Criterion Month: How Love Is in the Look in ‘Before Sunrise’, ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, and ‘Frances Ha’

This essay is by our guest writer, Marina Vuotto.

“It’s that thing when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it…but it’s a party, and you’re both talking to other people, and you’re laughing and shining…and you look across the room and catch each other’s eyes – but not because you’re possessive, or it’s precisely sexual, but because…that is your person in this life. And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it’s this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It’s sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don’t have the ability to perceive them.”

Frances Ha’s personal definition of love is so delicately observed, so personal yet universal, so accurate in its specificity, that it has a poetic quality to it; Greta Gerwig’s delivery, as she fumbles for the right words, gesticulates and looks around for validation, gives body to Frances’ attempt to explain something unexplainable, to articulate a feeling that’s powerful yet wordless. Her way of giving the speech has that tone of a friend trying to explain what they mean, only to realize that there’s no need to finish their sentence because you’ve understood it despite their inability to express it precisely; because you know them, because you’ve felt it.

And yet, where words fail, cinema steps in: when it’s truly great, not only does it substitute explaining with showing, but it’s able to recreate a feeling to immerse you in it and make you live it. And as difficult as recreating that particular feeling – that thing – is, three films get pretty close: Before Sunrise, The Royal Tenenbaums, and, of course, Frances Ha. In each one of them, the most powerful love scenes are played out through a quiet exchange of looks, which brings the secret world Frances talks about to life.

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‘Dogman’: A Nuanced, Unexpected Anti-Hero Origin Story

Dogman, starting from its title, is structured like a superhero origin story: the protagonist’s humble origins, the humiliations endured, the evil antagonist and the desire to vindicate and prove himself, are all elements that Marcello (Marcello Fonte) and the average superhero share, except the results are dramatically different. If anything, Dogman proves how harmful the superhero rhetoric can be. Marcello is, and remains throughout the story, a little man. He works as a dog groomer in the shop that he owns and that he has called “Dogman.”

Director Matteo Garrone carefully constructs this story in order to elicit maximum sympathy: it is essential that Dogman be likable, in order for the film to work as it does. So, he presents Marcello to us as a loving, caring, and pathetic person, but never pathetic enough for us to make fun of him. In fact, in the way in which he presents him, Garrone achieves an unlikely, but ultimately, successful balance between ironic detachment and empathy. In the opening scene, Marcello is visually ridiculed by the comparison between his tiny, slouched body and the size and violent energy of the dogs to which he is completely devoted and which he calls diminutive, cutesy nicknames. In another scene, this devotion is exposed in light of his loneliness, as Marcello is shown sitting alone in the darkness, watching TV and sharing his meal with one of his dogs, which is eating from the same plate as him. This, along with the scenes with his daughter, are the moments in which Marcello ceases to be a caricature and becomes an emotionally charged character that the audience can feel for.


Continue reading “‘Dogman’: A Nuanced, Unexpected Anti-Hero Origin Story”