Tag Archives: Marion Cotillard

Marion and Macbeth

My second actor I admire who’s just turned 40 is someone that has once starred in the same film as Kate Winslet, but not in a scene together. She is five days older but I did my piece on Kate first as I knew Kate first.

 

The face on the weekend newspaper pullout drew me. But the pictures on the inside of her in her next film startled me. A young woman chose to become older, less conventionally or obviously attractive, and be in a gruelling, often sad story. To take on such a part intrigued as much as it impressed me. The film was La Vie En Rose. The actress – Marion Cotillard.

From then on, I began looking out for Marion; like Kate and a few others, it’s almost a given that her presence in a film will mean my presence at the cinema. I prefer Marion’s French speaking roles, although I have seen several of her Hollywood ones too. She enlivened Inception and gave it heart and psychology. She has told Petit Mouchoirs (AKA Little White Lies, I prefer the French title); she has been the magical, time travelling muse of Woody Allen; she’s fought for her job at a Belgian factory. And she was in Mary, along with Juliette Binoche – an elusive but brilliant film on the making of a Jesus epic, focussing on Ms Magdalene.

But my favourite role of Marion’s is Rust and Bone, which I review on here – a film of the stomach and the heart.

I waited to post this until I’d seen and thought about Marion’s latest role as Lady Macbeth.

Although I’d wanted this to be a post in praise of Marion, I knew before starting this that it would end as an appraisal of Macbeth.

So let me round up what I love about Marion before moving to Scotland. I want to counteract the negative recent discussions, pulling up some past comments she made, and say that I admire someone who doesn’t take what is the supposed accepted norm and isn’t afraid to ask questions about our supposed reality. That’s not ridiculous, it’s courageous.

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Right, we’re in Caledonia now; it’s the 11th Century and snow is howling about our muddy mountain camp; blood and sweat make the protagonists’ hair stick up like a duck’s tail.

What I didn’t like about this Macbeth is that there was not enough Lady Macbeth. Or witches. And so I didn’t get to enjoy much of the person for whom I watched the film.

This meant that it was a very male focussed story, or truly, a very Michael Fassbender focussed story. It’s one of those plays who are basically vehicles for the acting prowess of eponymous hero.

I felt alienated as I need women in a story to have a way into it. And I didn’t like the person Macbeth, so I had little to hook onto.

Then was my big issue – I need to check the play to see if it’s better fleshed out in there. I’ll come back to what was missing as my snaky logic mind is going to take me to two other places before I get to elucidate this point. I’ll do the first natural link – abridgement.

I know that some of the witches’ lines from the play were cut, and I enjoy the witches most. I also noted that both witch and wife are temptresses, Eve and serpent in one, and that it’s easy to see this as an almost Tertullian view of women – the “devil’s gateway”. Tertullian is one church father I never let claim paternity rights, or sent a greetings card to. And it’s not a view I’m happy to see apparently propounded. I was surprised that Germaine Greer, queen of radical feminism (or at least, in its royal family) did not mention this in her insightful Oxford Very Short Introduction to Shakespeare, though she spends some pages on the play. Macbeth is about subverting the natural order, but that interpretation suggests that women being agents and instigators brings down horror on everyone. Again, it’s a Fall story, though Scotland here doesn’t exactly look like Eden.

I could tell that it was a film made by someone not familiar with Scotland. Indeed, director Justin Kurzel is Australian.

It looked like Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights. It also looked how a non British person told me she pictured the country before living here. I thought that our films would make her think we lived in Jane Austen land. But she said that due to the films she’d seen, she imagined us to be gritty, muddy, bleak and rainy. This was just such a film.

My practical self leapt in – no-one who’s lived in Scotland would wear so little outdoors in winter. The Real Macbeth website shows him in head armour and with furry animal skins as a cloak. This is a sensible Scots warrior. However, I noted Inverness was too cold to shag without all your clothes on, according to this film. Like Shakespeare in Love, the key couple said their lines intently whilst in the act. That’s about all these two films have in common.

I have a big bugbear about sense of place and architecture especially. As I can recognise buildings from a glimpse and often date them, I knew instantly where the filming took place and that it was a) far from the place that real Macbeth lived, and b) totally the wrong period.

Bamburgh Castle looks wonderful, but it’s not Scottish, and worse, it wasn’t built in Macbeth’s day! Castles were a Norman invention, and Macbeth died before they got building.

That brings me to an even more upsetting piece of location. The oldest parts of Ely Cathedral are c100 years younger than the actual King Macbeth. The Normans built structures greater than had ever been seen by Dark Age dwellers. No palace ever had spaces the size of Ely Cathedral’s 248ft long nave, save Westminster Hall. Yet the idea of cathedrals for palaces was also used in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth – but with an interesting contrast.

Shekhar also had high crane shots down onto tiny people; it was part of his mis en scene to create a dark, frightening world where Elizabeth was not yet an established queen. He also chose stone for destiny, as something outlasting and greater than even a great prince. Durham cathedral, the location for the royal palace of the first film, was a male dominated world of court, and Elizabeth had yet to come into her own.

When she’s done so in The Golden Age, the stone shade shifts: it’s warmer, the sets are brighter, there’s more colour. Shekhar leaves the brooding Celtic North East for the Ship of the East Anglian fens. The location of Ely cathedral signifies that although we’re in the same palace, Elizabeth’s in control; it’s now the court of a woman. And yet that same cathedral serves Macbeth as the setting for the downward spiralling darkness of a male dominated world but woman generated ambition that leads to murder and madness. Similar shooting, contrasting story and symbolism. Ely Cathedral also features in my story.

Elizabeth and Lady Macbeth dine in the same room – the Lady Chapel of Ely – but that Scot would have seen no nodding ogees – for Gothic came in well after her time. The Macbeths sleep in a bed that’s 16th Century – Elizabeth could have done so, but not they.

Obviously, a look has been chosen that ignores the furniture of the time, which was brightly painted – but it jangled on me every time I saw the Norman aisles turned into bedrooms that they never could’ve been. And there was stained glass in the shots – also not yet invented. And under the 14th Century famous lantern tower, 11th Century Macbeth curses with Satan’s name – which surprised me was allowed in a living church.

What I minded most was that the film never gave a sense of why the Macbeths want the throne so badly. We’ve barely met the Macbeths before they’re desiring and scheming – wouldn’t they believe the kingship prophecy would fulfil itself, without so quickly and ineptly making it happen through foul means? The first time Lady Macbeth speaks, she’s onto the “Unsex me here” speech, so understated that I didn’t feel her evil incantation had reached sufficient climax to execute the execution. Without a real impetus and build up towards the desire for the act, the central piece of plot fails.

It also seems a ridiculously conceived murder. Two people in the camp stand to gain from Duncan’s death. One runs – yes he could be a culprit, or understandably, he’s fled for fear of his own life. The other chief suspect kills Duncan’s guards in a fury that surely says – 1) I can kill violently and at close range, 2) I’m overacting to cover up. Duncan dies not through accident or disappearance, but a very obvious murder in Macbeth’s own home! Wouldn’t need Miss Marple for anyone to get Macbeth on trial!

He is a horrid king, not a hero as some say of him, and so I cannot understand how ruled as long as he did, nor did I want to spend time with him on set.

The scene of Macduff’s wife and children’s death was so horrific that I couldn’t see why people would stand by as it happened. It’s not in the play that way. And I felt that Macbeth would be killed at that moment – no need to wait for the avenging one who was ripped untimely from his mother’s womb. What a strange plot that is! Aren’t those delivered through caesarean considered born of a woman?

In thinking of how that prophecy could have been better fulfilled – someone begotten not created? – I wish to nearly round up by commenting on the lack of magic and how it was missed in a medium that would have done those supernatural elements so proud. The film tried to be semi rational and it failed because it took out those elements of an essentially magical story. The more literal and rational you make Macbeth, the less it works.

I am angry at how witches are portrayed, when they have fought to have their sisters freed from the vilifying paranoia that has dogged them so long. The witches here are more seers than hags. If they were men, they’d be called wise men and prophets. Witchcraft is the craft of the wise, yet these sisters are definitely weird, and I’d have preferred in the Terry Pratchett sense. Shakespeare’s contemporaries may have seen witches as but is it fair to still portray them so today?

Visually, the scene that remained with me was the orangey tiered mists of the final battle. We’d seen orange before, in flames, and the fire and blood connoted was therefore fitting and powerful.

I struggle with tragedy as a genre – this is too tragic. At least Romeo and Juliet do something for their families and city potentailly. The Picturehouse brochure tries to connect Macbeth to popular political TV shows House of Cards and Game of Thrones, and to the war on terror, but I didn’t feel anything very contemporary in this film, other than the stylistics.

I am reading a Scots penned book on the real Macbeth and may return to discuss this or with any insights I have about the play; but as a vehicle for social commentary or psychology, I felt I didn’t move very far.

But as I sought out both play and historic figure (somewhat unlike Shakespeare’s king), the film must have had some success.

Back to my novel campaign and I’ll be back on Monday with an English centenary

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Rust and Bone – a film of the heart and the stomach

Watching films in French brings back my high school language lessons. In my limited halting French, I imagined trying to explain what I thought of a film which had been powerful; sometimes tender, but also gut wrenching – and came up with the phrase “it is a film of the heart… and the stomach.”

DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING THE FILM

I’d hate to spoil those punches by hinting at them to anyone who’s not seen it – I always enjoy letting a film unfold with its surprises just as they should be – unknown. The reviews I read did not give it away, for once. So don’t let this. (I hadn’t seen the Telegraph who ruined it in the first line, and I can’t bear to comment on the Mail).

There are two main turning points which are shown from underwater, wonderfully stylised, one of which does not make full sense until the next scene, when our horror on discovery is also the character’s.

I’ve thought back to my post on Flickering Myth, Triumph or Tragedy, also about women who endure horrendous things in films. Which is this? Picturehouses brochure said that Rust and Bone’s director Jacques Audiard likes to ruminate on the randomness of casual fate to alter lives. But I do not believe that fate is arbitrary.

http://flickeringmyth.blogspot.com/2010/01/tragedy-or-triumph-amelia-and.html

Unlike the topics of my Flickering Myth post, this is not a true story. My way of making sense of it, real or not, would be to see what Marion Cotillard’s character Stephanie gains from the… orca episode. (Did anyone else wake up the next day and check they still had legs? Or want to make more fuss of them after seeing this?) Yes, you read right… I think one could gain from such a horror, though it’s easier to see when it’s not touching your life.

Looking at life like a story is a very helpful way of understanding it. Yes it does imply an author. When planning a story, the writer is always thinking about development. There must be an arc, even if it is a dipping , swirling one, to each character’s journey.

Ali’s character clearly benefits from meeting Stephanie. He’s irresponsible and accidentally brutal and a bit feckless. By the end, those prize fighting fists that once banged his son to shut him up have been damaged in fighting through the ice to pull that same disregarded son out of a frozen river. Ali learns to cry. He learns to tell a girl he loves her, instead of just having casual sex; he learns gentleness. He starts to learn about having a relationship and being a father.  I was about to add “financial responsibility” to that list, but realised it sounds the kind of conventional idea of growing up that I despise.

Ali’s benefits to Stephanie are also obvious: a woman who has lost any passion for living is persuaded to leave her disabled adapted home and enjoy swimming. She gains confidence and shines again physically. He allows her… I am not sure how I would term the sex. It seemed the most unappealing offer – “I’ll show you if it still works”… and without any intimacy or build up or affection, performs the minimal. Stephanie blossoms there too, and is later seen astride him, her thighs tattooed with “Left and right” in military stencil – an odd way of embracing those stumps. She goes back to Marineworld where her legs were last seen and even speaks with a killer whale and meets her old colleagues. She learns to walk, and then, kind of dance. She too gains a boyfriend… but her new finances come from his fighting and being made the betting organiser of illegal fights, a gap left by a criminal whose entrepreneurial activities sack Ali’s sister, Anna, who has been supporting Ali and his son.

But I have two queries: one is how far that arc for both of them really goes, because I’m not very satisfied that violent, ruleless fighting is a freeing career for either of them. And to see if Stephanie gains something from her unwitting Jaws incident, we have to know more about the life she left behind the day she work up in the hospital.

Tragedy is an opportunity, and it can be a way forward out of something (again easier to say hypothetically, but this is how I try to think). Stephanie’s erm, situation is well known – it hits national television (perhaps further) – but unlike Amy Eckhart or Christine from Changeling, her achievements are not not. Not everyone suffering (and that’ll be most of us) will became famed for what we do with it. Stephanie’s story is inspiring – to see her get out of bed and then have an active life again – but not to enter a demimonde with a lunk.

What little we do see of her full limbed previous life is her killer whale training, her not too nice seeming boyfriend, Simon, and that she goes to a nightclub alone and gets into a fight.  Picturehouses suggests that her family are stiflingly condescending . If that’s so (I was unsure I picked that up) then Ali’s presence not only gives her something she’s not getting elsewhere, but that perhaps her family and friendship circle was not strong. However, she seems to have little of it – so rather than strengthening it through her incident, she loses them more.

My gut feeling that I’d enjoy this film was right – though I did not know my gut would literally feel wrenched (but not in an upsetting, unwatchable way). I am intrigued to find out how the effects were done, as I presume that Marion still has feet… but now I’m reflecting more, I am a little unsatisfied. I didn’t fid the anatomy lesson voiceover epilogue from Ali very helpful, and I didn’t really rally for him or get into his Fight Club world. I suspect awards are looming, but felt this kind of role touts them by its very nature. I was impressed by Marion, but wondered if any illness or disability or other suffering makes us feel we are watching a better performance. Because I didn’t really see the full arc in Stephanie that I would have liked. But perhaps those who believe in randomness and lack of author  in life wouldn’t write it in fiction, and I think that is where I differed enough to  recommend but not rave about the film.

As a coda, I want to talk about intrusive medicine. I was unsure if the whale ate Stephanie’s legs or the hospital did. The BBC and the BBFC says they are amputated. Unconscious, she could have no way of allowing it. I would hate my sister if I realised she had given consent for it, as Stephanie’s has. How badly were the legs mangled? So often we don’t give parts of our bodies the chance to grow again, and we cut out instead of changing energy. We would be surprised by how much can heal itself – not just our bones (as the film’s epilogue mentions). I am sure the floating figure after the whale crash had full legs. The shock for me is not the whale skidding over the stage, but the actions of hospital and family, and the ugliness of artificial limbs.

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Contagion

A film with three of my favourite actors in is a treat that I don’t think I’ve ever had before. However it turned out not to be much of a treat. It was just OK, and I agree with the reviews that say that there’s not enough characterisation and that breadth has precedence over depth – which weakens this story.

I didn’t agree with the billings about the disquieting reality of the film. The only chill I got was from an air vent in the cinema,
and the thought of how much control is exerted by authorities, making the crisis worse. I can see the rationale behind quarantine and isolation, but this soon leads to economic problems, and the lack of what creatures most need –  connection.

I can believe that there would be looting – this is the nation that rioted over stocks of Cabbage Patch kids, so the final food and medicine is hardly a surprise.

The film feels like an authorised version where the officials are the good guys. It’s got some grey areas and tries to show a variety of issues (too many) but feels like the end of Source Code where the immorally resuscitated corpse gladly submits to serving America. (Knowing that story is written by an Englishman whose first film was a conspiracy story, I am now suspicious). This was another America speaks for the world movie, although it contains more than one European actor.

It reminded me of the last world war where peers as well as authorities imposed the desired behaviour on citizens, making them feel they let down their nation by not conforming.

I dislike the idea that the outspoken blogger is the villain, when he could have been the saviour. There’s no government cover up or disturbing bio-warfare after all – the movie feels like it has been an advert for wash your hands. The blogger’s critique is shown to finally be as dangerous and corrupt as anything he posts. But it is true that animals are sacrificed in the name of getting us a cure; and that the production of medicines and rare commodities became very lucrative during the times of disease and disaster. The public are controlled and what we know is controlled.

I am also suspicious of the medical world. I am sure many in it are genuine in the quest to make people well and to help, but it crushes anything that challenges it with the support of the legal profession and the government.

Alterative therapies are gaining recognition but have to defer to conventional western medicine to avoid law suits and being closed down.

The film has characters based on the real life Centers for  Disease, who collaborated with the film. Looking on CDC’s website, I’m appalled by the statement under Global Regional Centers for Disease Detection, end of para 1:

“Most importantly, none of these outbreaks became a health threat to the United  States”

The CDC run round the world, intervening (or is that interfering) in other countries, imposing a beast practice (interesting typo, I left that in), and yet saying that their job is well done because no one at home got hurt – as if Americans are more valuable  than Scots or Mexicans.

The CDC site feels very public relations – ‘we work for you 24/7’,’ read our real life stories about why we do what we do….’ it’s all emotive, sensationalist, reading like a party political broadcast. It’s advertising.

Another disturbing quote is:

“The United States had a choice: gamble H1N1 would not kill in high numbers, or work as fast as possible to develop a vaccine and make it available to as many Americans as possible. In fact, there was no choice—the vaccine had to be made and distributed” (italics mine)

But what of the cynical view that vaccines make money?

My thoughts are – why is vaccine the only way to deal with  illness? The film says that it is slow to make vaccines – it took 6 months to control the disease. Methodologically, growing a disease to play with it and see if you can work out how to reverse or nullify it seems a very limited and quite strange way to tackle a problem, yet it is the prevalent if not only method of science.

I am horrified that viruses are created by government paid scientists – how can that ever be justifiable?

Can’t diseases be more than just hygiene related problems – what about a deeper problem?

What would spiritual alternative healers make of this?

What of ancient and native medical wisdom?

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