I recently had a movie watching experience that (accidentally / fortuitously) managed to sum up the entire purpose of this site in one neat little package.
My story starts several months ago with an episode of the Canon podcast. That show’s hosts rarely agree on movies, but when Amy Nicholson went on a tangent about how much she loves a 1959 French-Brazillian movie called Black Orpheus her co-host Devin Farici actually co-signed her recommendation. That rare bit of agreement made me curious, so I put it the movie (which I’d never heard of before) on my to-see list. When I actually got around to watching it I discovered that I agreed with both of them: Black Orpheus is just as vibrant and kooky as advertised.
Fast forward to two weeks ago when I see that there’s a new article about Black Orpheus at the AV Club. Now, I normally steer clear of A.A. Dowd’s Palme Thursday column because I don’t really care about the sort of movies that play at the Cannes Film Fest – too art-y for my tastes – but since I had seen the movie in question I was a little curious. The article ended up being okay – it did a decent job of putting Black Orpheus into a historical context but it didn’t really capture what makes it such an exciting film to watch; I walked away from that movie thinking "wow, all of that technicolor footage of Brazil's Carnival was so eye-popping", not "that will be a useful example if I ever need to write an essay about the evolotuon of mid-century French filmmaking."
However, Dowd's article did have one passage that piqued my interest: I'd never heard much about Hiroshima Mon Amour, which Dowd describes as a French New Wave film that is “nakedly critical of [America’s] decision to drop the bomb.” Now, as I said I'm not much for Cannes-y films, but I am fascinated by the question of whether or not we should have dropped the bomb, so I decide to add Hiroshima Mon Amour to my ever evolving to-see list.
So last week I sat down and watched Hiroshima Mon Amour. Now, there’s a lot to be said about that film, but unfortunately I’m not really going to get into most of it. I'm not going to delve into any of it's technical aspects and I'm not going to address it's historical context. In fact, I'm not even going to address the atom bomb question, even though that's what attraced me to the film in the first place. Alas, today I'm going to be focusing on two very different aspects of my viewing experience.
First I should explain that Hiroshima Mon Amour concerns two lovers – a Frenchwoman named Elle, played by Emmanuelle Riva, and a Japanese man named Lui, played by Eiji Okada – who have a brief dalliance in Hiroshima before they retreat back to their normal everyday lives in other cities. The film is in large part about the sacrifices that people have to make to stay alive: in their short time together the lovers each share harrowing stories of how they suffered during World War Two and how they are still being effected by those experiences many years later.
Hiroshima Mon Amour is a heavy movie and I was certainly moved by Elle and Lui’s struggles. But neither of the two things that shaped my experience the most actually occurred on screen.
You see, as has been heavily established at this point I don’t generally watch a lot of European cinema but I will occasionally watch a foreign film if it is particularly well regarded. As such I was not very well versed with Emmanuelle Riva’s work (which has mostly been limited to French movies) going into Hiroshima Mon Amour. In fact, I had only seen her in one other film, Michael Haneke’s 2012 Oscar wining movie Amour, where she plays a woman named Anne who is slowly succumbing to dementia. Given that my one mental image of Riva was that of a woman in her eighties who was slowly dying of old age it was rather startling to see her as a fresh-faced movie star in a romantic melodrama from 1959…
So there I am, watching a movie that’s all about how hard life can be, and how each of us must struggle to maintain our humanity and our sanity in the face of a world that is full of suffering, and of course I’m asking myself the question that the movie is asking its audience: is it all worth it in the end? And of course the whole time I can’t stop thinking about how the best possible outcome of life’s journey is that you live a long time and grow old in comfort… so that you can slowly devolve into poor drooling Anne, who slowly loses her mind and breaks her husband’s heart.
At this point you might be wondering: why did I say I only wanted to get into two small facets of my Hiroshima Mon Amour experience? Surely I’d want to dwell on all the many ways it made me miserable, right?
Here's the thing: there is a duality at the heart of this site. On the one hand you have your serious side, where Kirk the would-be intellectual tries to engage with the world’s most well regarded art. On the other hand you’ve also got the light hearted side, where my feline philistine has a jolly old time just taking a nap. And as I said up top my Hiroshima Mon Amour experience accidentally ended up covering both sides of that divide... Because I actually had an honest-to-God cat style interruption in the middle of watching this wrenching existential drama.
Mind you it was not a literal cat interuption – my fuzzy goofball was back at my house, chilling on top of my bed. (Or possibly under the bed; she seems to like both spots equally.) No, this was a metaphorical cat interruption, one that was actually performed by three small children and a harried dad.
Let me explain: I watch most of my movies at home, but sometimes when I'm feeling a bit stir crazy at my house I’ll go and watch something on the big flat screen in the rec room at my work. It can feel a bit weird to be wasting my off the clock time at my place of employment but for the most part it is fine. The rec room set up is pretty nice - their TV is actually much nicer than mine, probably because the parent company has more dough to spend on frivolous shit than I do. (It guess it pays to be a large company and not a low-level drone.)
More importantly, the rec room is a decent place to watch films because for the most part I'm left alone there; I wouldn't be comfortable watching a movie in such a public setting if I felt that it was actually public and that strangers could come in and judge my oddball viewing choices at any time.
But the reason why I had to say “…for the most part” just then was because sometimes other employees do come in to use the rec room on their off hours and when they do it can be weird. It was definitely weird last weekend when I was halfway through watching a foreign film about nuclear annihilation and a small family walked in and started playing air hockey without ever acknowledging my presence.
You read that right: at about the forty five minute mark in Hiroshima Mon Amour the light switch in the rec room got flipped on and a dad and three kids under the age of ten walked in. They saw arty seriousness on one wall, they saw an air hockey table in the center of the room, and they quickly made up their mind: yeah, fuck that French film lovin' weirdo, we’re going to go ahead and play the game we came here to play.
You might think that an intrusion like that would make me mad. Afer all it was rather rude for them to start making a lot of noise ten feet from my face without even bothering to ask me if that would be okay. But it actually made me happy in a strange way, because it brought me back to why I started this site: namely to remind myself that while great art can be important it isn't the be all and end all of existence. There’s something to be said for the intellectual pleasure of challenging yourself, but there’s also something to be said for the gentle creature comfort of taking a nap. Or playing air hockey with your kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
But their interruption also made me laugh because in an odd way those kids' unexpected appearance underlined some of the movie’s main themes. For example, one of Hiroshima Mon Amour's central conceits is that time rolls on even if we aren't ready for it to do so. And there I was, watching a fifty year old movie that was (in my mind, at least) tied to a movie I’d see in 2012, and tied a podcast I’d listened to months ago, and tied to an historical context obssessed article that I’d read the week before – but that previously unbroken chain of Big Thoughts was interrupted by some (probably ignorant) middle schoolers who just wanted to play a game. So it is true: the eternal present is always going to keep pushing the past out of the way, whether we like it or not.
That air hockey game also underlined another of Hiroshima Mon Amour's underlying themes: Elle and Lui's story is supposed to illustrate just how difficult it can be for a human to live their life in such an uncaring world. So it is kind of fitting that I went into that rec room intent on living my life the way I wanted to live it... and I ended up getting elbowed out of my safe space by some greedy little punks who didn't care that I had gotten there first.
But the most important way that those kids' presence influenced how I understood Hiroshima Mon Amour is that they took an objective viewing experience and made it subjective. When I first started watching Hiroshima Mon Amour I kept thinking about the other Amour, and about how Emmanuelle Riva had gone from being a pouty sexpot to a long suffering septuagenarian... And that's a powerful thought, but that thought is even more powerful if it isn't abstract - if it's not about a stranger aging, if it's about you aging. And realizing that I had once been that kid who cared more about air hockey than death-obsessed cinema made me realize that I, too, was getting older.
Hopefully now you see why I said that my experience with Hiroshima Mon Amour is a perfect encapsulation of what I want this site to be. I want my writing to be about universal ideas and personal experiences in equal measures. I want my writing to prove that I can be an intellectual but also that I can laugh at myself. And most importantly, I want this site to be about both the big and little jokes of life - about the small scale absurdity of being interupted mid-movie by an uninvited pack of pre-teens, and about the large scale absurdity of realizing that Emmanuelle Riva used to be a pre-teen and now she's old, and that I used to be a pre-teen and now I'm middle aged, and that those pre-teens are pre-teens now but they, too, will be old some day, and that every living thing is on a relentless march to eventual obsolence. And I think that the story I just told has a little bit of all of that.
Well... I take back the "perfect" thing, because the cat is theoretically half of this site and she didn't really make an appearance in this story. So if you'll excuse me I think I'm going to head back home and try to rustle up a snuggle. Just, you know, so I can complete the whole story, and not because I kind of need one right now.
Winner: Those Damn Air Hockey Playing Kids... For Now