Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nosh 70: 'I, Daniel Blake,' 'Paris Can Wait' & More

By David Elliott
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of I, Daniel Blake and Paris Can Wait
Note: The next tasty Nosh will appear on July 14.

I, Daniel Blake
“Old age,” said Charles de Gaulle, “is a shipwreck.” Of course, he ran a ship of state, France’s Fifth Republic. The more humble shipwreck of Daniel Blake, 59, is that his hard, proud life as a carpenter has been suspended by a heart attack. He’s caught between a medical system that doesn’t want him to work, and a welfare regime that stops providing survival checks, for opaque reasons. Britain has a famous social net, but nets have holes, and it appears that one may swallow Daniel.

Ken Loach, 81, has been directing movies about the British working class, poverty, protest, endurance and families since the 1960s. I, Daniel Blake, set in rough Newcastle, stars Dave Johns as widower Daniel (a few sly timings indicate that Johns made his mark as a comedian). The film’s big prize at Cannes last year was probably a career honor for Loach, the good ol’ lefty of British cinema. He scrapes away style. His rooted actors make us forget acting. Here we have the gentle but not meek excellence of Johns. And fine Hayley Squire as Katie, a woman fled from over-priced London and failed romances. She raises two kids alone, virtually starving herself while lonely Daniel helps her. The film pulses a Dickens heart in an Orwell body.

The key “story” is how Daniel deals with the maddening system’s arcane rules and plodding officials, who are not quite demonized (one even tries to smuggle him some sympathy). The movie is made moving by the pain and grit of its humanity, above all Daniel’s innate, resilient kindness. His one cathartic protest is forlorn. Loach’s enemy is the faceless machine of control that serves itself, its powers swollen by computers. Daniel, an old-tools guy, finds the Web a torment. Watch the film and you get a gut sense of why Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party did better than expected in the recent election.       

Paris Can Wait
Eleanor Coppola’s Paris Can Wait is like something served with dinner (five courses, three wines) on a Viking Cruises boat trip. You can watch entirely without thinking, simply savoring the tourist vistas of France, between Cannes and Paris. On a road trip the lovely, married Anne (Diane Lane), an American “of a certain age,” receives the very French attentions of her driver, Jacques (Arnaud Viard). He knows every luscious site and gourmet restaurant along the way. A retro word for Jacques is “gigolo.”

Anne’s busy-biz husband (Alec Baldwin) has been called away to Budapest. She keeps her honor (in the old sense), while savoring Jacques’s blandishments (in the old sense). Their trip includes brioches, strawberries, roses, elite wines, Cezanne’s famous mountain, a picnic (homage to Manet), ice cream, a huge basket of cheeses, Mozart, “Venus nipples” (chocolates), a cathedral, Roman monuments and lots of meat (Jacques, smiling: “This is the best time of year to eat young animals”). Paris keeps waiting. Jacques keeps smoking. Anne seems to be powdering her ego.

The core weakness of this pretty trifle (about a thousand miles from I, Daniel Blake) is that Viard’s relentless charm wears thin. No Yves Montand or Michel Piccoli, he’s more like Danny Aiello hoping to be Maurice Chevalier. And couldn’t Lane help to spark the conversation? She floats, in a nicely lighted daze of demure ambivalence. Coppola is now 81, her movie most likely tapped personal memories. Like the late works of her husband Francis (Youth Without Youth and Tetro), there is the aura of a pet project near parade’s end.
WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Herman Mankiewicz, once a New York journalist, later the key writer of the first draft of Citizen Kane, usually gets credit for giving Welles the idea of W.R. Hearst as Kane’s template. But maybe Orson grabbed the seed from another source, Aldous Huxley, whose 1939 novel After Many a Summer Dies the Swan was a witty roman a clef about Hearst, his castle and mistress, and whose Hollywood party Orson attended that year: “In town only nine days, still settling in at RKO, Welles was a very busy man … but he couldn’t pass up Huxley’s invitation, bringing the first real gesture of friendship (in L.A.). Huxley was as intrigued by Welles as Welles was impressed to meet the famous novelist. The two celebrated artists went off by themselves (and) the new novel of course came in for a good share of comment, with Welles showing considerable interest in its link to Hearst.” (From Walking Shadows by John Evangelist Walsh). 

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“The famous often felt invaded by Diane Arbus’s camera. Mae West vehemently protested her Arbus images. Feminist firebrand Germaine Greer had a close encounter of the Diane kind at the Chelsea Hotel: ‘It was tyranny, really tyranny. Diane Arbus ended up straddling me, this frail little person kneeling, keening over my face. I felt completely terrorized. I decided, damn it, you’re not going to do this to me, lady! I’m not going to be photographed like one of your grotesque freaks.” (From the Nicole Kidman/Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, to be found at Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

As Brady, Robert Mitchum travels the Tex-Mex border in The Wonderful Country (United Artists, 1959; director Robert Parrish, cinematographers Alex Phillips, Floyd Crosby).

For previous Noshes, scroll below.

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