Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Sounds Like A Rude Word But Isn't.

There are some things in life that I’m destined just not to get: for example, anything written by Stephen Poliakoff, or any script that is unlucky enough to find itself in the hands of Michael Winterbottom. Whether I’m simply demented, stupid or slightly retarded, I have another item to add to the list – the films of Pedro Almodóvar (well, Volver at least).

Maybe my not liking Volver exhibits my own prejudices and subjective dislikes much the same as anyone else, but when Mark Kermode describes it as a gorgeously melancholic melodrama-cum-ghost-story, I have to wonder whether he saw the same film as I did. Yeah, OK, so there’s nothing drastically wrong with it – it’s just the critical avalanche of hyperbole that is heaped upon this film just seems to be a little misplaced to me.

Talking of hyperbole, here’s Paul Howlett:

Almodóvar manages to make a ludicrous farce about a mother and daughter who kill the abusive man of the house and set about covering their tracks, hindered by a back-from-the-dead grandmother, into a work of emotionally astute, heartaching drama. It's pure magic...

Except, it isn’t – not really. I think the best way to describe it is three parts melodrama, two parts soap opera and one part camp (or five parts camp if you consider that melodrama and soap opera fall under this heading as well). Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against soap opera/continuing drama, or anything that is even remotely camp for that matter – it’s just that in Volver, soap opera is equated with ‘trash TV’, where in fact the film doesn’t really do anything to transcend the genre it’s supposed to be an ironic homage to. Think of it as a feature length episode of Emmerdale with the camp quotient turned up to eleven. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my cup of tea – like I said before, the fact that I didn’t like Volver harshly exposes my likes and dislikes, and there’s nothing I can really do about that. However, if an ‘emotionally astute’ drama is Almodóvar’s aim, then to my mind why can’t the story be told without it being fed through the prism of camp, ironic or not?

Down at the level of screenwriting mechanics, something seems to be amiss as well: although the central planks of the narrative are all sound, characters spend an absolute age saying hello and goodbye to each other, before walking across the street to do the same in someone else’s house. Characters get out of cars, walk down streets, then walk back up them. Cut these travelling to-and-fro moments out of the film, and you’d probably lose about fifteen minutes (which would be a good thing, as I almost nodded off at the 110 minute mark). A good deal of exposition is delivered during these moments in such a way as to make it obvious that these little nuggets of information are going to be vitally important later on – and there’s the problem: it’s obvious that they’re going to be important. Apart from one clunkingly enormous revelation at the film’s conclusion (which is both startling yet somehow banal), everything just seems eminently predictable.

Ah well – I’m off to see Iron Man at the weekend – something tells me that the camp quotient there is going to be dangerously low.


Elinor said...

Hmmm, I have to agree with you Chip. I liked Volver but the minute you read the hyperbole, you have to be suspicious.
Have you seen The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford yet? Fab.

Chip Smith said...

Volver has a lot going for it, but I had trouble seeing through the 'style' if you know what I mean. Besides, anything MArk Kermode likes seems to be at a diamteric opposite to my own taste, so at least he's worth reading for that reason!

I haven't seen TAOJJ yet, but it's on 'the list'. The last really great film I saw was American Gangster (weirdly overlooked at the Oscars I thought).

Elinor said...

Yes! Seriously want to see AG.