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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Secret of the Grain/Rachel Getting Married

By Luke

If you haven't heard of "The Secret of the Grain," you are part of 99% of America. Despite New York Times critic A.O. Scott calling it one of the best movies of the year and it winning the Cesar Award for Best Film (France's equivalent of the Oscars), it was only released in New York and Los Angeles (one theater in each city) and as far as I can tell will never get any further.

This is really a shame because "Grain" is a completely involving movie, full of intense human drama. Slimane is the elderly patriarch of a large Franco-Arabic family, torn between the wife and children (and grandchildren) he left after thirty-five years and the woman and her daughter he lives with now. To make matters worse, Slimane is being laid off from his job, a victim of modernization and, he suspects, some bias against his culture. However, all the characters have their own personal story lines, and "Grain" weaves in and out of lives young and old, male and female, never losing an acute eye for detail. Some of the conflicts are trivial (the 2 year-old won't stop using diapers), some are tragic (Slimane's ex-wife enables one of her sons to cheat on his Russian wife), but all of the characters share an awareness of their imperfections and a desire to improve their lives. "Grain" is not just a "French" movie or an "art" movie. It's not going to do "Dark Knight" or even "Milk" box office, but the way it's been buried is a travesty. All you have to do is have a pulse to relate to these characters and be drawn into their lives, and "Grain" never loses its firm grasp on the drama of the everyday.

Conversely, "Rachel Getting Married," which has been fairly popular in the US and netted Anne Hathaway a Best Actress Oscar nomination, struck me as fake and overdone. While Jonathan Demme's portrait of two families getting together for a wedding has some wonderful moments, they are overshadowed by screenwriter Jenny Lumet's need to push the Hollywood cliche of the proverbial "fuck-up" (played by Hathaway) in our faces. She has huge screaming matches with her family, then feels unwanted, makes hateful toasts at the dinner table (a classic movie device that was recently satirized in "A Christmas Tale"), then gets drunk and drives a car into a tree. In "Rachel"'s most contrived scene, a joyous full-family gathering in the kitchen suddenly goes south when Rachel's dad sees a plate drawn by his dead son. The whole movie feels manufactured to make us "feel" what family life is really like, but it's overloaded with so much melodrama (and one movie star acting like "one of us" with Oscar dreams firmly planted in her brain) that it feels removed from anything "true."

"Rachel"'s success concerns me because it's been treated as one of the great movies of the year, which is reflective of what passes for artful drama these days. People, spend some time with "The Secret of the Grain," bask in the wonderful, lifelike performances, and tell me why it can't make a blip in theaters.


Rob said...

We're in a recession, Luke. I saw Rachel Getting Married three times in an effort to buy American.

Anonymous said...