Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Take This Waltz

director Sarah Polley

 TAKE THIS WALTZ              B+                     
Canada  Japan  Spain  (116 mi)  2011  d:  Sarah Polley            Official site

And I'll dance with you in Vienna
I'll be wearing a river's disguise
The hyacinth wild on my shoulder
My mouth on the dew of your thighs…

Oh my love, oh my love
Take this waltz, take this waltz
It's yours now, it's all that there is 

—Take This Waltz, by Leonard Cohen, take this waltz leonard cohen - YouTube (5:37)

The Queen of Existential Melancholy makes a film after her own heart, improving radically over the previously acclaimed Blue Valentine (2010), also starring Michelle Williams, another married couple on the rocks film, which despite the superb performances and heralded reviews was something of an empty disappointment, especially considering the talent in the film, featuring poorly matched characters going nowhere.  This is another break up film by a better director, one that avoids clichés without a hint of sentimentality and without the intensely uncomfortable nagging arguments of one character blaming the other, where the writer/director/producer shows the same effect without the manipulation, where despite the happy moments and continual pledges of love, there is a decided accumulation of disinterest through marital attrition, where a near anonymous character states the theme of the film in a communal female shower sequence after a pool aerobics workout, where the shower lady says “Everything that’s new gets old.”  From the outset, a somewhat comical visit to a historical re-enactment at the fortress and lighthouse of Louisbourg in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, we see Margot (Williams) develop an amusingly intimate rapport with a fellow traveler, Luke Kirby as Daniel, flirting on the plane and sharing a cab when they return home to Toronto, turning this into a kind of adulterous love fantasia when she discovers the guy lives right across the street from her home, where she’s supposedly happily married to Lou, Seth Rogen, a guy who writes cookbooks on the various ways to cook chicken, which he cooks night after night, leaving her wanting more.  But it’s the kind of love that has to be repeatedly reinforced, inventing a playful game where they try to outdo the other in depicting the most gruesome way to maim or disfigure the other, suggesting they love the other person that much.  Clearly they have an on-again and off-again relationship, lost in a fog of melancholia, where she likely married too young, falling for a guy she’s barely attracted to anymore, where both seem to have intimacy issues where they don’t like people touching them or getting too close.      

What’s apparent is what a middle of the road couple this is, as neither express their feelings well, where their days consist of awkward moments where Margot tries to get suggestive, putting her arms around her husband while he’s cooking, but he’s oblivious, more concerned about the chicken than her intent, which goes unnoticed.  While they’re still in their twenties, only married five years, they have surprisingly little to say to one another, as Lou simply avoids any discussion about children.  Into this void walks Daniel, who greets her walking down the street, offering to get coffee, where they discover both are early risers, and they familiarize themselves with each other’s routines, as Daniel walks to the beach every morning, where they meet from time to time.  Their conversations are engagingly playful, where it’s obvious there’s a certain spark that doesn’t exist at home.  Nevertheless, she refuses to cross the line, something she makes inherently clear, but always returns to meeting Daniel, who responds in kind, such as sitting in the balcony of her all women swimming aerobics class at the gym, creating something of a fuss, as these mostly married women aren’t used to having someone, especially other than their husbands, paying attention to them.  In the shower scene afterwards, Polley shows women’s bodies, young and old, where they’re free to carry on personal conversations while stark naked in the shower and no one gets judgmental, as nobody cares.  It’s here that Margot is reminded that everything runs its course and eventually the novelty wears off, but she’s not ready for that to happen yet, instead spending an entire day at an amusement park with Daniel, where they go to Center Island, a fifteen minute ferry ride from Toronto, where like little kids they ride a roller coaster to the music of the Buggles Take This Waltz - Video Killed the Radio Star - YouTube (2:05), re-igniting a sexual chemistry that exists between them which they still choose to ignore. 

Margot continues to offer suggestive signs to Lou, which he continually ignores, but on their anniversary dinner, when she points out they have nothing to say to each other, he’s not at all surprised, which she finds all too baffling.  While neither one of these characters is particularly complex, what is evident is the closer she gets to Daniel, the unhappier she is at home with Lou, so eventually she flat out tells him, but not until Daniel has made a quick exit from the neighborhood, surprising and confusing Margot, who clearly has to make a choice.  Unfortunately for Lou, she runs to the beach to find Daniel.  Their new life together is a series of fast forward or freeze frame images that have a provocatively suggestive quality about them, occasionally adding a threesome partner, but all of this is wordlessly shown, using snippets of Canadian indie songs throughout, almost like a sexual pastiche of wish fulfillment dreams, where her new life takes on a heightened quality about it, but there’s no actual reality shown, as it remains brand new rather than an accumulated understanding.  While Polley clearly creates an adulterous fantasia, it’s not without consequences, as when she returns to the old neighborhood to see family and friends, and Lou, the old gang is a supportive and close-knit group, where she is seen as a betraying vixen, something of a heartbreaker, as Lou is continually seen as a sweet natured guy that wouldn’t hurt anyone, including Margot, so in their eyes, the fault lies with her, as she’s broken up the gang.

Continuing this existential dilemma, there is a price you pay for freedom of choice, and in this case, it may mean dumping the old and acquiring an entirely new set of friends, a practice common among recovering substance abusers or former gang members.  In the end, it's a big question mark what she's getting herself into, where the idealized new guy could end up worse than what she's leaving in the first place, so you never know when you make that leap of faith into the void, as all that really seems to matter is it’s the first time in her life when she’s been able to choose what pleases her, and ultimately, according to this film, that’s what matters the most—cue the 1970’s women’s liberation anthem, Helen Reddy: "I Am Woman", from "The Midnight Special", 1975 ... YouTube (3:11).  No, not really, excuse the viewer flashback, more likely something grounded in a kind of cowboy sense of alienation:  Doug Paisley - Wide Open Plain - YouTube (5:35), as the film is about filling that empty sense of loneliness in our lives, even in supposedly stable marriages.  The reality of the film is the inner world of Michelle Williams as she experiences the various steps, as the entire film is seen through her eyes.  It's entirely a character development film, where what’s to like here is Polley's attention to the internal world of Williams.  She is always an ordinary person, as is her husband, but she dreams of more.  With choice comes responsibility, and to get what you want, you're going to have to hurt people.  While it’s an expression of female individuality and personal independence, it’s interesting that Polley does include the emotional cost involved, which remains a heavy weight on her back even as she feels light as a feather.      

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