I can't tell you anything at all / And that's the biggest joke of all.
The moon up there looks like a cat’s eye through smog, but by the time I’m home it’s a suggestion of one, an illusion.
I don’t remember seeing Edinburgh so empty for a long time. The temperature isn’t cold, isn’t warm - it’s just neutral. It carries an almost physical reaction of approval. I remember winning a pub quiz and taking the prize fund outside onto Bruntsfield Links at 2 in the morning. I remember going upstairs to a flat I never saw before or since to feed someone’s cats out of a downpour. I have no idea why, or what we did afterwards, apart from argue, probably. I realise that I don’t remember with any clarity which one the Thirlestane Road double window is that denotes the front room I drank away an entire nine months in. Nine months passes a great deal quicker these days.
Anger is an admission of defeat, says D. Boyle’s silly latest outing. Cod psycho-drama, flashbacks, Danny’s trademark writing-on-the-screen that he could not resist, one nice touch of the ketchup bottle in the foreground during a bloody interlude (Ecclestone in Shallow Grave - “You didn’t saw his feet off”). I think anger is more a selfish thing, but it can rule me. I don’t think it’s a defeat. I think it’s an admission of weakness, of the corporate training that can do nothing to affect my buzzing brain and shaky hands under self-created pressure. But defeat seems final, finite, fin. I don’t think anger means getting to close the chapter - isn’t that the point?
Ultimately I deal with anger and frustration worse than some folk who have far more pressing problems. Even if they appear to be happy, even if they appear to be fine, whatever shields they have manufactured to assist. Me, I just miss you from my head down to my toes.
Catherine, I Feel Sick
Oh look, here are your new favourite band. That wasn’t so hard now, was it?
Dans la Maison
“It is a collection of observations of things that happen in life, and as I’ve learned, life happens everywhere.”
- Sune Rose Wagner on The Raveonettes’s Observator
So what is happening dans la maison, then? Part-voyeur, part-androgynous teen outsider (inevitable that the insufferable Catcher In The Rye would get a mention), part straightforward Oedipal complex fantasy. Mostly, what happens is a condemnation of sorts; there are no stories in stable family homes (just pizza and TV), so let’s write a more compelling, observatory alternative, have your lead character instructed to do what it takes to precipitate a script, even if his personification of a Chekhov’s Gun ends up fracturing that home. First of many subtexts - contentedness and drama do not mix.
I see now, I see it clearly again; the power of film is usually in the fleeting, in the sense of vague inspiration. Film is a misleading mistress, a manipulative leading lady who likes to pretend she is full of the profound but actually exists as more of a portal, an annoyance. In the scheme of things, nobody sees uniquely enough to become a director who can capture a picture, nobody splits their personality well enough to act convincingly. It’s not like being moved by pop music to pick up a guitar and learn the introductory open chords. It’s not like reading a novel and sitting down with an empty typewriter to create a reaction.
So, if we are not to make film as a result of film, what’s the cinema for? “Entertainment, entertainment, don’t be so serious”, I can hear the hollow words ring and ring, and they are capable of making me feel stupid for even bothering to think at all – but entertainment needs to be able to be analysed and absorbed on any level, as momentary pleasure, or high art, or in the form of a mentor-and-would-be-pupil arrangement if need be (Jonathan Meades, Jack White, Clive James, Kevin Shields, if you’re wondering). For most of us, the consumption of film does not produce any form of practical imitation, flattering or otherwise. It gets read, discussed, argued about, ordered in lists; but few enhance their understanding by trying their hand and producing the craft. Movies, to me, have always inadvertently pronounced my limitations rather than freeing anything interior. This would seem like a shame, but the real reason I stopped being actively interested in cinema was the depressing tidal wave of pure pop – the triumph of the willing rejection that film could be anything other than entertainment. The idea of homages to any of that is about the only concept that could worsen the state. I was jaded enough. I quit.
“I don’t care for compliments, but you write well.”
So what’s the point? It’s not often that a film leaves me with an itch to write, for the sake of it, because I no longer want to be a lousy writer, because I could maybe, one day, with effort, be fine at it. Not just in response to what was in the night before’s movie, just because. Even my beloved Wonder Boys didn’t conclude like that – with the feeling that “just because” was enough. This is a different idea to something like, say, 500 Days of Summer’s knowing preoccupation with urban conservation, where kids got interested in architecture because that was precisely what was intended to happen. Sales of Alain de Botton’s canon must have spiked, which certainly can’t be a bad thing. But instead of feeding us with a spoon, of telling us what to turn our minds to, Dans la Maison contains an aura, not an overt message, not anything specific, no sponsored hobbies. It feels literary in structure, but the dialogue is natural, and awkward, and brilliant, and doesn’t flow properly, and is something we might envisage hearing in reality, but is still slightly too highbrow for that. Nobody is lecturing on right and wrong. Stalking, literary merits, failed art and failed books, wasted potential, dreadful marriages, falling in love with the maternal figure present only because she happens to be there, talented emotional manipulation of both friend and mentor. It just happens. Take what you want from it.
All of this begs the really fundamental question; what is real here? The answer is as simplistic as the query - mainly it’s what you would like to be. We see Claude’s horrendous domestic reality for ten seconds of screen time, and it is all the more chilling, and enormously moving, for that. We are left to dwell ourselves. We are entrusted to be thoughtful enough to do so and let it haunt us.
Dans la Maison is smart stuff. I – almost physically - didn’t want it to end, partly because the film making was so effortless, and partly as the wry conclusion (see the artificial curtain pulling across the Rear Window-baiting final shot – not the first time that the fourth wall is breached, each time the schism between reality and fiction twitching further) could only be read as exactly that - a conclusion. Life is not a series of endings; it’s a series of random, ethereal, senseless scripts without a satisfying moral, without decent answers. By choosing to use a finite visual medium to describe one of the bothersome tales in his head, Ozon never had any option but to end his twisting story eventually, jolting us back into our own, rather than allowing us to meander through his any further. That his creations are far more immersive than anything I can come up with means this is not really a pity, but still. Pity.
Anyone can be fooled with pretty words, no matter how pretty themselves, and I wonder if that is such a bad thing after all. Falling for uncanny, comforting reflections of yourself, but improved, enhanced, more talented, is a thing worthy of ridicule - but that still has to be better than having all the answers laid out on a plate. It has to be.