Sunday, December 2, 2012

Meme-Watching "Rust And Bone"


I’m always trying to consider different ways of watching movies. I’ve been toying with a piece on what matters when watching a film, what to focus on, and what to examine. Cinema is a collaborative art, and hundreds of people can find employment on a movie set. Their work creates various avenues from which to explore a picture, from the music that plays, to the performances of an actor, to even the financial involvement of the producers and the possibly-colorful world in which they inhabit.

But there is something to be said about a visceral, primitive reaction and appreciation to film. This approach and understanding does not lend itself to writing, but it does honor a modern shorthand that I would like to call Meme-Watching. A similar designation would be Hashtag-Watching, but I would like to think viewers would not Tweet their way through a film, unless it were something inherently not worth the attention -- even then it should be done in the safety of your own home, and remains debatably disrespectful on a case-by-case basis.

Regardless, this approach, which lends itself well to films of certain types of spectacle (shallow or otherwise) is probably the only non-critical way to engage with some films. Films lack the poeticism of earlier eras, and more and more studio offerings feel like station-to-station filmmaking, checking off boxes in a vain attempt to adhere to Screenwriting 101 rules, as well as the tenets of blockbusting (see: Marvel). Those films can be deemed worthy of meme-watching almost derisively: to say anything negative about “The Hunger Games” is to fail to acknowledge that it’s a machine, not a film, comprised of only loosely-related moments meant to be Frankensteined into a plausible, inoffensive, apolitical, forgettable narrative.


But sometimes Meme-Watching can be the product of an idle or unprepared mind. You can’t parse through the narrative, or the themes, but you can grab onto a film moment-by-moment, riding the picture as if it were a roller-coaster (an analogy used for years to describe blockbusters that always struck me as subversively backhanded). The truth is, I do think there’s a sense of egotism when someone suggests they’re always going to be invested and intellectually involved with every film they see, particularly as far as the notion of understanding the filmmakers’ thesis.

So yes, Meme-Watching has an element of guilt attached. That guilt nagged at me during Jacques Audiard’s “Rust And Bone,” a somewhat-preposterous but emotionally engaging film which I very much Meme-Watched. Though “Rust And Bone” is a dead-serious awards-season release from Sony Pictures Classics, starring respected actors, and featuring the deadly-serious combination of songs by Bon Iver and a totally non-ironic reappropriation of a Katy Perry tune, I couldn’t help but think that any way I would describe the film, it would feel like endless hashtag abuse. *Deep breath*

#This handsome guy is totally broke #This pretty woman works with whales #He becomes a street fighter #She loses her legs #Amputee Sex!


And so on and so on. My descriptions of this film can only be captured through breathless run-on sentences. My takeaway from “Rust And Bone” was that Audiard’s fascination with curves and flesh allows a fetishization of Marion Cotillard’s (digitally) amputated legs, and Mathias Schoenarts’ muscled gut. But that discussion is cowed by absolute fascination that the two lead characters become f-buddies first, and colleagues second. By the time Schoenarts was enlisting her as his streetfight booking agent, I was merely checking off what thrilled me about this setup. As if her fabulous metallic replacement legs weren’t swaggy enough, he refers to her as “Robocop,” as she walks into a mess of sweaty moneymen (where, previously, a woman was not permitted) proudly displaying her gray limbs while strutting with a cane, hand full of hot street cheddar. I suppose it’s a testament to the filmmaker that I stopped looking for heady ideas when I simply wanted to cheer for a decidedly unconventional narrative.

I attended the film with uncertain expectations. Knowing that it involved a handicapped character and the notoriously-intense Cotillard, “Rust And Bone” (especially given it’s elliptical title) was earmarked as something of a chore. Truth is, the film is compelling from start to finish, funny, sensual, and populated by these two delightful actors who imbue two troubled personalities with touching humanity. And yet that endorsement, if you will, feels like just another mishmash of hashtags. #criticalthought

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