“Hope Springs” Only Seems Eternal

Who are these people and why should we care about them?

These are the questions facing anyone unwise enough to shell out eight dollars to see David Frankel’s film, an example of therapy gone boring.

Who are these people and why should we care about them? We never know the answer to the first. But 15 minutes in it is pretty clear there is no why.

We know Kay is unhappy.  We know why. We’ve met Arnold.

We know Arnold is unhappy.  We’re not sure why but pretty sure we don’t care.  We don’t know whether Dr. Feld, a New England interpersonal Yoda, has any feelings beyond kind bemusement.

It takes a lot for this reviewer to dislike a film starring Meryl Streep and/or Tommy Lee Jones.  It takes a lot for this filmgoer to find Steve Carell irritating.

Director David Frankel has managed both.  As a late Baby Boomer I am very interested in the subject matter of relationships over time and how we change.

Shifts in character come from neither arc nor revelation, just grinding gears.

The ick factor for me wasn’t about aging adults exploring and addressing sexuality and intimacy.  The ick factor (especially the massage scene… I’ll say no more) came from editing preoccupied with action devoid of meaning.

Hope arises from depth.  This film floats on the surface with gestures of character and indication of story.

With apologies to Ms. Streep and Mr. Jones, I would like my eight dollars back.

“The Well Digger’s Daughter”

Daniel Auteuil’s film, “The Well Digger’s Daughter” is a small tapestry of love, family, and honor woven across class and generations.  Gelled pastoral images and muted passionate music illumine his steadfast choice of restrained intimacy in screenplay and direction.

Auteuil’s brilliance at self-direction and in his work with the other actors also shows restraint and economy of moment and expression.  What is left unsaid or understated carries more power than speech.  The crossing of a stream and then a brief ride on a motorcycle without dialogue or drama initiates the seduction of Patricia, the well digger’s daughter, by Jacques, the general store owner’s son.

Jacques and Patricia are prince and princess known and limited by what their parents do.  He is described as “a gentleman, but still kind.”  She is beautiful and is so loving that her father says with astonishment that he loves her as he would a son.

War and consequences separate the lovers, but it is losing and finding family and right relationship that sweeps through this film again and again, like the wind in country fields of Alpes Côte-Azur.

In many ways this is too beautiful a remake of the 1940 classic by Marcel Pagnol.  The harsh realities of class and survival are as muted as the lovely fields and operatic themes of the score.

Nevertheless, this is a more modest film in which you care about every character (seriously, every one) as they navigate their multiple selves and react to their own actions with surprise, “It isn’t me.”   Pascal, the honest well digger and widowed father of six daughters, seems to know who he is and what he honors.  So it is hard to imagine that he is surprised by his need to distrust those who “sell tools but never use them,” or that he might lose through pride what he knows he loves with his life.

The values portrayed and prized in this film, and needed today more than ever are reflected in Auteuil’s direction: the restraint of honor and the extravagant generosity of love.

Delicate performances by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as Patricia and Kad Marad as the unrequited “clean and decent” well digging suitor Felipe bring small revelations with each turn.  And even though you can see the turns coming a long way down the road, you look forward to each one.

“Death of a Salesman” preview re-view February, 2012

From the silent weary entrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Willy Loman in the opening scene of Mike Nichol’s production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” it is clear that “attention must be paid” to the gravity and scale of one small life.

Miller’s play expresses and exposes the tragedies taking place throughout this country today.  The tragedies of promised dreams unfulfilled, tragedies of lives destroyed by flaws, denial, disappointment and lies.

My father, Walt, was a milkman at the moment that milk routes were deemed no longer profitable by the companies.  Instead of bearing the cost of the change, they sold the milk routes to the men as a promise of the American dream of owning their own business.  However, they also had to purchase the products from the company, while paying down additional debt to the company for the trucks, losing their benefits as newly self-employed, and working themselves beyond their strength in the inexorable march to bankruptcy.

Miller alludes to the changes named progress that leave workers behind, focusing instead on Willy’s confusion and delusion.  Willy prizes being well liked without perceiving how others perceive him.  He confuses the road with freedom.

I saw the play at a preview performance. The claustrophobia induced by the set, staging and the isolation of the unseen bedroom served the play well and echoed the play’s earlier set design.  The disconnect between Willy and Linda in this production from performance and direction, and the fact that Andrew Garfield had not yet found his way into the role of Biff, did not serve well.

A respectful revival —  but it was Hoffman’s sometimes subtle, sometimes lurching movements between big dreams and self-loathing, between reality shared and reality conjured that was deep and transfixing.  From his first entrance, all the Walt Lockwoods and Willy Lomans were represented.  His performance was speaking the truth of Miller’s text through the text to the issues and decades beyond it.