Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Squid and the Whale, ZAC, Pastis and Inexplicable Fatigue

Getting back into the movies after the philistine distraction of the World Cup. My bicycle being now back on the road, I crossed the Seine to the relatively new (three years old) MK2 Bibiliothèque right beside the relatively new (seven years old) Bibliothethèque Nationale François Mitterand. It is the largest multiplex in Paris intra-muros, fourteen screens, four restaurants, replete with gimmicks (restaurant called Chez Jules et Jim, with wine list chosen by Claude Chabrol, fashion designer Sonia Rykiel is credited by the company as 'stylist') and easily the best place to watch films, if only you have a car or a bike to get there. It's a bit of a long walk from most parts of town and the Metro stop for Bibliothèque is rather stupidly situated on the other side of the railway tracks that lead into Gare d'Austerlitz, thereby occasioning a lengthy trek to make the start of the film. It is one of the few multiplex cinemas I have seen that can be called either beautiful or architecturally interesting. It is imposing, long and white, like an ocean liner, with each side generously glazed, so the lobby gets a lot of natural light (most of the screens are located in the basement). An architect friend of mine pointed out that the positioning of the huge cinema in front of the much larger National Library, might have been an act of political vandalism, green-lighted by a rival of the late Mitterand (though he is happy to acknowledge that it was, in turn, a German friend of his that suggested this to him) but I think that it provides a charming counterpoint, nestling at the foot of the library's towers, like a kitten beside her mother.

The opening of the library, and later the cinema, brought much-needed life to this area of the 13th arrondissement, which, with its mix of railway stations, elevated metro lines, government buildings, purpose-built theme bars, concert venues and avenues named after long-forgotten French presidents (I'm talking more Vincent Auriol than François Mitterand), is one of the more intriguing parts of town. It's not exactly somewhere you would want to live and it is best visited by bicycle, being a more popular, more lively antitode to the cold corporatism of La Défense on the other side of town. The whole area, which straddles the Seine, and therefore the 12th and 13th arrondissements, was intially designated a ZAC (more about that shortly) in the 1980s, when the French Ministry of Finance moved into new, futuristic offices (they still look strangely futuristic) in Bercy, the old centre of the Parisian wine trade. Since then all the developments alluded to above have followed, including the newest of the Métro lines, the driverless line 14, turning this part of Paris, that previously was mere drive-through for inhabitants of the south-eastern suburbs, into a semi-habitable version of the London of J.G. Ballard's Crash. ZAC means, in French zone d'amènagement concerté, which in English translates to the scarcely more exciting 'integrated development zone' but it should give you a bit of an idea...

And, so, after those lengthy trailers, to the film. The Squid and the Whale (or, its more prosaic French title Les Berkman se séparent). Produced by Wes Anderson, and written and directed by Noam Baumbach, who co-wrote Anderson's The Life Aquatic, the film has been out some time in the English-speaking world and only arrived in France yesterday, strangely as often it is the other way round with English-language films. It is a largely unremarkable film though not without its better qualities. Set in 1986, the semi-autobiographical tale of the break-up of the marriage of two writers seen through the eyes of their teenage sons, it convinces mainly in an emotional sense, and this is what makes it difficult to watch. Anyone who has ever gone through a painful break-up, marriage or otherwise, will recognise a bit of themselves in the recriminations thrown about as everything falls apart. The film ultimately points the finger at the men in the family, as the elder son appears to be about to repeat the mistakes of the father, as he dumps his plain-looking girlfriend, in the hope of doing better, only to regret it after. What is strange is the parent-couple, Jeff Daniels (hirsute) and Laura Linney (dyed red hair) look more like a more exalted pair, Nick Nolte and Meryl Streep or Tilda Swinton. I wonder was this deliberate? In any case neither of them convince as intellectuals, all the blather about A Tale of Two Cities being 'minor Dickens' and Metamorphosis being 'Kafkaesque' (though, to be fair, Baumbach does take the piss out of this) seems tacked on. Not that bad but not hugely memorable.

Having declined two invitations to either go to dinner or out drinking, I cycled back into the Marais and drank three pastis, before succumbing to inexplicable fatigue. I made my excuses to the people I was with and rolled on home. Though I had intended calling a few people back in Ireland, I keeled over on the couch immediately. That was at 11pm. I woke three hours later and decided to crawl into bed. It might have been a heavy bout of low pressure yesterday that was in the air. Or maybe I was just ZACked...


Luke Mc said...

The Squid & The Whale was made for me by Jeff Daniels who was so horribly believable as the father. I noticed in shame that the father is wearing a pair of runners for nearly all the film that I also possess. I have not worn them since.

Also, it is less that 90 minutes long For which we should be grateful.