Day 167: Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi 2017 + The Passenger 1975 + Mon Oncle 1958

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi 2017

A long and disappointing film. I’m reserving judgment until I have time to digest all the things that were wrong and anything that was good. At this stage, right after the screening, I’m of the opinion that there were some terrible scenes, and some very good scenes and that an iconic character was treated very badly by the writer/director. The thing I don’t want to forget is that despite the things I think were massive mistakes, there were good things. It’s a matter of making a list of what went right and what went wrong.

The Passenger 1975

Such was my disappointment with Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), that after making my blog entry at 3. 30am, I decided to watch another bleak, intense, Antonioni film, The Passenger, in an attempt to cheer myself up. It turned out to be another examination of people wandering through life with little joy or intent. This being the sixth Antonioni film I’ve watched – La Notte and L’Eclisse twice each – I’ve noticed that characters tend to wander around places, cities or towns, often aimlessly, while carrying a great deal of inner pain or sadness, which Antonioni isn’t intending to explain in any detail, or at all. They all make connections with each other, usually around Antonioni male characters’ desire to have sex with the female characters. As his films progress the sex becomes less meaningful as an indicator of two people who want to continue and develop the relationship. The sex is great and it is meaningful only for as long as it lasts.

In Zabriskie Point, the alienation of the two main characters is even more emphatic than those in L’Eclisse. Although both pairs of characters don’t know each other for the first half of the film, Paul and Daria’s characters are even more alienated from whatever it is that is going on in their lives. Paul’s attitude to the life that goes on around him, is essentially, stop talking about being radical, go and be really radical: fight with police, buy a gun, steal a plane, and head out into the world with no plan or direction.

What we know in Zabriskie Point is that Paul is fed up with words, and protests and beating one’s head against a brick wall. He walks out of a student meeting discussing their issues and the forthcoming protests. He says he’s willing to die for anything that is really important, to him. He’s frustrated and goes on the run.

Daria’s father property developer. His world is that of expensive houses and making money. She’s so dissatisfied with her life she runs away from home and drives into the desert, deliberately keep her intentions and whereabouts from her worried father.

Two people alienated from their own world, find a brief moment of togetherness in the environment of the hot sun and the desert sands. They make love on the chalky plains of Zabriskie Point. As they have engaged and emotional sex with each other, Antonioni’s camera reveals that there is more than one copulating couple. There are two, then three, then a dozen.

In an era of free love and condition-less sex, this behaviour makes sense. Antonioni doesn’t explain himself, but it seems reasonable for me to hypothesize that although there are a dozen couples having sex on the sand, it’s a break in the formal reality of the story, because it doesn’t make sense for other characters to just turn up in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t give an indication that it’s a dream or a dreamlike sequence.

It’s a statement by the director. Maybe it is underlining the background of the cultural events of the time, where people connect, then disconnect, then connect with someone else, over and over. Maybe Antonioni wanted to include a sequence with naked beautiful bodies and push the boundaries of what is acceptable in terms of censorship. He’s being a radical himself, making a big budget movie for MGM, putting a sequence in it which will get it banned or an R or X-certificate, knowing that this will get him a lot of notoriety and not caring that MGM will lose their investment. Maybe it’s symbolic. For every Paul and Daria there’s got to be hundreds of other disenfranchised people, who feel their (personal) vote doesn’t count or their opinion doesn’t matter. If you stop caring about the things you were brought up to care about, which your parents cared about, then finding a point in life is through transient physical connections. The other couples surrounding Paul and Daria’s loving and happy physical connection makes it clear that there are hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of unhappy teenagers who are finding it hard to see the point of life. If Antonioni has a point, it would be that in 1969, 1970, it is a discontentment that is wider spread than teenagers but best illustrated through those on the verge of becoming adults.

The mantra I see in Antonioni’s films, all six of them I’ve watched so far, is that life is what it is, this film is what it is, what really matters is what is happening for an individual now, right now.

The state of a character in Antonioni’s film is frequently about what happens now, what the viewer sees now, what they think now, what the character feels now. It is what it is.

I don’t think I’ve accidentally stolen,“It is what it is”, from anyone other than Antonioni himself. It is implied in his films and he’s probably said it in interviews.

Mon Oncle 1958

I need to slip in a number of films around the normal schedule. So, Tati is not being approached by watch four in one week, but four in four weeks. First was Jour de fête (1949) then M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953), now Mon Oncle.

The first was uneven, but you could see the gentle genius in Tati in many scenes. Especially the observational Tati camera, which shows French people in little French towns, being part of their surroundings. The joy isn’t even mostly in the cleverly choreographed sequences or little bits of humour. It’s in the life that goes on in Tati’s frame.

Never moreso than in Mon Oncle, where it affected me bit by bit as all the elements accumulated, leading to a growing affection minute by minute.

For a film which was probably shot in 1957 and released in 1958, it’s remarkable for its invention of inventions. I have no idea when the garage door which goes up by a sensor was invented; or the button that unlatches the front gate; or window that is operated remotely; or kitchen gadgets.

I thought Holiday was good. But not a great film. I expected the same kind of film from Mon Oncle. I didn’t extend it a great deal of good will when it started but I was won over by the end.

  • the little boys with their pranks
  • the wedding anniversary presents
  • the bicycle parked in the brother-in-law’s spot
  • Hulot caught – many times – in the wrong place and blamed for something of which he was innocent
  • the heads popping up in the round windows, like pupils, watching Hulot bumble around at night
  • the bouncing water pitcher and the broken glass
  • the one shoe in wet white paint leading up and on top of a desk up to a small window
  • the little boy’s hand in his father’s hand at the very end

And then there’s Tati’s camera placement as a director. It’s artisti. Beyond the invention of his jokes and observations, there’s a talent I’d not appreciated before, that of the painter, the creator of images in frames. Just beautiful.