Here are three enjoyable films that get by on the pleasures of setting, romance, music.
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
From our old friend Woody Allen, a comedy flush with the hue of eros. Two young American women spending the summer in Spain (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johnansson) canoodle with a smoldering painter (Javier Bardem) and his volatile—homicidal, really—ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). In its comedy of behavior, its ensemble acting, and its narration commenting on the characters and their moods à la the French New Wave, the film evoked for me the spirit of the cinema of the 60s. Beautiful Gaudi buildings, stimulating people behaving in quickening ways. In the vicissitudes of Woody’s career, another up. “Only unfulfilled love can be romantic”.
"Tell No One"
In this romantic thriller from France a doctor (François Cluzet) and his wife swim out to a raft on a lake in deserted woods. Evening falls. They’re enjoying lounging till the doctor says something that annoys the wife and she swims back to shore. As soon as she disappears into the rushes, the doctor hears her cry out. When she doesn’t respond to his calls, he leaps to his feet and dives into the water, frantically swimming for the dock. Upon climbing out he is immediately knocked out by unseen hands. What really happened on that fateful night? Eight years later this question arises anew when the doctor receives an e-mail that appears as though it can only be from his murdered wife! This is all excellent, cracking stuff, and so gripping while you’re watching it that you don’t even mind that its twists and turns grow increasingly preposterous. An aching, tragic romance underpins the story, etched in Cluzet’s visage—the doctor and his wife had been childhood sweethearts. Great crescendos of music and montage heighten the tension and swell the heart. Directed and written by Guillaume Canet from the novel by Harlan Coben. At times you want to holler, “Hold on, what are the chances of…” But then, to truly love the movies one must have the capacity to let go with the head and let the heart take over.
The story is just a silly device on which to hang Abba music, the pitch nearly hysterical, but so what? I think "Mamma Mia!" is a lot of fun. A gorgeous Mediterranean island, Aphrodite ascendant, female revelry under the sun and deep into the night. My reaction had a personal backdrop: Abba was my favorite band during my fifth and sixth grade years. I don’t have any use for the soundtrack while the original records are still around, but on screen the joie de vivre of the singing and dancing is infectious. Meryl Streep throws herself into it completely, having a ball and annoying those who would tut-tut her for behavior unbecoming to the world’s best film actress. There’s a beautiful shot of a candlelit path running up to a little chapel atop a promontory overlooking the moonlit, shimmering sea. There’s a nice wistful subtheme about the passing of time. As always, hearing Abba’s songs instantly transported me back to my grade-school days. Most of the movie’s songs are drawn from the mighty “Abba Gold”, their greatest hits record, which Elvis Costello described perfectly: “Fast songs: for nights entertaining your Australian friends, or playing with the dressing-up box. Slow songs: a pop-music version of Bergman's ‘Scenes from a Marriage’.”
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)