Volume 74, Number 33 | December 22 - 28, 2004

koch on film

By Ed Koch

“Closer” (+)
This film contains a lot of dialogue and very little action. Most of the dialogue is sexual in nature and includes the most explicit language you will ever hear in a mainstream movie. The discourse is far more graphic than anything you may have heard on “Sex and the City.”

While beautifully crafted, it is difficult to determine time periods which include current and flash-forward scenes. At times I felt lost, but clues with respect to time are mentioned by the characters throughout the flick, so listen intently at all times.

Anna (Julia Roberts) is a photographer who takes the book jacket photo of writer Dan (Jude Law.) Dan is living with Alice (Natalie Portman). At one point Alice works in a strip joint where no touching of any kind is permitted. She is visited by dermatologist Larry (Clive Owen) who thinks he recognizes her but isn’t sure because she is wearing a wig and is near naked. The four main characters are lovers who often change partners. There is even a scene where the two men engage in cyber sex: Larry identifies himself as a doctor and Dan identifies himself as a woman author. They set up a rendezvous, in which Dan unexpectedly meets Anna.

The reviews of this film were overwhelming negative, but I went because I like all four of the principal actors, who give excellent performances in this movie. It is far better than the film, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf,” to which it has been compared. The latter had a better visual story, but the language in this flick is much more specific.

“A Very Long Engagement” (+)

This film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is extremely powerful. It takes place during World War I, and its anti-war message covers some of the same ground as set forth in “Paths to Glory,” one of the best such movies ever made.

It begins with two children, Mathilde and Manech, leading idyllic lives on the French seashore. They grow up, become lovers, and Manech is ultimately drafted. As adults, the role of Mathilde is played by Audrey Tautou and Manech by Gaspard Ulliel.

We are shown the muddy trenches in 1917 occupied by the French on one side and the Germans on the other. Five French soldiers engage in self-mutilation injuring their hands, some by shooting off their fingers. To prevent mutiny and desertion, the Army decides to execute the five by forcing them into an area known as no-man’s land located between the two armies. Daily shootings and bombings take place in that area by a German plane called the Albatross. Manech, whose nickname is Cornflower, is one of the five forced into that area.

Mathilde receives word that Manech is dead. Believing he is still alive, she sets out to track him down visiting survivors of the war and the battlefield itself. Another woman similarly searching for her lover is Elodie (Jodie Foster) who gives a wonderful performance.

“A Very Long Engagement” is a truly superb movie from every point of view: story, acting and locales which capture the French towns and countryside as well as Paris landmark buildings. Your tears will flow from time to time. I was surprised that the Landmark Theater where I saw the movie, which is one of the most comfortable in the city, was only about 15 percent full. You will be sorry if you miss this one. (In French with English subtitles)

- Ed Koch

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