Thursday, November 24, 2011

Memoirs of a Geisha

A story like mine should never be told. For my world is as forbidden as it is fragile. Without its mysteries it cannot survive. I certainly wasn't born to the life of a geisha. Like so much in my strange life, I was carried there by the current.
Memoirs of a Geisha, released in 2005 and directed by Rob Marshall, has an outstanding cast of beautiful women: Li Gong, Michelle Yeoh, and discovery (for me) ZiyiZhang. It is inspired from the acclaimed book of the same name by ArthurGolden, published in 1997. It relates the story of little girl Chiyo (SuzukaOhgo) in the 1930s. She is sold to a geisha house and the movie is about her rise to becoming the most celebrated geisha in Japan. Tortured by beautiful established geisha Matsumomo (Li Gong), she meets the Chairman when she is a little girl, and makes it her life mission to see him again. She realizes her dream when Mameha, a geisha from a rival house, takes her under her wing.

So, I have not read the book, so I cannot really say if it is a good adaptation of the book. I found it beautiful, but mostly because of the sceneries of Japan, the beautiful outfits, the poignant story, the platonic love. I am still puzzled as to what a geisha is, I think the concept is blurry: prostitute, escort girl, or, as the movie describes, “art”?

Wikipedia mentions that:
It was traditional in the past for established geisha to take a danna, or patron. A danna was typically a wealthy man, sometimes married, who had the means to support the very large expenses related to a geisha's traditional training and other costs. This sometimes occurs today as well, but very rarely. A geisha and her danna may or may not be in love, but intimacy is never viewed as a reward for the danna's financial support. While it is true that a geisha is free to pursue personal relationships with men she meets through her work, such relationships are carefully chosen and unlikely to be casual. A hanamachi tends to be a very tight-knit community and a geisha's good reputation is not taken lightly.
Mameha: Your cave is untouched. Men like that. We call this "mizuage". And to become a full geisha, you must sell it to the highest bidder.

Chairman: We must not expect happiness, Sayuri. It is not something we deserve. When life goes well, it is a sudden gift; it cannot last forever...

Mameha: Remember, Chiyo, geisha are not courtesans. And we are not wives. We sell our skills, not our bodies. We create another secret world, a place only of beauty. The very word "geisha" means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art

Mameha:  You cannot call yourself a truse geisha until you can stop a man in his tracks with a single look.
Colonel: [stops Sayuri as she is exiting the hot spring] So, what is the protocol?
Sayuri: Excuse me?
Colonel: Suppose I wanted to see you in private.
Sayuri: I beg your pardon, colonel, but that is not a geisha's custom.
Colonel: [rubs Sayuri's shoulder] Don't be coy. I mean, if it's a matter of price, I'm sure...
Sayuri: If there were a price, you could never afford it.
Sayur: The heart dies a slow death. Shedding each hope like leaves, until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains.
Li Gong and Michelle Yeoh, in their respective role, are simply magnificent, and Ziyi Zhang was a true discovery for me.
All in all, I am not sure this is an accurate description of the Japanese culture, I am not sure this is a proper reflection of the book, but I’ll say this: Yes, I still do not know / understand what a geisha is exactly, but I enjoyed the story for what it was, without judgment on accuracy, without looking at the historical or cultural context. I had a good time and, after all, that’s what movies are for, right?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Dirty Dozen

Surely The Dirty Dozen (1967), directed by Robert Aldrich, should be counted as a true classic. I have seen comments criticizing it as a bad war movie but, the truth is, I think this is a bit like Inglorious Basterds, set during WW II but not really a war movie. Cast is extraordinary: Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson (The SevenMagnificent, The Great Escape), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), JohnCassavetes, Donald Sutherland.
Reisman is a major in the US Army with unorthodox methods, which makes him unpopular with the top officers. He is assigned twelve prisoners sentenced to death so he can train them and embark them on a mission in Germany.
Movie lasts for more than 2 hours, and most of it is dedicated to the training of the twelve prisoners, the “dirty dozen”.

Reisman: You've seen a general inspecting troops before haven't you? Just walk slow, act dumb and look stupid!

Reisman: You know what to do, feed the French and shoot the Germans!

Reisman: What do you think, Sergeant?
Sergeant Bowren: I think you'll do just fine, sir.
Reisman: Don't give me that! I said what do you think?

Sergeant Bowren: I think the first chance one of those lovers gets, he's going to shoot the Major right in the head... sir.

One way to enjoy this movie is to not see it as a war film. Mostly it is fun – the training scenes are the best. But it’s got it all: humor, action, suspense, great pace. It is politically incorrect, with no cheap heroic actions, no patriotic bullshit. But to me, Reisman (Marvin) represents the best manager ever. He manages to bring the twelve men on his side, and to create a real team spirit between the members of the team. Originally through deals and threats, but in the end there is a real complicity between everyone. John Cassevetes shines and I think not enough credit is given to Lee Marvin’s performance.  I keep a soft spot for Charles Bronson, magnificent as ever.
All in all, a very good moment

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Last Night

Last Nightwas released in 2010 and directed by Massy Tadjedin. At the time I wanted to see it but by the time I got around to it, it was not showing in theaters anymore. Finally I rented the DVD and spent about one and a half hours watching Keira Knightley, Guillaume Canet (Joyeux Noël) , Sam Worthington and Eva Mendes.
Jo (Knightley) and Michael (Worthington) have been married for a few years and after one party Jo gets jealous about Michael’s sexy work colleague Laura (Mendes). The following day, Michael goes away on a business trip with Laura, while Laura finds herself embarked on a long night out with ex-boyfriend Alex (Canet), who’s just showed up in New York.
We follow the two “couples” on this long night, simultaneously. Will they, or will they not succumb to the attraction? Storyline is pretty simple, but asks some important questions about relationships, faithfulness, what makes / breaks a couple, etc…

First things first, the selection of city, music, settings and actor (with a small reserve on Worthington, whom I found expressionless and boring) is excellent. However, I found the pace slow, and I only made it to the end because the film is quite short. At some point it became tiresome to alternate between the two different settings.
The main couple deals with their respective temptations and we are left wondering who actually cheated: is pure physical attraction (Laura / Michael) better or worse than a true connection of the souls (Joanna / Alex)? There is the question of giving in to the attraction or not, being able to resist it or not – in the end, even though he has the “bad guy” role, Michael is actually more true to himself than Joanna, who tempts fate many times during that night (one might call it "playing with fire"), even teasing Alex to a point of what I’d call cruelty.

Truman: Do you think you'll tell your husband about tonight?
Joanna: I don't know, tonight's not over yet.

Joanna: What I wouldn't have given to have tired of you.

It is also about the key to a successful, lasting, relationship: Alex and Joanna only had brief moments together in the past, and did not get the chance to get into the usual couples routine, getting tired of each other, arguing, having to make efforts to make the relationship work. In the movie, they seem to regret it, or feel they did not have enough time. Personally I was rooting for Alex (Canet, pure eye candy, seriously, he was so hot in this film) because of the clear chemistry and passion, but I’d bet without hesitation that, a few years down the road, they’d end up exactly where Jo and Michael are after a few years together. The end of the movie leaves many questions unanswered and we can’t help but wonder what happens next. As in real life, probably nothing? Each one knows something happened, but they’ll continue as if nothing happened and go on? Likely. But the film ends, with no warning, many questions unanswered and up to the viewer to draw his / her own conclusions. I am not sure whether this is brilliant or crazy.