After an unsuitably lavish breakfast, I catch a Mall of the Emirates-bound shuttle by the skin of my teeth and scuttle through the Mall –which looks just like a mall, only bigger, to paraphrase the well-known joke of what the unimpressed woman said to the flasher – arriving at the theater screening “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” in 3-D, just before it starts.
I’m underwhelmed. After Werner Herzog’s amazing 3-D “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” exploring the 20,000-year-old paintings in the Chauvet caves of southern France, and Wim Wenders’ glorious 3-D “Pina,” featuring the dances of Pina Bausch, it seemed that 3-D had claimed its place as a valid art form. The presence of James Cameron as an executive producer of “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” also seemed to indicate seriousness.
The film consists of acts from various Cirque productions, some of which I’ve seen in the flesh in Las Vegas and on tour, stitched together with a slender story of a young woman searching through a dreamlike underworld for an aerialist. Oddly the immersive properties of 3-D, as well as the projectile possibilities (which led to 50s 3-D movies being stigmatized as “asagai” or spear movies), seem minimized and underused – I was surprised when the occasional jellyfish costume or water seems to reach towards the audience. One entire sequence, in which warriors fight a battle on a vertiginously-inclined platform while dangling on ropes, is filmed in such a way that the essential anti-gravity trick is largely obscured.
On the shuttle ride back, I chat with a wordly young film critic for “Pravda,” Stas Tyrkin, who seems to spend more time out of Moscow at international film festivals than in it – especially now, when it’s winter there and summer here. He’s going to hit the beach.
After lunch at the Wharf’s dazzling buffet, where I dig into the roast chicken, couscous with vegetables, fish pie, and miniature pistachio éclairs, I see “Me and You,” the Bertolucci film, at the Madinat Theatre, which has become, after two days (!), my favorite venue: it’s got a great screen, the auditorium is properly raked, and the Moorish décor is just swell. I don’t catch the name of the affable presenter, who introduces the boyish young star, Jacopo Olmo Antinori, who wins my heart by saying that anything he did as an actor before “Me and You” was “just a joke,” that he learned to act from Bertolucci, and that he thinks the movie is “just a beautiful thing – and not just because I’m in it.” I’m shocked when the presenter reminds us to vote for the movie afterwards, from one to five – and he’s sure we’ll want to give it a five! The man sits down in front of me and I lean forward and tell him he’s succeeded in shocking me.
What shocks me even more is that I completely love the movie. It debuted at Cannes, I missed seeing it in Toronto, and it seems to have dropped off the radar entirely – if “Vogue” had a column called “People Aren’t Talking About,” “Me and You” would be a candidate. And yet it seems to me to be a small masterpiece, compelling in story, setting, acting – I’m reminded of “Les Enfants Terribles,” both novel and film, and that’s a good thing. Afterwards Antinori, now 15, who was 14 – the same age as the protagonist – when he did the film, speaks movingly of working with Bertolucci: “On his set there is a strange energy – everything is different – that’s art!…He wanted everything you could give. Lots of takes – sometimes 20 or 25, sometimes 5 or 3, it depends, (but) he wanted 2 or 3 good takes in every scene…he used 2 cameras, sometimes both at once.” I am also impressed with the work of the beautiful young actress Tea Falco (the photographs she’s supposed to have taken wittily and sadly seem to reference the work of the late Francesca Woodman), and Sonia Bergamasco, playing the mother. Even the eery cellar storeroom set is beguiling.From the sublime to the ridiculous: sometimes from the first shot of a film you feel like you’re in the presence of a stinker. “Berlin Telegram” begins with a scene of a woman singer fronting a rock band and crying as she sings. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of a self-conscious (not to say narcissistic and solipsistic) woman who moves to Berlin after her boyfriend dumps her (i.e., the end of the world) and works through her pain until she eventually feels better. Well, a little better.
I try to remind myself that I defended Nora Ephron’s novel “Heartburn,” about the breakup of her marriage to Carl Bernstein, by saying that she got art out of a messy situation, whereas some people just got the messy situation. (But “Heartburn” is funny!) I remind myself that Taylor Swift pleases (and makes) millions with similarly narcissistic and solipsistic works of art, about even less-deeply-felt relationships. And I listen as the audience tells the director how brave and intimate her sharing was. I’m still unconvinced.
Between “Berlin Telegram” and the last movie of the day I hang out in a huge and healthy-looking Borders bookstore – I guess they didn’t go bankrupt everywhere. This one is stuffed full of toys and tchotchkes as well as books and more magaxzines than I knew were still being published. It feels like the last century! Here in Dubai it seems there are several versions of Time Out being published: one on Style, another for kids, and I purchase this week’s Dubai city guide, featuring the 101 Best Dishes in Dubai, packaged with a Home & Garden supplement.
Then I see “Here and There,” winner of the Critic’s Week prize at Cannes, a fictionalized, low-key story of a Mexican man who returns to his wife and daughters in a small village after years of living alone in New York in the hopes of establishing a band and making a living there, made with unprofessional actors. The director, Antonio Mendez Esparza, got the idea for the film from the man who plays the lead role – his real wife plays his wife, but his two daughters were played by others (his two actual daughters were tested, but tended to hide from the camera!).
It’s a sweet, small movie, whose impact builds from its quiet repetitions and accretions of calm, almost monotonous dialogue, that still becomes heartbreaking. It’s a nice way to end the day.