People remote from their emotions: My Friday at the SFFilm Festival

Here’s what I saw Friday at the San Francisco International Film Festival:

Everything Else

I couldn’t help wondering if this Mexican character study was influenced of Kurosawa’s Ikiru. The main character – the only real character in the movie – is a city bureaucrat completely cut off emotionally from the rest of the human race (Adriana Barraza). At work, people wait for hours to hand her their filled-in forms, and she nitpicks, finding the slightest mistakes so that she can sent them back to wait hours more. She appears to have no friends or relatives. She gives some affection to her cat, but when the cat dies, she seems to take it in stride.

Every so often she goes to a swimming pool, perhaps to connect to others, but she seems reluctant to jump into the water. I think that’s a metaphor for something.

In the later part of the film, her behavior seems to be improving just a little bit. But why?

The movie provides very little reason to care for her, and there’s no story in the conventional sense. But her loneliness moved me, even when the people whose lives she hurts made me boil with anger.

I give Everything Else a B.

A Tribute to James Ivory: Maurice

James Ivory is the last living member of the great filmmaking trio Merchant Ivory. Ishmael Merchant produced. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote most of the screenplays. James Ivory directed. Over a collaboration that spanned nearly half a century, they made thoughtful, entertaining films set in many places and times.

And yet, they are best known for a handful of movies about upper-class Brits in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The name Merchant Ivory has become a synonym for the whole genre of British period pieces. None of the three are British; in fact, Ivory was born in Berkeley.

As is usual with Festival tributes, the event started with a clip reel. Oddly, the clips were all musically oriented, and none of them were set in England.

After the clips, James Ivory and David Darcy sat down for a talk, followed by a Q&A with the audience. Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • On making his first narrative film: I really didn’t know how to frame a scene. The cameraman asked for a shot division. I had no idea what he meant.
  • On the three-person collaboration: It was based on mutual respect. Each of us was doing what we did best. There were arguments, usually in the editing room. Sometimes I’d shout and stamp my foot.
  • On the literary aspect of their films: A lot of that came from Ruth. She was the first to get me to read Henry James.
  • On being independent filmmakers: We didn’t think of ourselves as independents. We did a lot with Hollywood. Columbia released our first film. Ishmael always had friends in the studios; I don’t know how he did it.
  • Jefferson in Paris was a horrible flop. We were almost run out of town for it. So it makes me very happy when someone comes up to me and says they loved it.
  • On why Merchant Ivory is so identified with British period pieces: Those were the hits. They made a lot of money and everybody saw them.
  • I’m trying to make Shakespeare’s Richard II into a film. I have a terrific script, and actors, but I can’t raise the money. If Ismaeel was here, it would have been made five years ago.
  • Advice for young directors: First, trust the people that you hire, and make sure that they trust you. Second, always get your way.
  • On the new, 4K digital restoration of Maurice: They made release prints from duplicate negatives in those days, and you lost a lot of the color. But now, in these restorations, you’re going from the original negative. It looks better.

And then they screened the movie.

Set in England in the early 20th century, Maurice feels like an epic, even though it concentrates on one man wanting desperately to come out of the closet – at a time when doing so would land him in prison. Maurice (James Wilby) meets Clive (Hugh Grant) in college, and they fall in love. The nature of their “friendship” has to be hidden. Over the years, Clive reconciles to a conventional married life. But Maurice, now a successful stockbroker, can’t bring himself to the do the same. Stiff upper lips abound, with real emotions bubbling up when they can no longer be contained.

I loved this film. I give it an A.

Maurice, originally released in 1988, recently received a beautiful 4K restoration. The film will be re-released in theaters in the near future.