Archive for October, 2010

Apartment Zero (1989)

It’s taken some time, but I’ve finally gotten through “Apartment Zero”. In truth, I had to go online to find a full plot synopsis to fill in the gaps that I couldn’t follow with the dialogue alone. I don’t have much to say regarding the storyline; overall, I found it mildly intriguing and occasionally disturbing, and I suspect that had I been able to visually follow the story, I might have enjoyed it more; this film’s plot is definitely driven more by the action than the dialogue, and given that it’s a psychological thriller, I wasn’t surprised. I wouldn’t recommend it to my blind film lovers unless you have the opportunity to watch it with someone sighted to describe the action; it isn’t a very well-known movie, so I’d venture to guess that it probably isn’t available on descriptive video. I don’t generally watch descriptive video though, so I wouldn’t really know. If you’re not familiar with the film, a quick and dirty what’s-it-about: Adrian LeDuc is a struggling revival cinema owner in Buenos Aires; his mother is in a home, suffering from demensia, and strapped for cash, Adrian decides to rent her room. Psychologically disturbed and prone to paranoya himself, he strongly begins to suspect that Jack (the American to whom he rents the room) is either spiing on him or a killer.

Naturally, given my interests, what most drew me to this film was Colin Firth’s portrayal of Adrian LeDuc. In general, I thought his depiction of paranoya was quite well-done, but what struck me the most–and what often does with Colin’s acting–was the nuances of voice. Colin has such a distinctive voice, one that’s all the more intriguing because if you don’t listen to it, you might dismiss it as somewhat monotone. Many have commented on the fact that despite his neutral appearance, he’s remarkable for his facial expressions, but I think, perhaps because it’s all I have to go on, that his voice is equally, if not more expressive. It’s the main reason why I’m so intrigued and excited about the approaching release of “The King’s Speech”. If you listen, really listen to someone’s voice, it resonates with the nuances of the meaning of words, spoken and unspoken: the nervous laughter betraying anxiety, the pregnant pause in which the tongue struggles to catch hold of a thought like fingers slipping on a wet rock, the murmur of pleasure in which, even if you aren’t looking, you can see the smile tugging at the corners of the mouth.
When I first started watching “Apartment Zero,” I noticed almost immediately that Colin’s voice sounded a bit deeper than I’ve always been accustom to hearing, and had I not known that he plays the character of Adrian, I might not have recognized him at first. I say at first–I’ve become familiar enough with his very distinctive speech patterns that eventually I’d have recognized him (or I flatter myself that I would have, anyway). I wondered if it was intentional, because occasionally, mostly I think in some of the more relaxed scenes with Jack, he seemed to slip back into his usual voice, and I really began to wonder why. I don’t think I was hearing things, though it’s entirely possible. It might well have been accidental, but I’m of the opinion that it was intentional; that deeper voice is pregnant with suppressed anxiety, and it’s far more subtle than a tremulous voice would have been. When I listened to Adrian speaking, I didn’t have to see his face–I knew that some intense pressure was building, pressing against the walls of his reserve, and that finally, inevitably, it would burst, as it does in the end. As I said, perhaps I’m entirely wrong, but after the first few scenes, I paid much closer attention to that particular aspect of the film, admittedly almost to the exclusion of anything else. I’ll probably have to watch the film again.
As for other observations, it’s obvious that there’s some sort of (for lack of a better word) homoerotic subtext regarding Adrian’s attachment to Jack. I call it that, but I don’t think that’s quite the correct term. Obviously the laundry, the cooking, the mother hen-like cautions about being late for work bespeak of something more than male homosocial bonding, but I don’t know that Adrian is sexually attracted to jack, and perhaps Adrian doesn’t know himself.
In short though, if psychological thrillers are really your thing, give this one a go.

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Full of Grace

Having grown up in an Italian family, I was naturally skeptical when I picked up Dorothia Benton Frank’s /Full of Grace/; “Great,” I thought. “This is just what we need–another popular portrayal of Italian Americans in a culture who still thinks Italians are all cut from the same cloth as The Godfather.” At a glance, the Russos are just that: you’ve got big Al, the man who has his fingers in every financial pie imaginable, hands out pricy gifts and wads of cash like candy, and opens a second business just so he can have *something* to shove his no-good son into when he can’t make a living doing anything else.

Then there’s Frank: the respectable, first-born son, professor at a university, married an Italian Catholic, has three beautiful children–check, check, check. Perfecto!

Nickie: no-good son who took eight years to finish his AA in communications and is marrying a Kindergarten teacher with blond bimbo tattooed on her forehead.

Now, there’s Grace: only daughter, living in a house her father paid for, with her (wait for it) “Irish baby butcher” agnostic boyfriend–baby butcher because he’s a doctor who does research on stem cells. Shock! Horror!

The worst part is–and I hate to admit it–that this picture is more accurate than not, give or take a few details; it’s pretty much a fill-in-the-blank Italian family in contemporary America.

In spite of this cookie-cutter family, Dorothia Benton Frank surprised me most pleasantly. Though not Italian herself, she obviously did her research: from the obnoxious Christmas lights and life-size nativity scene on the front lawn (minus the baby Jesus until Christmas morning…midnight to be precise), to the Thanksgiving dinner flavored with the taste of Italy–antipasto and ravioli on Thanksgiving? Besides the traditional turkey and trimmings? I swear to you on my grandmother’s grave, it is all true!

In short, Grace is having her own crisis of faith–symptomatic of her time spent with the live-in baby butcher, naturally–until Michael develops a brain tumor of the most fatal kind–he has a year to live…if he’s lucky. Through this story, Frank introduces us to a cast of characters who call into question everything you think you know (or don’t) about the Catholic church and faith in general; we learn that faith isn’t as black-and-white as good Catholic, bad catholic; that the individual journey of faith is far more nuanced and scenic than the straight and narrow blueprint given to us by the Vatican; that the line between God and science is so blurred as to be sometimes nonexistent; that just because you don’t believe in miracles, it doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

This book is a must-read for anyone whose family tradition is steeped in European culture–not just Italian, and not just Catholic. Some of it might  not be as relatable for non-Catholics or non-Christians, but the story is powerful all the same.

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