is to be expected from Kieslowski, a unique presentation of a familiar concept.
Julie Delpy in 'White'

'Unnatural Exposure' by Patricia Cornwell (1997)

I don't usually write about the crime novels that I read sometimes, but I just finished my first novel by Patricia Cornwell and felt compelled to make a comment. Plus, I'm trying not to be so ashamed of reading novels that are not published by McSweeney's or usually compared to Pynchon.Patricia Cornell's 'Unnatural Exposure'

Unnatural Exposure is one of the many novels in Cornwell's Scarpetta series, which follows the cases of Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Cornwell has written sixteen novels in this series, which perpetually hover somewhere on The New York Times Bestseller List, so I imagine that Cornwell and a sizable portion of United States denizens find Dr. Scarpetta appealing.

I really don't.

I don't know if she was cranky because she thought she might die from small pox, but I found Scarpetta thoroughly unlikable in this novel. Spending any time with her seems about as enjoyable as sitting through Bride Wars with all your faculties and a functioning brain. Scarpetta comes across as arrogant, privileged, peevish, self-involved, and practically humorless. Her predominant reactions ranged from irritation to anger and pretty much nothing in between. Her interactions with her niece Lucy managed to make Scarpetta marginally tolerable; however, her romantic interest Benton Wesley should probably run. Published in 1997, Unnatural Exposure falls in the middle of the series, so I'm definitely coming into things late. Perhaps Scarpetta has something in her past that explains her demeanor or even makes her very flawed personality endearing, but after reading this novel I don't care about her enough to make the effort to find out.

I felt like Cornwell was treading water for almost two hundred pages, with the story finally picking up with the first death on Tangier Island. I don't mind the misdirection of the dismemberment cases, but too much time was spent on these previous cases given that they remained unsolved at the end of the novel. In fact, the entire pacing of the novel felt rather awkward and very stop-and-start with Cornwell diverting from the case for some lengthy passages. I know that Cornwell set a precedent for including emerging technologies in forensic pathology in her work, but the incorporation of said technology really dates her novels. Cornwell also writes about technology, especially computer technology, in perhaps accessible but very inelegant ways. I also disliked Cornwell's over-reliance on acronyms. If something had an acronym, Cornwell mentions it, even if the acronym is never used again, and she also drops the acronyms rather inelegantly. For example,

Getting close, I squatted and rubbed gloved fingers over deep gouges and scrapes in aluminum in an area where the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, should have been.

Cornwell uses so many acronyms that I forgot several of their meanings when they were not referenced for many pages. In many of these instances, Cornwell could have used a few adjectives to prevent her readers from becoming muddled in an alphabet soup.

I was curious to read one of Cornwell's novels because I've stumbled across her name several times recently in regards to LGBT equality issues. And it was on sale at Half-Price Books for a dollar. For her part, Unnatural Exposure is pretty gay, with a total of four queer characters. However, with the series' central character failing to capture me, I think I'll stick to Kinsey.

Krzysztof Kieslowski's 'Trois Couleurs: Bleu' (1993)

Blue tells a powerful story of grief and loss through the experiences of Julie, a woman whose husband and daughter die in a car crash that she survives. Unable to kill herself, Julie decides to sell her house and all her possessions to move into an anonymous apartment. In Julie's case, liberty, which is represented by the color blue in the French flag, is a life free of the personal ties that have caused her so much emotional pain. She has enough money that she can afford not to work so that she may live simply, swimming for exercise, visiting her local coffee shop everyday for coffee and ice cream, sitting on a park bench and enjoying the sun. But Julie is still haunted by the emotional trauma inflicted by her family's death, which manifests as a song that she keeps hearing in her head, a song her husband was composing. Julie soon realizes that she cannot help but be affected by the people she encounters: her husband's colleague Olivier who has long harbored a crush on Julie, her troubled but caring neighbor who works in a local sex club, the young man who witnessed the car crash that killed her family, her husband's pregnant mistress, even the baby mice that she finds living her closet. By the end of the film, Julie has realized that the liberty she sought to protect herself is impossible, and she grudgingly lets these people into her heart.

Blue is pretty much a one-woman show. Sure, there are a couple other actors who turn in nice performances, but Blue belongs to Juliette Binoche. For a good portion of the film, Julie is not particularly likable as she distances herself from reminders of her family and from her friends; however, Binoche somehow makes Julie sympathetic, which keeps the audience involved, while simultaneously not trying too hard to win the audience's favor. When watching the film, Julie always seems barely restrained to me, seconds away from breaking down into sobs. Each little smirk seems to hold back an angry outburst or cruel remark. Blue has very little dialogue compared to other films of similar length, so it's really up to Binoche to convey a lot of emotion through facial expressions and body language.
Of the three films, Blue is probably the "artiest." Probably because of the limited dialogue, Kieslowski spends a lot of time creating images that mirror Julie's mental state. Some of the more memorable ones include the image of a doctor reflected in Julie's eye after the car wreck, a sugar cube absorbing coffee, and Julie's reflection in a spoon balanced in the mouth of a bottle. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak has said in interviews that Julie was originally scripted as a runner, but Idziak suggested to Kieslowski that she swim instead because a swimming pool was more visually interesting for him to film. For Julie who is trying to disconnect from her emotions and human connections, swimming is the perfect form of exercise. Inside a pool Julie is effectively cushioned from the outside world, her senses dulled by the water.

Of course, Kiewslowski and Idziak liberally use the color blue throughout the film, but I think that its use is very specific. Most of the blue seems to be items that prevent Julie from achieving liberty, since that is the ultimate message of the film: the blue folder that contains photos of Patrice's mistress, the mobile that Julie takes from her daughter's room (which is also blue), the pen that Julie uses to compose music, the lollipop and wrapper that Julie finds in her purse. Kieslowski also fades to blue when Julie begins to hear the music in her head and when she has sex with Olivier.

Blue is definitely my favorite film of the Three Colors series and one of my favorite films that I have seen. Many critics prefer Red and probably consider it the superior film, which it may be. The script is certainly more multifaceted and it generates quite a few questions that it leaves for the audience to answer. However, while I consider Blue and Red equal in quality, I prefer Blue because of the simplicity of its story and its singular purpose in portraying a raw, compelling portrait of grief.

Too Many Nazis, Not Enough Lesbians

Is it just me or have an obscene amount of films about Nazis been released recently?

Let's see, there's Valkyrie, the Tom Cruise flick about the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. Does anyone else think it was perhaps not the best move PR-wise for Tom to play a Nazi? He doesn't exactly have the warm and fuzziest image these days, so I really don't think playing a member of a supremacist, genocidal political party will help things much, even if he is a "good" Nazi.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, an unashamedly (at least in its advertising) manipulative would-be tearjerker, is about an eight-year-old boy who befriends a Jewish boy in Auschwitz, which his father commands.

Daniel Craig stars in Defiance, a movie about brothers who escape Nazi-occupied Poland to join a Russian resistance force that rescues other Jews.

In Good, Viggo Mortensen plays a German literature professor whose book advocating compassionate euthanasia is used by the rising socialist party for propaganda, pulling him into the world of Nazism.

Kate Winslet in 'The Reader'And there's The Reader, starring the lovely Kate Winslet, about a young boy's obsession with an older woman who is tried for the deaths that occurred at Auschwitz during her time there as an SS guard.

(And while there are no Nazis in it that I can tell, Australia, with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, is set during World War II.)

With the exception of The Boy in Striped Pajamas, these films have some big names, and it is Oscar season. If these are the films that their respective studios have trotted out to garner nominations – and with them box office success – I have to say that they reflect a little poorly on the film industry. I know that we're in a financial recession, but I didn't think it applied to creativity as well.

I'm gonna say it: I'm sick of Holocaust movies. Don't get me wrong. There are some very fine movies about the Holocaust that I like very much, but it feels like, especially at the moment, that Hollywood thinks it can slap a swastika on a movie poster and film goers and the Academy will flock to it. For me, the Hollywood treatment often cheapens the immense tragedy of the Holocaust and perpetuates a certain image of Jews. I'm not Jewish so I may be incredibly wrong, but I have to think that there is more to being Jewish than the Holocaust, though I'm sure that being the target of genocide is a sizable component to Jewish identity.

As far as significant representation in film goes, it seems to me that Jews have Holocaust movies, Fiddler on the Roof, and Woody Allen. I'd love to see more films like Kissing Jessica Stein, whose titular main character is Jewish because she happens to be Jewish. No one dies and there is nary a Nazi in sight.

Someone said to me once in college that a really juicy paper title includes the word "Nazi," "vampire," or "lesbian." We've got Nazis more than covered at the box office, as well as those pesky luminescent vampires, so where are the lesbians? OK, I'll even take some Nazi vampire lesbians.

20 Favorite Actors

Christian Bale
(Batman Begins, American Psycho, Little Women, A Midsummer Night's Dream)

Gabriel Byrne
(Little Women, The Usual Suspects, Smilla's Sense of Snow)

Kieran Culkin
(Igby Goes Down, The Cider House Rules, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys)

John Cusack
(Grosse Point Blank, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Say Anything, High Fidelity)

Johnny Depp
(Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Finding Neverland, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Benny & Joon)

Robert Downey, Jr.
(A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, The Singing Detective, Iron Man, Wonder Boys)

Morgan Freeman
(Batman Begins, Million Dollar Baby, Se7en, Unforgiven)

Cary Grant
(Charade, North by Northwest, Notorious, Father Goose)

Jake Gyllenhaal
(Proof, The Good Girl, Donnie Darko, Jarhead)

Ethan Hawke
(Gattaca, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Tape)

Samuel L. Jackson
(Pulp Fiction, Star Wars: Episode I-III, True Romance, A Time to Kill)

Gene Kelly
(Singin' in the Rain, An American in Paris, On the Town)

Kevin Kline
(Dave, A Fish Called Wanda, In & Out, The Ice Storm)

Ewan McGregor
(Trainspotting, Big Fish, Down With Love, Star Wars: Episode I-III)

Ian McKellen
(X-Men trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, Gods and Monsters)

Bill Murray
(Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers)

Edward Norton
(Fight Club, American History X, The Illusionist, Keeping the Faith)

Clive Owen
(Gosford Park, Closer, The Bourne Identity, Children of Men)

Jason Segel
(Freaks & Geeks, How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Undeclared)

B.D. Wong
(Law & Order: SVU, Oz, All American Girl)