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"Tales of the Twilight Menshevik"

Stories in this series:

Sisters under Their Skins
Midnight Sun
A Year in the Life
October 6: A Night 2 Remember
A Day's Work
Late Summer Interlude
The Time the Twain Shall Meet
Message to a Grandchild
Ergo Bibamus 1: Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Lights in the Dark
Between the Woods and Frozen Lake
Ergo Bibamus 2: There's a Tavern Near the Town
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue
Valentine Allsorts
The Ballad of Trish and Henry
Rogue's Fairy Tale
Magneto, My First Love
To My Dark-Haired Lady
The Raven and the Oriole
Trish -- A Rapture

Val and Ray at the Movies
March 2002
July 2002

Tales of Future Twilight
Ergo Bibamus 3: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
They Will Always Be Penny and Max to Me
Getting to Know You
Fourth Thursday in November
The Iceman's Tale
Pictures at an Exhibition
The Survivor Has a Different Kind of Scar

Twilight Yet to Come
Hang on to Your Ego
Strange Headfellows
Sonnet for Magnus
Between the Winds

Val and Raven At the Movies: The Return

March 2002

Valerie: Hello again, we're back! She's Raven Darkhölme...

Raven: And she isn't. Well, after nearly two years, we've returned to review some films together.

Val: For those who haven't seen us before, my name is Cooper, Val Cooper.

Raven: Federal mutant affairs czar, mother of my children, and general pain in the neck. She insisted we'd return to do this little show again.

Val: My, you're in a snarky mood today, Raven love.

Raven: Well, what do you expect after dragging me to see the latest mystic blockbusters...

Val: My life-partner is of course referring to two of the biggest success stories of 2001, Harry Potter and The Fellowship of the Ring. Today we'll also be taking a look at a few other films which were released earlier. But before we comment on these and some of the movies that came out since our last appearances, let's just give those of our viewers who haven't seen the films yet and don't want to spoil their surprises to switch off.

Raven: So ... we might as well start with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Val: Or, as it is called in America, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Raven: I guess many other writers wish they had J.K. Rowling's kind of clout when it comes to filming their books. She ensured an all-British cast and the net result is a movie that is more faithful to the text of the book on which it is based than most. But...

Val: Some Potter fans complained that the film stayed faithful to the letter of the book but lost the spirit. What do you think?

Raven: Well, I hadn't read the book before, but I did read it after seeing the film and hearing such complaints. I'd say it caught the essence well enough. Story-wise, that is, disregarding the special effects, the film version is as good or as bad as the book.

Val: Heh. Doesn't sound as if you're one of the Potterheads we've been hearing about so much...

Raven: It's an Enid Blyton story with magic spells. Made me feel I was too old for watching or reading it in a way that other children's books don't. Basically there's no greater happiness than to a attend a big private school - I fear Xavier's will be rather a let-down for Irene and Hope, should they ever attend it -, and your own clique consists of plucky, splendid fellows while the other one is the den of thugs...

Val: Of course having belonged to an outfit called the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants you think Slytherin House got a bad rap!

Raven: Maybe. Achem. In any case, a lot of the plot seemed rather simplistic, and characters for the most part were very much what they appeared to be. Maybe I'm just too old and cynical, but after all the hype I had expected a little more. You're rather younger, Valerie darling, maybe you can appreciate the Harry Potter phenomenon better?

Val: Funny, I'd have thought the theme of smug Hogwarts superiority vis-à-vis us mere flatscans, I mean muggles, would have made you feel right at home.

Raven: I was afraid you were going to say that. Will you never let that rest?

Val: Okay, I'm sorry. You do try to be better.

Raven: Valerie!

Val: Okay, okay. I'll behave. In any case, there are some obvious parallels between our world and Harry Potter's, and that reminds me, I hear now that Trish Tilby is in a family way again (best wishes from both of us, by the way), she has finally gotten started on writing that paper that her hubby suggested, what was its title again?

Raven: 'Sorcery As a Metaphor for the Mutant Experience in the Writings of J. K. Rowling'. Can't wait to read it.

Val: Hear, hear.

Raven: I was going to say that I found the way Harry's foster parents treated him was a bit overdone, but if you see it as a metaphor for the experience some mutant children had in the real world, then maybe it's not that exaggerated at all.

Val: Or at any rate not much...

Raven: But the film is a good piece of work, given the limitations of the subject matter. The special effects don't overpower the story, John Williams once again provides some catchy tunes, and the parts are well cast and well acted, all in all.

Val: Some of my friends complained about Daniel Radcliffe, but I thought that was a little unfair. Harry Potter is not the easiest part to play, because he does not really have much by way of distinctive traits, he is an everyman kind of guy with almost no distinctive character traits, a bit like Tintin. He is more defined by what happens to him and what he does than by what he is. Because of this, nearly everyone can identify with him, but it makes things very hard for an actor. Emma Watson as Hermione Granger has much more meat to get her teeth in...

Raven: A Lisa Simpson kind of girl, a total swot who first strikes you as unlikeable but whose hidden depths end up winning you over...

Val: ...and young Emma took full advantage of the scope that opened to her. And of course you got a huge assortment of big British character actors filling the parts of the adults, from Richard Harris as Hogwarts Über-Father figure Albus Dumbledore to the versatile Julie Walters in a cameo as Mrs. Weasley.

Raven: And the sequel less than a year away, just as in the case of our next offering, The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of three parts of the filming of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Which was very much in fashion when you went to school. When I think of your Star Wars fixation, I don't doubt you devoured it whole back then?

Val: 'Fraid so. And having read the book until it fell apart, I was actually more than a little hesitant to go to see this movie. The animated Bakshi version some years back did not exactly help.

Raven: But once you actually saw it you couldn't stop raving on about how great the film was...!

Val: Ravennn! Could you please let me talk about it my own way.

Raven: Yes, ma'am.

Val: Well, Raven's right, at least in part, there was so much about The Fellowship of the Ring that impressed me. The New Zealand locations looked spectacular...

Raven: Which prompted Terry Pratchett to say that the landscape had more character than the characters on the usenet newsgroup

Val: ...the buildings looked a lot as I imagined them, in some cases even better, and the special effects were amazing, for instance the huge armies of thousands of computer-generated orcs and things. Visually, it was incredible.

Raven: There was a tendency to show things that were only talked about in the novel but on the other hand they cut huge tracts that at least in my impression were to Tolkien. For instance the entire Tom Bombadil chapters. What do you think of that, oh knowledgeable one?

Val: Well, he isn't essential to the main plot. In the books Tom provides some whimsical relief but he is a bit extraneous to the Middle Earth mythology (he is not accounted for in the creation stories that were published in The Silmarillion, but then to begin with, Tom Bombadil actually was a doll that belonged to Tolkien's children). Anyway, there is only so much you can fit into three hours. But in other cases I too had to wonder about some of the choices they made. The makers of the movie obviously had their own ideas about what is essential to The Lord of the Rings and what isn't, and I'm not sure if I'd agree with them on everything.

Raven: I haven't read the book as often as you, young Skywalker, but I did get the impression that even though Tolkien is not exactly famed for subtle and sophisticated characterization, the makers of the film made the story a little too simplistic, and not just by leaving things out, but also by adding stuff to nail things down that were left vague or ambiguous in the book.

Val: You mean things like making Saruman (who is really a minor off-screen character in the printed version of the Fellowship) responsible for the bad weather on Caradhras that forces them to go back and go through Moria?

Raven: Indeed. And then there were points when they seemed to be saying: Could we please emphasise this point some more, could we add yet another indication that Boromir is going to turn traitor. Or the conversation between Gandalf and Elrond where Elrond makes pessimistic observations (I suppose you'd call them racist) about humans in general...

Val: ...while failing to divulge that Elrond as a Peredhil is half-human and that Isildur, whose failure to destroy the Ring he bemoans, actually was a kind of nephew, a direct descendant of his brother Elros...

Raven: Well, these examples at least enabled you to show off your knowledge of Tolkien trivia.

Val: It's not that I disliked all changes. For instance I was all for the bigger part given to Arwen. But I was a bit sorry that they left out Gimli's infatuation with Galadriel. Unfortunately they decided to treat Gimli primarily as a comic character and left out the romanticism that Tolkien revealed in him in the Moria and Lórien sequences and which was such a welcome exception to the kind of behaviour you normally associate with dwarves.

Raven: They could have shown that if they had dared to make the flight from Moria shorter, especially the whole drawn-out sequence with the broken stairs.

Val: But then they'd have lost 'Nobody tosses a dwarf!'

Raven: That's a loss? Shouldn't you be more bothered with them leaving out most of the poetry and songs?

Val: Because I write poetry myself? Well, maybe. They could have used more of Tolkien's lines.

Raven: Maybe, but then they probably should have got a different composer. I found the score rather disappointing.

Val: Well, it certainly did not stick in the mind as well as John Williams' Harry Potter tunes. And why they didn't set one of Tolkien's own songs to music for the final credits instead of having Enya write a new one...

Raven: Forgettable Keltoid kitsch!

Val: Raven, play nice! Actually, my favorite Tolkien music is still Bo Hansson's electronic album and song cycle composed by Donald Swann. Perhaps imperfect, but charming period pieces both.

Raven: There's no accounting for tastes...

Val: What else is there to say? The actors were very good, although for reasons of time and space not all could shine equally, and with Frodo we once again run into the problem of a main character who seems to be less of a character than almost anybody else in the story. Everyhobbit becoming a reluctant saviour.

Raven: Tolkien indicated that Frodo was chosen by fate to be the one to carry the ring to destruction, but apparently that entailed being saintly, bereft of any distinguishing character traits, and prone to breaking into tears.

Val: Now, now Raven ... (suppresses a giggle) Pffft, actually that isn't such a bad description of how they did him in the movie, more's the pity.

Raven: Heh.

Val: You know, we've come across the same problem with Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Now I'd really like to think of a fictional saviour-figure who isn't perfect to the point of blandness.

Raven: A reluctant hero?

Val: Yes.

Raven: Hmmm ... We recently saw Mulan again, that seems to fit the bill in most respects. She's a character who has some noticeable character traits, even some rough edges (her impulsiveness especially tends to get her into trouble). So she's a bit of a misfit and a large part of her motivation derives from not living up to the expectations of her loved ones or her own hopes, from her sense of failure. And during the film she goes through a process of self-discovery.

Val: The most interesting aspect for me was the clash between Mulan's irrepressible individuality and the values of her society, where a person's individuality is severely restricted by traditional roles and belonging to your family.

Raven: Although this clash to a large extent happens within Mulan herself. For instance the way her actions reflect on her family's honor is more important to her than how they reflect on her (the only time she expresses pride in something she did is when she wants to get Shan Yu mad). So in her way she upholds most traditional values...

Val: Well, she does gently call into question the traditional division of roles between men and women.

Raven: ...even though in some respects she feels compelled-by her own personality and by the exceptional situation-to act in disobedience both to the father she loves and to the laws of the country she ends up saving.

Val: Yes, she almost stumbles into the role of reluctant saviour of the civilized world (from the Chinese point of view). You can compare that to the quasi-messianic role thrust on Harry Potter or Frodo having to take on the role of the Ringbearer. But there is also the exterior aspect to the conflict, that of how the others, official China and Mulan's family, react to her deeds, slowly come to accept and cherish her anomalous individuality. An interesting addition to the old myth. But enough of that, let's return to the more recent films. Anything you think we should add about The Fellowship of the Ring?

Raven: Ian McKellen makes a wonderful Gandalf. I remember Michael Hordern from the BBC radio play, but Sir Ian also looked the part.

Val: Yes, very well acted, both in the more funny parts, like when he kept bumping his head in Bag End, and in the more serious ones. He certainly added conviction to that conversation with Frodo about why Bilbo didn't kill Gollum and he sort of speaks out against the death penalty...

Raven: Did you ever notice he looks a lot like Magneto?

Val: Huh?

Raven: Without the beard, of course...

Val: Yes, if we found a way to de-age him, he'd be a good choice to play him if they ever made a film about the X-Men or, dare I say it, the Brotherhood.

Raven: Who should play Charles Xavier in that case?

Val: Good question. Hmmm, if we're sticking to British actors, how about Ben Kingsley?

Raven: Puh-leez! He played Gandhi, let's not give Chuck more delusions of grandeur than he already has ... Heh, this is fun. Who for yourself?

Val: Oh dear. Wellll, maybe someone sexy, like Kim Basinger or Rebecca Romijn...

Raven: Or Heidi Klum. Hmmm, how about Lisa Kudrow? She could play a proper, uptight teacher in The Opposite of Sex, and in her more usual roles she's close to your accustomed flakiness.

Val: The flakiness that's never more apparent than in my choice of partner. Speaking of whom, who do you want to play you?

Raven: If the studio chooses anyone but Gina Gershon there's going to be trouble.

Val: Not a bad choice. But returning to reality, let's have a look at some of the other movies we saw since the last time. Love + Sex.

Raven: Nice but not to deep. Satisfying if you have to spend a couple of rainy hours. You know, Famke Janssen would make a great Jean Grey...

Val: Ha! They'd never let a Dutchwoman play an all-American girl like Jean.

Raven: I can dream, can't I? Then there was Shrek. Which I rather liked. Computer animation for entertainment purposes has come some way, and the voices fit the characters very well.

Val: Yes, I especially liked the way the Princess' movements and little mannerisms went along with Cameron Diaz' voice, even though she did not look that much like Cameron Diaz. John Lithgow also very nice as the villain, and Eddie Murphy seems to be making a career of voices for animated figures, lending is vocal chords to Shrek's donkey companion, after doing such a good job of Mushu the dragon in Mulan.

Raven: Well, his live film career is a bit slow, so it's good to see him exploring other avenues ... Oh dear, there's so many we could talk about. Since we're on animated features, there's the claymation movie Chicken Run, by Nick Park, the maker of those hilarious Wallace and Gromit shorts.

Val: I had my doubts about a full-length feature, but it was great. Irene loves it, even though she's too young to get the references to The Great Escape and those other prison camp movies that are spoofed here.

Raven: Kurt told me that they when they dubbed it into German, Mac got a Dutch accent.

Val: Odd. Wonder what they used in the French version. Occitain or Québecois?

Raven: But Now for something different: Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Val: Simply amazing. I just love Michelle Yeoh as the experienced swordswoman who is secretly in love with Chow Yun Fat.. Of course she has the innate advantage of that fascinating face. And Zhang Zi Yi also was superb as the younger heroine.

Raven: Good ending, great score, and wonderful landscapes, as well as spectacular action scenes. Well worth seeing. By the way, if you like films about quests for stolen swords, you may also enjoy the fairly recent Japanese black-and-white production Samurai Fiction, although that is a very different film in other respects.

Val: Oh dear, there are so many we still have to catch up on after our extended sebbatical. I'm not even sure if we're not talking about films we dealt with befor the break. Ah well. In any case, we'd also like to recommend Being John Malkovich.

Raven: The two main characters aren't too much like Val and me. Well, Valerie is a bit like Cameron Diaz here, likes to take in strays. But she looks better than Cameron ...

Val: I think I know someone who's going to get an extra helping of dessert tonight.

Raven: When you're grinning like this your mouth is almost as broad as hers. Quite fetching. Actually, I was just about to say better than Cameron does in this film, but if that's what I can expect, I'll leave out the qualification. But now: Sonnenallee, which could be called 'Once upon a time in East Berlin'.

Val: A not entirely realistic satirical film by Leander Haussmann (co-written by Thomas Brussig) set in East Berlin when it still was the capital of the German Democratic Republic.

Raven: It's right in the shadow of the Wall - Sonnenallee is an actual street that was cut in two by the 'anti-fascist protective wall', and the main characters are East German high school kids who lived on its shorter eastern part.

Val: It's not just a satire of the now-defunct East German society, its government and police bureaucracies, the difficulties of getting hold of certain consumer goods or of Western music (one of the boys' holy grail is a certain Rolling Stones LP)...

Raven: Are you sure they'll know what an LP is?

Val: also pokes fun at Western attitudes to the East. So you don't just have laughs generated from the inept Volkspolizist on the beat or the school principal, but also from the West German relative who smuggles stuff through the Iron Curtain which he actually could have brought in openly, or the tourists who ride a sightseeing bus through East Berlin as if it was some kind of safari park.

Raven: On the other hand, it is also a story of growing up, a look back at lost youth. There was a very telling sentence in the end: "It was the most beautiful time ever, because I was young and in love."

Val: From the German capital we return to America for Fast Food, Fast Women by Amos Kolleck, an entry in the Cannes Film Festival two years ago.

Raven: Starring Anna Thomson as an overworked waitress in her mid-thirties. Somewhat more upbeat than Kolleck's immediately preceding work. A bit like a Woody Allen movie, and worth a look.

Val: The usual troubles with parents, relationships, big city neuroses. Speaking of Woody Allen, Small Time Crooks was a pure joy. Not the Bergmanexque 'serious' Woody Allen, just a fun story, where Woody has a very effective partner in Tracey Ullman.

Raven: They set up a cookie bakery as a cover for an ineptly executed bank-robbery. The tunnel Allen and his accomplices dig somehow misses the vault, but luckily Ullman's cookies prove so popular they become rich on them. However, problems don't end then, as they now find themselves as fish out of water among those strange people, the rich of New York.

Val: It is rather odd to see Allen hire Hugh Grant to teach Ullman (actually another English person) to teach her proper British culture. But very funny.

Raven: Also from 2000, we'd like to mention Im Juli (In July) a road movie by Fatih Akin.

Val: Aunt Emma told me that they had first taken notice of Akin in 1998 with the release of Kurz und schmerzlos (Short and Painless), a gritty film set of Turkish small-time criminals in Germany, now, somewhat unexpectedly for critics who like to put people into drawers, he turned to comedy.

Raven: It's the story of Daniel (played by Moritz Bleibtreu), a shy high school teacher, who sets out on a journey across Europe in pursuit of a woman with whom he's impulsively fallen in love. It becomes a journey both of discovery - not least about life in many Balkan countries after the collapse of the Eastern bloc - and of self-discovery.

Val: You may remember Moritz Bleibtreu from Run, Lola, Run, where he played Franka Potente's boyfriend, or from the enigmatic, at times confusing, but poetic and oddly compelling Luna Papa.

Raven: Anyway, there he is, looking forward to a quiet summer break in the Altona neighborhood of Hamburg (in real life Fatih Akin's home turf) when Juli (Christiane Paul), a slightly hippyesque character who makes a living selling cheap jewelry prophesies to him that he will find the love of his life at a certain club that night. He'll recognize her by the sun she's wearing.

Val: Actually she has a secret crush on him, but unfortunately for her, she is not the only woman with a sun that evening, and instead of falling for her, Daniel is smitten with Melek (Idil Üner), an attractive Turkish lady on a visit from Berlin.

Raven: But Melek (whose name means 'angel') leaves the next day, before Daniel has a chance to tell her he loves her. All he knows is the day and hour when she is going to meet with a friend under the bridge across the Bosphorus on the European side of Istanbul. So he decides to set off in his neighbor's car to be there on that day.

Val: Juli, meanwhile, is heartbroken and decides to leave Hamburg. She'll hitch a ride from the first car-driver who'll stop, and wherever his destination is, that's where she'll start a new life.

Raven: Kurt had to laugh so hard when her concerned friend asks: "But what will you do if they go to Bavaria?" (He just has this secret thing because so many people think he is from Bavaria). But have no fear, the first car that stops is the one driven by Daniel.

Val: And so the odyssey through Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria begins. As you probably guessed, things don't go smoothly, cars and passports are lost, customs officials have to be bribed, Daniel is laid low by a Mickey Finn slipped to him by a beguiling lady trucker, in the end he has to hitch a ride from a tough and scary Mehmet Kurtulus (complete with a dead body in the back) in a desperate bid to make his self-set appointment in Istanbul.

Raven: All the while continually losing sight of Juli and then running into her again. She still can't bring herself to confess her feelings to him, but he grows a bit fond of her, so...

Val: Well, let's just add that the best way to watch this film is we did with Kurt and his family at last summer's Altonale - in an open-air performance outside the Zeise cinema in Altona. But we still have a few more films to cover.

Raven: Very well. Another comedy I rather enjoyed was Pane e tulipani (Bread and Tulips), directed by Silvio Soldini. In it, Licia Maglietta stars as Rosalba, a housewife breaking out of her staid conventional existence.

Val: Yes, one day when she's out on a coach tour through Southern Italy with her family, she gets left behind at a highway service station because her macho husband is too dumb to notice she's gone. When she finally reaches him on the cellular phone, he blames her, so she decides to teach him a lesson and instead of waiting for the coach to drive back and pick her up, she hitches a ride to Venice because she's never been there.

Raven: What I found nice was that Silvio Soldini shows you Venice from the back, as it were. Even though Rosalba begins her stay there as a starry-eyed tourist, you don't get to see all the touristy shots of the sights you normally see. For instance, you only get to see the tower of San Marco once, as a small reflection in her sunglasses.

Val: During her stay she meets Fernando, an elderly shy, melancholy old waiter in a dingy little restaurant. He's played by Bruno Ganz, whom you may remember as one of the angels in Der Himmel über Berlin.

Raven: Bruno Ganz is Swiss, and his mother actually was an Italian speaker, so his Italian is fluent; but his Germanic accent is too noticeable for Italians to be passed over, so they explain that in the story by saying that Fernando is from Iceland.

Val: Anyway, he is charming in a somewhat clumsy way, and he has the most wonderful, stilted, but also a bit poetic way of expressing himself.

Raven: So after he overhears Rosalba having an argument on the phone with her husband, he says to her: "Am I correct to conclude that in your husband we are not dealing with the most profound connoisseur of your soul?"

Val: He is also able to recite Ariosto's Orlando Furioso by the yard, having learned a lot of it by heart while in prison.

Raven: One thing I learned through Pane e tulipani was how hard it is to get hold of that book these days.

Val: Anyway, after she misses the train she originally meant to ride back home to her home and family, Rosalba decides to stay in Venice longer, taking a job as a florist's salesperson. Meanwhile, her husband finds life without wifey an utter catastrophe, especially as he can't even get his mistress to help him with the laundry.

Raven: "I'm your mistress, not your spouse," she says, "you'd better see to it that Rosalba comes home pronto."

Val: He owns a shop for bathroom appliances, so in an effort to economize, he does not hire a private eye, but sends an apprentice to ferret out his wife. He has read over a hundred detective novels, so he's obviously qualified for the job.

Raven: It's a lovely film with some memorable characters - for instance there's Fernando's neighbor (a somewhat flaky New Age-type), the pudgy plumber's apprentice-turned-flatfoot and the Anarchist florist (who in one hilarious scene scares off a potential custormer for asking for the wrong kind of flowers). You also get some intriguing glimpses at popular Italian culture, for instance when Rosalba and the neighbor grow teary-eyed watching an old Italian weepie on TV or when she and Fernando go out dancing in a nostalgic dance club.

Val: There's also some jabs at popular Italian attitudes, for instance in the opening scene where the coach tour visits the temple at Paestum and the guide goes on about how the Italians are the world's most remarkable people, because they are the synthesis of Romans and Greeks.

Raven: But of course these elements are not always easy to catch for non-Italians. For instance, when Fernando apologizes about the quality of the food at his restaurant....

Val: Because the cook is in hospital with appendicitis.

Raven: ... Rosalba says: "At least it's not Chinese." Which picks up on certain xenophobic sentiments in Italy and adds a bigger emphasis to Fernando's gently chiding answer; "Signora, the Chinese are the world's greatest cooks." Well, so much for Bread and Tulips. Next we come to a film that is right up my do-gooding Val's alley, France's biggest success in 2001, indeed in recent memory....

Val: All right, all right. Raven is of course referring to Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Raven: I preferred his Delicatessen myself. In some ways it is the opposite of Pane e tulipani, because here you get to see a very picture-post-cardy image of Paris.

Val: Well, I guess so. The central character, Amélie (played by Audrey Tautou) is a waitress in a café in Montmartre, perhaps the most picturesque neighborhood of the French capital, and many traditional expectations about Paris are catered to, not least by the score, with its strong emphasis on waltzes and accordeons. But then I don't think this film is intended to be realistic...

Raven: It's a fairy tale.

Val: Yes, a modern fairy tale, or an attempt to transform something familiar into a magic place. So I think that some critics' complaints that it isn't a realistic portrayal of present-day Paris miss the point. Also, there is always an ironic element present, which prevents the film from veering off into kitsch. But now, some words about the story. Amélie is the only child of a stern, petit-bourgeois couple

Raven: The father an emotionally restrained doctor, the mother an at times hypersensitive teacher.

Val: She loses her mother at an early age and so to some extent retreats into a fantasy world. Then, one day she accidentally discovers a tin box hidden ina hole in the wall of her bathroom. In it are the personal treasures-little pictures, figurines and the like-that belonged to a boy who lived in what is now her apartment decades ago. So she gets it in her head to track down the previous owner and return the box to him.

Raven: But in a way so that he doesn't know who returns these boyish treasures to him.

Val: But she watches his reactions, unrecognized, and seeing how overcome with emotion he is, she decides that henceforth she will do good deeds to help better everybody's lives.

Raven: You see that Val immediately could identify with Amélie.

Val: But, as I said, that is immediately broken by irony, for instance when she has this fantasy of a her devotion culminating in the kind of pompous state funeral and saintly status accorded to Lady Di (or Lady Dee, as she's pronounced by the French). And, of course, Amélie's interventions aren't just helpful. Sometimes they also take the form of elaborate and carefully executed practical jokes in retribution on people who behave badly to their fellow human.

Raven: Such as the local greengrocer. I rather enjoyed those scenes.

Val: You weren't the only one. Anyway, in some ways it is a bit like Pane e tulipani, for instance in that they both occasionally reference the popular culture of bygone days. And of course they're both love stories and deal with very strange characters.

Raven: What I liked best about Amélie was the oddball way the story is told, for instance that the story is frequently interrupted to introduce various characters, their life story, their likes and dislikes, or when computer animation adds an element of the surreal, for instance when the object of Amélie's affection fails to notice her and her breaking heart is visualized by having her turn into water that then falls down and just becomes a puddle on the floor.

Val: And of course young Audrey Tautou is simply wonderful, capturing the sweet, the dreamy, the sentimental as well as the elfin and mischievous qualities of the film's heroine.

Raven: Oh yes, very pretty and quirky. So, that leaves us just with enough time for one more movie. And that's going to be...?

Val: Bridget Jones's Diary.

Raven: Yet another romantic comedy, I see.

Val: Among other things. But hey, I like romantic comedies. And admit, it so do you sometimes.

Raven: Well, this one is based on Helen Fielding's satirical series of the same name that appeared as a column in the The Independent and which achieved cult status among the readers of that British newspaper. It's the story of a year in the life of a single thirty-something English girl who struggles with her jobs, her parents, her weight and her potential boyfriends.

Val: For many Britons Bridget Jones became a minor national icon, so there was some quite vocal scepticism when it was announced that her part would be played by a Texan, namely Renée Zellweger. But she confounded the sceptics, doing a slight Robert de Niro to acquire Bridget's, er, delightfully padded figure, and she took lessons to learn the proper accent

Raven: Apparently from the same dialect coach who also helped Gwyneth Paltrow to do such a convincing job playing Englishwomen, e.g. in Shakespeare in Love. Yes, Ms. Zellweger came as a wonderful surprise to many pessimists. She is utterly convincing in the part, of an ordinary, almost plain, somewhat awkward, yet very likeable girl. The story was abridged and adapted into a movie screenplay by Helen Fielding with some help, among others, by Richard Curtis, the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Blackadder, in the process getting a more straightforward plot and a greater focus on the romantic aspects. But for a film that helps.

Val: Not that they entirely left out the other aspects of Bridget's life, like her problems at her jobs -- first as an employee at a publishing firm, then as a television presenter -- for instance, there's a great scene at the launch of some awful book where Bridget has to give a short talk and desperately tries not to embarrass herself in front of Salman Rushdie.

Raven: But still there is more emphasis on Bridget's man troubles, who come in the shape of Hugh Grant (who, as in Small-Time Crooks, is cast against his usual shy, lovable Englishman image) and Colin Firth. Grant is Bridget's boss at the publishing house, suave, but not, how shall we put this...

Val: Not exactly reliable?

Raven: That's as good a way of putting it as any. On the other hand Firth as a barrister who seems to be too stiff and proper to be a romantic hero, in spite of his literary name Darcy.

Val: Still, he's a bit nicer here than as the boorish Lord Wessex in Shakespeare in Love.

Raven: There's also an assortment of supporting characters who, while they don't get a chance to steal scenes in the way that the supporters in 4 Weddings and in Notting Hill do, have occasions where they shine, especially the actors playing Bridget's parents (whose marriage, in one of the subplots, is going through a crisis). So all in all it was a film I did not mind seeing.

Val: I might as well admit it, I liked the way the romance progressed in fits and starts, with embarrassing moments and misunderstandings. And a very nice finale.

Raven: That had you clutching your handkerchief.

Val: So what if I did. Well, that's all for today. Now was it really so bad, Raven?

Raven: Ohh, all right. it was bearable.

Val: (giggles)

Raven: You know, I didn't have a handkerchief, but ... er ... if I had to, I'd run out half-naked into a snowstorm after you.

Val: You would...?

(Raven looks deep into Val's eyes, then takes her hand and lifts it to her lips)

Val: Raven, that's ... well, I'm speechl-- ... You know, you were so irritable and cross today I didn't expect...

Raven: Hey, you're my Val, you're allowed to get on my nerves any day.

(she moves in closer)

Val: Hmm, the feeling's mutual...

(they kiss)

Raven: All right, move along, there's nothing to see here, turn of the camera!

(the screen goes black)

NOTE: Views expressed by Valerie Cooper and Raven Darkhölme are not necessarily those of Tilman Stieve, even though he wrote this dialogue, which first appeared in Mirkwood Menshevik #73 (a fanzine produced for MZS-APA, March 2002). Val & Ray at the Movies is (c) Tilman Stieve.

Beast (Henry McCoy), Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Dr. Valerie Cooper, Jean Grey, Magneto, Mystique (Raven Dark­hölme), Nightcrawler (Kurt Wagner), Professor X (Charles Xavier), Rogue, Trish Tilby, and the X-Men are (c) and TM Marvel Comics.
Emma, Hope and Irene Cooper are (c) Tilman Stieve.


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