Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Solondz's LIFE DURING WARTIME to screen twice at the New York Film Fest

Has writer/director Todd Solondz, with his new film LIFE DURING WARTIME, made one too many trips to the same well? I've heard this rumor bandied about, and so, perhaps have you. To answer, let me ask another question. Or three. Did Bergman make too many trips to his well? Pinter? Antonioni, Almodóvar or even Apatow? In any case, when the water from that well proves as pure, if oddly fizzy, as what Mr. Solondz (shown just above) keeps drawing, I have no complaints.

Is there anyone else who combines quirk with deep feeling quite so spectacularly? Someone whose characters behave badly yet keep us rooting for them despite -- no, because of -- that behavior? Who strive so desperately to succeed and yet fail due, as often as not, to those they trust? The filmmaker is at it again and, from his very first scene, grabs you with an immediacy and specificity that are compelling. What's going on here? We know, and yet we don't. Things look bizarre but never seem less than believable. We learn about characters and events in bits and pieces, but so fascinating is all of it that when things come together midway, we're ready for whatever comes next.

As usual with a Solondz film, the cast is wonderfully chosen, if surprising (who gave Marla Maples the classiest role of her career?). Here the filmmaker rubs together American actors like Allison Janney and Ally Sheedy with those from Ireland (Ciarán Hinds, shown below), Scotland (Shirley Henderson) and England (Charlotte Rampling, who has but a single scene and it's a knockout). Paul Reubens and Michael Lerner are on hand, too, as is Renée Taylor. In a Solondz movie, kids are often front and center: this time young Dylan Snyder pulls off the heavy assignment extremely well. Everyone, as is the case in this writer/director's work, is as good as they've ever been: moment-to-moment specific and great fun to view.

Fractured family, extended style, is again Solondz's centerpiece, and I can't say that this one is any better or worse than all the others. It's just different, sad, funny and always believable, even and including its "ghosts." If the ending seems a bit rushed (I could have done with one of two scenes more between the climax and the denouement), this does little damage to the film as a whole, which seems even richer than the usual Solondz (it's certainly his most beautifully filmed, with cinematography by Edward Lachman). And that is luxuriant indeed.

As of this morning, Life During Wartime -- the title, I believe, refers to life at all times, and not, as the NY Film Fest program maintains, to the battle between the sexes; if anything, it's more a family war-- still has no U.S. distribution, which is a shame, if not a (cinema) crime. But once it has screened at the festival, no doubt to a mixed but predominantly positive response, perhaps a smart and courageous company will step up the plate. It screens this Saturday, October 10, at 9pm and again Sunday, October 11, at 11am. The schedule is here.

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