The exhortation in the title of Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie — America: Imagine the World Without Her — suggests that it is going to be an exercise in what they call “counter-factual” history. In other words, imaginary history. History as it didn’t happen. And the opening of the film appears to bear this out, since we watch as an actor (John Koopman) portraying George Washington is shot and killed by a British sniper. Thereafter, however, the alternative history of our country, a history in which (presumably) the Revolutionary War was lost and the United States as we know them never came into existence as a single country, is forgotten, along with all other forms of idle speculation. Instead, we are taken straight into quite a different movie, one consisting of a rapid survey of real American history, organized so as to constitute a refutation of the late Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States.
It’s hard to imagine anything more different from Pawel Pawlikowski’s wonderful My Summer of Love (2005) than his new film, but Ida is just as wonderful in its own way. It is essentially a meditation on and unpicking of a paradox, that of a Jewish nun, as a kind of synecdoche for the Polish experience of World War II and its aftermath. The burden of the past always weighs heavily on those who try, and the victims of those who try, to remake the world, and the past of Poland, subjugated by both the Nazi and the Communist attempts at reinvention of European reality, is particularly burdensome.
A friend of mine once described an eerie noise as being “like a spaceship landing.” Of course no one — really — knows what a spaceship landing sounds like. But not-really, everyone does know. Spaceships and the aliens who arrive on them are now such familiar parts of our culture, mainly through their representation in the movies, that no one anymore has to bother to make such creatures from another planet appear, as they once were expected to appear, “incredible.” Now they are all too credible to a movie audience raised on such fantasy. We are so used through mere repetition — and through living a greater portion of our lives than ever before in the fantasy-land of popular entertainment — to finding them credible that one may even find oneself occasionally criticizing the latest manifestations of their presence among us for being less than entirely realistic.
There are a few implausibilities at the heart of The Other Woman, Nick Cassavetes’s female revenge fantasy to a script by Melissa K. Stack. Everything depends on the appearance by Carly (Cameron Diaz) at the front door of the home in Connecticut shared by Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). Carly is Mark’s girl-friend and, having no idea of Kate’s existence, has arrived from Manhattan to surprise him by helping, as she believes, with a household emergency. To that end she has dressed herself up as a sexy plumber, which is in itself a fine comic idea as well as being a great set up for a funny film about the two women, later joined by a third in the scarcely believable shape of a second Mark-girlfriend, Amber (Kate Upton), teaming up to take their revenge on the love-rat. But if you’re anything like me you may be wondering how on earth did Carly know where Mark lived?
“You can’t not love and hate the same person,” says Nick (Jim Broadbent) to Meg (Lindsay Duncan) — “usually in the space of five minutes, in my experience.” It’s the kind of writerly line — the writer in this case being Hanif Kureishi — that looks good on the page but proves a real bear the moment you try to illustrate it dramatically. In the case of Le Week-End, directed by Roger Michel (who also collaborated with Mr. Kureishi on The Mother and Venus, both about mismatched sexual partners), Mr. Kureishi has made it even more difficult for himself by putting his characters through the kind of mutually self-lacerating dialogue that makes Nick and Meg reminiscent of George and Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But sooner or later there comes out of nowhere — spoiler alert! — a plainly contrived peripeteia, after which love may be supposed to come on shift to take over for hate. It’s supposed to be a comedy, after all.
If there is anything that is clear about the occasionally unclear Judeo-Christian Scriptural account of the Creation, it is that it was an act of anthropocentrism. Mankind was seen by the author or authors of Genesis as the masterwork of God, who is said to have created man in his own image and to have given him dominion over the rest of the creation. All the rest of the Bible, in both Testaments, has to do with God’s relationship with men, not animals or any other part of the Creation. Accordingly, if there is any doctrine or belief about or representation of the Biblical account which we can be sure is false to it and to its spirit, it is the fashionable view among the literary hangers-on of the environmentalist movement that mankind is a disease of nature or a bit of filth from which the properly natural world needs to be purified. “The world has cancer, and the cancer is man,” as the Club of Rome’s Mankind at the Turning-Point puts it.
The critic for Variety called The Past (Le Passé) by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) “an exquisitely sculpted family melodrama in which the end of a marriage is merely the beginning of something else.” Insofar as this is not simply a banality — since everything that ends is the beginning of something else — it is the opposite of the truth. The end of the marriage between Marie-Anne (Bérénice Bejo) and her Iranian husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) is not “merely” anything, not even the end of the marriage, and nor does it mark the beginning, as Marie herself would wish it to do, of her new life with Samir (Tahar Rahim), the man with whom she is expecting a child and trying to build a life together.
The word for “lunchbox” in Hindi is dabba,and the people who deliver lunchboxes, mostly from their wives at home to husbands working in the ever-growing office population of Bombay — which the politically correct are now commanded to re-name “Mumbai” — are called dabbawallahs. As we are reminded in Dabba or The Lunchbox, directed by Ritesh Batra from his own screenplay, the system devised by the dabbawallahs for getting the right lunchbox to the right recipient is world-famous for not making mistakes in spite of its not being the product of modern electronic information-management. Why, their system has been studied by Harvard University, as her dabbawallah (Sadashiv Kondaji Pokarkar) proudly informs lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) when she complains that he has been taking the lunchbox she prepares every day to a man who is not her husband. He is sure he could not have made the mistake she and we know he has made.
Wes Anderson’s long flirtation with whimsy has finally resulted in their tying the knot in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m afraid that the union cannot be a very happy one, at least not for film-goers, though it does provide a certain amount of fun. In Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998), and, to a lesser extent, The Royal Tenenbaums, of 2001, Mr. Anderson still had one foot planted in reality, but since then he has been steadily losing this toehold, presumably on account of being told too often how delightfully whimsical are such subsequent productions as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Fantastic Mr.
Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, who wrote the true life history on which The Monuments Men was based, describe the original of George Clooney’s character in the movie, a Harvard-trained art conservator and historian named George Stout, as someone who .exuded knowledge, professionalism, and the pure love of and respect for cultural objects.” I don’t know quite how he does it, but Mr Clooney, who also directs, somehow manages to make this man, now renamed Frank Stokes, into just the opposite: a supposed scholar with no apparent knowledge nor passion nor even much interest in art, except in the most banal and general terms, in which he talks about it even to his supposed professional colleagues. As if to confirm that impression, the real life George Clooney was recently quoted in the media as saying he thought it would be a good idea for the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles to the “Pantheon,” whither he imagined they had been taken. Throughout the movie it is all too easy to see through the supposed art expert to the rather dim actor and celebrity beneath.