“The Light Between The Oceans”

 

Based on M.L. Stedman’s first novel published in 2012, the film version of “The Light Between Oceans” is a visual montage of loss and locale. The sound of surf and wind become like Fate, something that can sweep one away or drive one home. Director/writer Derek Cianfrance of “Blue Valentine” ( 2010)  fame seems to know what passion children can spark in us.

Supply boats come once a season to the lighthouse at Janus Rock. Visits to the Mainland of Australia, while a day away, are granted only every other year. In this semi-isolation, Tom Sherbourne ( Michael Fassbender) nurses his  World War I secrets of the Western Front and becomes the wary keeper of his young family’s secrets as well~ at least for a time.

Oscar nominees, Fassbender for “Steve Jobs” and  Alicia Vikander for ” The Danish Girl” are great actors. Add Rachel Weisz ( The Constant Gardener , 2005 and ” The Lobster” , 2016) ,and we have an exquisite cast. Stoic dignity, fresh vivaciousness and heart-rending  grief are all on operatic display. A baby is lost, a baby is found and a baby is lost again. Roiling emotions and the roiling sea are joined. Trauma is everywhere. (Even viscerally shown in the many limbless men returning from war in 1918. ) Steam engines puff on land and on sea and cinematographer Adam Arkapew captures all close and wide. Women’s grief -paralyzed faces hug the soil and blades of grass look like sharp nails accentuating their pain.

“The Light Between Oceans” is a morality tale. Isabelle and Tom are oceans apart. Isabelle is more selfish,  aggressively goal-centered. She proposes to Tom. As one character offers, “There are not many men on the market these days.” She has picked Tom before their picnic date!

Isabelle has lost two brothers to war. A premonition is stated in her sorrow for her parents: ( one of the times she thinks of others) ” There is no special name for a parent who loses a child~ not like “widow”.

Tom does not act swiftly. His feet are numb, ” stuck in frozen war mud”. When asked about his up-bringing, he states that ” sometimes it is best to leave the past in the past.” When he takes his bride to Janus Rock, he explains the two-faces torn between two ways of seeing things~ two different oceans.

After two miscarriages and a depression that is not really addressed in the screenplay, Isabelle hears a baby wailing in a flailing row boat. Tom rushes to the sea to find the father dead and the infant in need of the basics. Tom wishes to do his job and report the findings straight away, but Isabelle sees a chance for immediate gratification.

“Being mindful of the needs of others” takes on a different meaning for Tom once he sees the birth mother (Rachel Weisz) grieving in the church cemetery. The rest of the tragic tale plays out with the exquisite toddler ( Florence Clery) being one of  the most natural child actors I have seen.

The flashbacks of Hannah (Weisz) and Frank, her German husband, are meant to even the emotional score, but Vikander and Fassbender have already won our hearts.  We know Tom is right. Lucy Grace will understand the sacrifice.

The picture ‘s downside is that sea wind and sea surf are so deafening that a few snippets of  dialogue are lost, but it is an epic tale that shows the awful sides of revenge when one feels one has been betrayed. But “to thy own self be true and then thou can’st not  be false to any man” seems to be the moral.

Alexandre Desplat’s original  score, too,  is epic. “Gone With The Wind” comes to mind. Every emotion is underscored. This is a period piece that throws us back to another time, but the screenplay also pushes us to return to the novel to capture lines like “he ( Tom) struggles to make sense of it-all this love, so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens.” Read the book, then see the film !

 

“Jason Bourne”

Hacking camps, invading malware, generational politics, CIA secrecy, and motorized chases in numerous cities all  await you in the most recent Bourne film. Idealism that wishes to take down corrupt institutions that control society is a theme, and whoever can type the fastest has  a heads-up. The arching question may be “who is a patriot?”  Could it be anyone who believes in the free flow of information ?

“Jason Bourne” starts slowly as Matt Damon continues his soul search in the form of Captain David Webb. The former CIA operative seems to enjoy hand to hand combat in the boxing ring when not seeking his recruitment history and his assassinated father’s part in it.

Tommy Lee Jones, as CIA head Robert Dewy, does his best to squash all Bourne’s efforts. His motivations  of absolute power weigh in heavily. Enjoy counting how many times doors open and close.

Dewy’s protégée is the lovely Alicia Vikander. As Heather Lee she provides another engaging subplot to the many. She wants Bourne back in the game and knows Dewy has lied about giving her full operational control. Her tight neck bun bolsters her one line orders, “Pull it up.”, ” Copy that.” and “Enhance.” Is our Cyber  Division Head overly ambitious or does she have a more principled vision for the CIA ? In any case, the morality of one life versus that lives of many rationalizes untold deaths.

The fight over freedom of information surfaces in a young Stanford grad’s Facebook-like company called “Deep Dream”. Our government has funded his start-up and wants full data access to keep America safe. An Italian mercenary is hired to kill any embarrassment to the agency. We are reminded that Jason’s father did not want his son to turn into a killer, but killing seems to be that name of this game.

Julia Stiles plays Nicky Parsons, a former operative turned  public informer. Director Paul Greengrass has her deliver with a strikingly powerful strut and windswept hair. Women make their mark in this film. It is noted that her hacking group’s postings could be worse than Snowden’s public releases. This Bourne film is  issue current. (The first film ” The Bourne Identity” was released in 2002. ” The Bourne Supremacy” in 2004, “The Bourne Ultimatum” in 2007, and “The Bourne Legacy” in 2012 followed.)

Damon’s Bourne is a  hunk and a smooth operator. Deft at picking up whatever he needs ( be it a cellphone, weapon, key , or the latest gadget) ,  he deposits tracking devices and  voice recorders as effortlessly as the X-filers flick on their flashlights. He shuffles through passports with aplomb and wrestles with his demons alone. And I can add that he survives five story jumps.

My favorite line, ” Meet me at the statue of Athena.” would have me following. Enjoy this high-summer fare.

“The Danish Girl”

Alicia Vikander  is the twenty-seven-year -old, Swedish star who graces Vogue’s  cover this month under the heading  “Hollywood’s Swede Heart”. After seeing her work in five films this year, I think she deserves fellow actor Michael Fassbender’s love. Her roles in “Ex Machina”, “Burnt”, “Testament Of Youth”,  “Anna Karenina” and now “The Danish Girl” are top notch.

Vikander is lovely to watch. Ballet trained,she is the daughter of a psychiatrist and a theater actress.She seems to intuit strength and sensitivity. Her emotional range runs the gamut from prideful to suffering.

It is difficult to “steal the show” when  working with last year Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, but she becomes his contender for “The Danish Girl” whose  unconditional love may just set the standard for wives disappointed in their husbands’ realities. Gerda (Vikander) deeply loves a man who is gone. This time not for another woman,but for the possibility to become a woman, Lili.

I expected the Lucinda Coxon’s screenplay to be richer since it was based on the actual diary entries of the transgender pioneer Einar Wegener and on the 1933 book “Man Into Woman” the bio edited by Niels Hayes ( a  pen name) and the 2001 National Bestseller “The Danish Girl” by David Ebershoff. There is lots of source material here. Too often we are given melodrama and mood settings in place of words which could enhance and support our empathy and understanding. Coxen comes close to this with Einar Wegener’s ( Redmayne ) “I am entirely myself”, “How have I ever deserved such love !” and, ” My mother called me Lili”. Alicia Vikander deserves a few such lines. Instead the score,and the lush decor and her facial features,and the scarf symbol substitute.

Director Tom Hooper  uses the Wegener couple as artfully as they paint , he landscape and she portrait.Gerda Gottlieb and Einar Wegener had been  college classmates and friends. Their young married life is playful, sexy and tender. Their artistic careers and their dog~ normal focuses.  Gerda chides Einar for painting the same few vistas. “You will vanish into the landscapes you do over and over again,” she teases. He smiles and rejoins with “I won’t disappear into the bog. The bog is me.”  Prescient as this dialogue is, it is in the next scene that the viewer hears Einar say”can’t a man watch his wife get undressed!” and will  feel he is more interested in the clothing. Gerda is intuitive as she throws out,”I might let you borrow it!” She is his wife ,and she already knows what she doesn’t know.

The cross- dressing scenes are a tad uncomfortable, yet they are well- directed and  force the audience to be empathetic. We follow Gerda’s lead. She sketches him in the moonlight. Einar wakes to respond to her compliment,”I was always pretty,you just never noticed.” Now the games begin. Seeing that her husband enjoys standing in as her model encompassed in  silk and the requisite slippers, she has the idea that he should attend a coming party as ” someone else”. She helps him with make-up and  wig ,and they practice a feminine walk. This kinky game and the reality of his feelings eventually causes  Einar physical panic, headaches and nosebleeds. We hear of a conflicted youth;we  meet Hans ( Matthias Schoenaerts) his childhood friend,and  we watch Einar treated for a chemical imbalance with radiation and possible lobotomy, as a treatment for “perversion”.  A second opinion labels him “insane”. He escapes a mental hospital by a window and sliding down a drainpipe.

One of the most emotionally harrowing scenes, has Einar examining himself in a full length mirror. We are saddened by his longing for a different body. Redmayne makes us care in his agony.

Gerda’s trust in Einar and her love for him has her reintroducing him to Hans. Hans is drawn to Gerda’s love as she lets her husband go. As Hans sees Einar transposed as Lili he brings  the statement, “I have only liked a few people in my life,and you have been two of them.”

Another touching set of  frames comes from Einar’s visit to a “peep show”. It takes the naked temptress only a few seconds to understand that Einar wishes to learn  her movements rather than be aroused. Sexual identify is treated with steam and fog and cliched train-station goodbyes as Lili  readies for her series of operations. Morphine and death at 48 are true details .

Gerda’s paintings  become her husband’s dreams. Her renderings of Lili  gain her fame and success. Lili never seen puts brush to canvas again. Lili is beaten in a gazebo, contemplates suicide, and tells Gerda that  “what you draw, I become.” Lili is in awe of Gerda~ in awe of her womanhood.There is such “power in you, must mean the power of love.

Enjoy the painterly colors, the detailed 1926 Copenhagen setting, and acting that illuminates the shadows, and the use of nature in a full circular beginning and end.

 

 

 

“Testament Of Youth”

What did young voices sound like in 1917 ? Before women were given their voting rights what did “head-strong” girls do ? Loyalty to their homelands and loyalty to their friends anchored them, but so did nature and love. The film “Testament Of Youth” is full of heartsong and birdsong. Director James Kent’s long,British period piece is also filled with the muck of war. Camera pans of field-loads of canvas-blanketed pallets, hundreds of glazed-eyed wounded, and a smattering of white-scarfed nurses set the scene.We hear the sounds of war while the screen remains black. Making her way through flag-waving citizens, the rosewood bereted Vera pushes through 1917 Armistice Day revelers. It is an engaging opening: a girl on the move. This is  young woman of purpose. She enters a church sanctuary to give thanks,and we see other women fingering rosary beads. An art work of shipwrecked souls floundering in water has Vera floating backward to four years earlier. It is a lovely start.

There is nothing new or surprising in this film. The director James Kent does not give us the historical scope,but more of an intimate telling of war’s effects. We see a teasing brother,provincial parents,tantrums,tearful train goodbyes and notes slide under doors.

Emily Watson, playing Vera’s mother,wails that:”We have a suffragette on our hands”! You can tell she is proud of her. Her father is a pushover and easy to please.Vera’s parents are indulgent and financially privileged. They love their children,and do not stand in the way of their dreams. Circumstances of war do not change this.

The aftermath of any war decimates families and deals out grief. This film is a pacifist tract and a feminist treatise couched as a romance. Based on the memoirs of Vera Brittain,”Testament Of Youth” is a film that reminds the filmgoer that World War I was like all war: a destroyer. Especially, on a personal level we see a young woman lose a brother, a fiancée and for a while, her mind. Actress Alicia Vikander, the synthetic woman in Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina” (reviewed 4/29/15), portrays Vera. Vera is intelligent,rebellious, willful and easy to admire. Vikander does her justice in her passionate pleas for a try at Oxford, a chance to help on the Front, and peace in the World. One of Vikander’s most beautifully done scenes is when she is begging her fiancée Roland to not lose the best part of himself in the horrors of war. Vera is most of all perceptive. The scene reminds us how unprepared soldiers are for the psychological onslaughts of the battlefield and in returning from it.

“Testament Of Youth” meshes the provincial and privileged class with “Masterpiece Theater-like” sentiments that hold the viewers’emotions at bay. We are always aware that this is personal history. The events have already happened. Somehow this knowledge deadens the desired effect of any immediacy of tragedy.

Visually,the film is a stunner. Verdant estate walks,pooled and mossy retreats, coastal waters and silvered strands are all here. Juxtaposed against mildewed barracks and tented surgeries, the camera plays up the idyllic. This is a film for the romantic idealist. Poetry plays a major part. Nursing and self-sacrifice a close second. I particularly enjoyed the close-ups of clothes pins, and lace curtains airing, burnished-leather books and library tables. The “fallen in combat” list is movingly shot. World War I trenches with the barbed wire and rain-soaked misery visually confront the real. Images seem to overtake dialogue.Yet,the words spoken are memorable. When Vera apologizes for her “Masonic secret” jibe and for being “caught up with myself” in her angst over her Oxford entrance exam,Roland ( Kit Harrington ) responds with “I worked it out for myself.” To this our feminist precursor states,”And so will I!”

Always fully chaperoned,usually by Aunt Belle, Roland and Vera both wishing to become writers use poetry to awaken their emotions. Roland pens “errant hair had sunbeams in it/There shone all/April in your eyes”. Their romance begins.

Vera’s later pleadings of “I want to know the truth”, and “Talk to me or how can I understand.” leads to her volunteering for the Front. With thirty men to a hut,Vera nurses the enemy prisoners of war. She speaks German and comforts;she closes the dead’s eyes;she bandages her brother and sends him off again to battle. This is a long film.

Furloughed for three days, Roland, battle-fatigued, heartlessly pushes Vera to the sand. She stands and dramatically pleads as she touches her heart, “This part of you,don’t destroy it”. Roland’s “It might be gone already.” is the film’s saddest line, even sadder than “All of us are surrounded by ghosts. We need to learn to live with them.” Vera goes on to give rousting anti-war speeches, “No more the endless cycle of revenge”, I say, “No More”.

Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson,as mother and teacher respectively, play their types well. The four men in Vera’s early life, brother,father, fiancée and family friend highlight “coming of age” traits like impatience,dutifulness, and playfulness. The endnote tells us Vera later marries George Catlin, the pacifist,and they have two children. Could this mean a sequel is in the offing. I’ll no doubt see it,but maybe at home as the episodes roll by.