In Coolidge Corner, at the little art-deco theatre, there is a small room with a small screen. There are perhaps fifteen or twenty cozy seats and although I’ve seen it filled to the brim, there is always the wonderful risk that you will be nearly alone. There is something immediately intimate about Brooklyn, both film and book, and seeing it with four strangers on a Monday afternoon at 4:50 is simply right.Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young Irish woman who immigrates to America in the 1950s and successively becomes seasick, homesick, and lovesick. Ronan’s luminous face is soft and sharp with wit; her Eilis brooks no silliness and turns away from no hardship. She is a good girl and she is a loving girl and never once is that boring or trite. Very like the book that it comes from, Brooklyn has very little in the way of action. Eilis is an Irish immigrant living in Brooklyn. She is smart, she attends night classes. She is sweet, she attends Saturday dances. She falls in love, she dances cheek to cheek with an equally sweet Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). For most of the film, these things make up the entire story.The movie’s entire governing body had the wit to keep their cameras close on Ronan’s beautifully expressive face. That face and its often inscrutable calm are the center of the film and of most of its frames. In the book Colm Toibin often writes Eilis’ thoughts more as whispers that you only catch bits and pieces of. She is remote from you, yet she is also so very wonderful that you want to understand her. Here, Toibin and the film both use the lightest of touches to bring you into Eilis’ thoughts only once she has straightened them out for herself. In the film this is carried off by fixating on Ronan’s glowing face.Neither the film nor the book ever tell you overtly what Eilis is thinking or why she has decided to go one way or the other. Everything is graceful, soft, subtext. This is incredibly difficult to achieve in both mediums. In the film, you can read Ronan’s emotions throughout as they pass through her. She spends so much of the film physically close to the other characters, embracing them, dancing with them, crying with them. Ronan makes her Eilis physically express herself in ways she can’t through words alone. The script is as sparse as the book, perhaps even more so. A few key bits of the book are left out of the movie, something that readers may have mixed feelings about. However, I believe the spirit and the magic of the book are preserved in translation.In the last act, the action quickens and Eilis finds herself on a boat home to visit her family. Here the most active part of the movie unfolds itself. Eilis returns to Ireland different, more glamorous, more sure of herself. From there it is like the end of every bildungsroman; Eilis must make difficult decisions and grow into the person she chooses to be. I walked out of the theatre wanting to be more like Eilis Lacey. It is easy to thrash around these days and exhale great sighs both of exhaustion and of grief. But Eilis is quiet, and Eilis is faithful and Eilis is virtuous. She reminds me of Louise Gluck, a poet who also expresses huge emotions with uncommon simplicity and quiet strength.
“It had occurred to me that all human beings are divided
into those who wish to move forward
and those who wish to go back.
Or you could say, those who wish to keep moving
and those who want to be stopped in their tracks
as by the blazing sword.”
You have one final week in which to experience the wonderful exhibition about Black Mountain College at the ICA. ONE FINAL WEEK. One week to see de Koonings and Klines and Albers’ oh my! I finally made it down on a quiet Tuesday afternoon.
The exhibition charts the course of Black Mountain College- an arts school in the Appalachians that cultivated and produced some of the best artists of the mid-twentieth century. Willem and Elaine de Kooning participated, as did Franz Kline, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Kenneth Noland… etc etc etc.
The school operated on the principles of American pragmatist John Dewey, so I dutifully turned to him for study.Along with some cheesecake, to aid in cognition. Dewey believed that experimental intelligence was key to innovation and that any art object was inextricably connected to the culture and society that surround it. The college operated as a collective artistic community in which experimentation was encouraged and one’s peers and teachers were there to aid in innovation and interdisciplinary learning. Many of the really notable pieces produced at the school are included in this exhibition, including Willem de Kooning’s Asheville, a piece on loan from the Phillips Collection in D.C. (a really wonderful little museum that holds a special place in my heart- absolutely go if you are in the Dupont Circle area).
The exhibition is well done and will make you totally art geek out if you like modern art. You can see ballet performances of some of the dances created there, read and listen to some of the poetry written there, and immerse yourself totally in this remarkable experiment. I recommend you go on a snowy afternoon, wander through, get a coffee at The Thinking Cup, and read Brooklyn (and go see the film after as well). That was the recipe for my perfect Tuesday.
My mother made a New Year’s resolution to go to the movies more frequently and, as I have with many of her determinations, I decided to adopt it as well. Thus, I went to see The Danish Girl this weekend at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. I won’t digress from this review for too long to tell you how much I love going to see movies on my own, but suffice it to say that I indulged the pleasure twice this weekend and couldn’t have felt more restored by the experience.The Danish Girl is a beautiful movie. With Tom Hooper at the helm it could hardly be less so. When I first heard about the movie I knew three things: Tom Hooper was directing, Alexander Desplat was composing, and Eddie Redmayne was acting. All three of these people are thoroughly at the top of their game, never once disappointing me. All three deliver a beautiful movie. Yet, It is Alicia Vikander who surprised me and stirred the deepest emotions. Having known her from small parts in other films, such as Anna Karenina, I was unprepared for the depth of her talent.
The Danish Girl is the story of Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener and their shifting relationship as Lili transitions from man to woman. As the film opens, Gerda and Einar Wegener are married painters who seem to enjoy a happy and productive marriage. They are attempting to have a child, Einar has gained wide recognition as a landscape painter, and Gerda is searching for the right subject as an artist. When her model is absent Gerda enlists her husband to sit for her dressed partly as a woman and this awakens something within him, starting him on the path to becoming Lili. Gerda finds her subject in Lili, painting her ceaselessly. The rest of the movie follows Lili’s decision to become fully a woman and Gerda’s struggle to support a decision that, while giving her husband the thing he truly needs, also robs her of him. Alicia Vikander is extraordinary and moving, showing simultaneous fragility and strength as she watches the life she’s built dissolve and the man and woman she loves slip away from her. The fact that all of this is based on a true story is vital. Lili’s diaries became the basis of a book on the subject and Lili Elbe has long been regarded as one of the first transgendered women. It is in the quiet details that Hooper, Vikander, and Redmayne bring out the beauty and sorrow of this story. As Einar first dresses in women’s clothes Hooper concentrates quietly on the beauty of a woman’s garments. Gerda’s every movement draws longing from Einar/Lily, something Redmayne conveys clearly. Redmayne deserves more of a mention than I’ve made of him so far. He will probably win another Oscar for this performance, definitely a nomination if nothing else. His portrayal of Lili is truly wonderful, bringing out the two characters with sensitivity and skill.
It is more than worth a watch.