Saturday, September 16, 2006

11. Valerie Guignabodet's French film "Mariages!" (2004): Weaving entertainment from strands of reality

The film is an essay on marriages. Robert Altman tried to do the same in A Wedding and ended up with a delectably visual and aural feast that missed your heart by a mile. Altman tried to approach the subject as a black comedy, while this French film reaches out truthfully to lay bare all the charades between man and woman as seen through the lives of different married couples over a couple of days. Altman is a man; Valerie Guignabodet is a woman--viva la difference! Guignabodet unlike Altman is not worried about the ceremony; Guignabodet is more interested in dissecting the cadaver as in an autopsy. In the end, her final shot of the bride's mother walking away taking the middle path (literally and figuratively) away from it all is a masterstroke. The end, in some ways, is better than the rest of the film because it makes a mute statement. (Remember the comparable end of Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman?)

The rest of the film belongs to the actors--the most underrated actress in the world Miou-Miou (see her in Claude Miller's Dites-lui que je l'aime or that brilliant Netoyages a sec) and the arresting Mathilde Seigner. True they have great lines but they make the characters leap out the screen, however small (a teeny weeny Air France seat TV screen in my case).

The film is unusual--it has sex but never visually shown. The film captures the effect on other characters in the movie. The social jibes at the British (thru a fictional Kenneth Branagh who never appears) and the East Europeans (a Pole who is seen as Russian) could easily have been an Altman effect, but director Guignabodet is able hit you below the belt as she makes jabs after jabs at various social institutions, e.g., replacing the wedding march music with pathos, the best man who forgets the rings, traditional marriages compared to modern ones, role of gays vs. heterosexuals at marriages. A true blue-blooded French film, if ever there was one. The French do know the art of leaving the viewer to reflect on insitutions other nationalities take for granted. This is a fine example where the debate begins in the mind of the viewer as the film spool runs out.

P.S. Not many films titles have exclamation marks at the end. Therein hangs a tale!

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