Last May, annual inflation in Venezuela reached 24,600 percent. In one abstract, swift declaration, my mom’s monthly university professor salary became the equivalent of a dozen of eggs, or $2.70 US.
When I was 18 years old, I quit university to dedicate myself to music exclusively. I had been studying piano and cello since I was 8 or 9, but had only gotten more seriously interested, if not confident, as I got older. I studied at the Conservatory of Music in Maracaibo (Venezuela), a revered institution among all musicians in the city. Apart from some serious heartbreak that I was going through at the time, those months of intense focus and dedication to my instruments were some of the most satisfying of my life. I gave myself a rigorous practice schedule and I took to it almost immediately. Discipline can give you great pleasure, in particular through the feeling of mental and physical control it gives you. Every day, the slowly won victories–mastering a difficult exercise, moving from painfully learning a piece to being able to play it with feeling–gave me hope and kept me going.
In a world of cliché movie love stories, along comes Corazón de León, a hilarious and unusual love story about a woman trying to overcome a world of prejudice and fear.
After suffering through months of hype, last weekend I was finally able to see 12 Years a Slave, the newest film by British director Steve McQueen. It tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a New York musician who was kidnapped and sold as a slave in 1841. Adapted from Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name, the movie chronicles in detail the horrors Mr. Northup had to endure during his 12 years as a slave in the Deep South.
The call of the sea. It promises solitude, adventure and a profound connection with nature both at its most beautiful and peaceful and at its most awesome and terrifying. All Is Lost, a new film by J. C. Chandor, fulfills all these promises while offering a compelling commentary on the indifference of nature and of humans.
Once again, my wonderfully geeky brother has come to my cultural rescue. He told me I absolutely had to watch this documentary about this old guy, a photographer, who lived in New York: “It’s about fashion, and art, and New York. Watch it, you will love it, you will cry.” That’s how he sold it to me, although he didn’t need to. He only had to say “art” and “fashion” and he knew I would already be all over it.
I recently won a movie pass from one of the best video stores we have in the city. I’m subscribed to their newsletter and it’s pretty easy to enter your name in the contests and also to win them. The only problem is that, if your name is selected, you must be one of the first 20 or the first 10 people to go get the pass at their store, first-come first-served. Their store is not near my house by any means, so a few weeks ago when I won a pass to see the French movie Rust and Bone, I had to take extraordinary measures to go get the tickets, which basically means I escaped work one Friday evening, called my husband to tell him there would be no dinner for at least the next several hours, waited in the wind and the cold for a bus and went to get the tickets at the store. There was a lineup when I got there. I had phoned earlier, just before leaving work, and they had told me that there were “only 5 left!” and to “hurry up!” I feared and already hated every other movie geek who may get the passes before me. Thankfully, there were enough left when I got there and I got mine.
My husband and I have not had a date for maybe the last two centuries, so I invited him on a date to see this movie. I know that it was a cheap move, inviting him for a movie with a free movie pass, but at this point in our lives, a cheap date is better than no date. Besides, the movies you watch with a movie pass are usually the most special (we watched Persepolis with a pass and it was one of the best movie experiences of my life, but that’s another story). The movie was going to be showing in one of my favourite movie theatres in the city as well, which also happens to be located very close to my brother’s place. So we dropped off our son with him and left for the movie.
Rust and Bone is a love story, a redemption story, a story about overcoming tragedy, and about survival. It stars with a loser: his name is Ali and he is making his way to his sister’s home to live with her. He has a young son, 5 or 6 years old, and has separated from his child’s mother. He is starting a new life in a different town. His sister is generous, she takes them both in, becomes a mother to the child. But they are not well-off by any means: she is a cashier at a supermarket and her husband drives a truck to make deliveries. Ali is certainly clueless about his son: he doesn’t know him, doesn’t know if he used to go to school before they left, doesn’t know what he likes. But he is there and he tries to make a life for both of them. Ali takes care of his body, is the one thing he knows how to do, so he runs, goes to the gym and eventually finds a job as a security guard/bouncer at a club. He has a chance encounter with a beautiful woman who is involved in a fight at the club. Stéphanie is unhappy in her current relationship, we gather, but that’s as much as we learn about it. She works as a whale trainer at a water park. Later, she suffers a horrible accident where she loses her legs. And then, the real story of the movie starts.
Stéphanie goes through a long depression but one day she calls Ali and they reconnect. He suggests they go out as her apartment is messy and filled with the smell of a place that never has its windows open. So they go to the beach (this is the south of France). One quality that Ali has is that he doesn’t make a big deal of Stéphanie having lost her legs, doesn’t pity her, he simply is. In one beautiful scene, Stéphanie finally decides she wants to go for a swim. Ali helps her get in the water; she doesn’t have a swimsuit but that doesn’t stop her. This being the south of France, she casually strips to her underwear in the water and feels free for the first time in months.
Marion Cotillard is probably one of the most beautiful women in cinema today and she is sublime as Stéphanie: she is subtly defiant, a fighter, but never aggressive. She is somebody who was used to being beautiful, to being admired, and with the qualities of somebody who goes through life knowing the effect they have on other people. It’s beautiful to watch. Ali is also a fighter, literally. He likes to watch ultimate fighting and eventually starts fighting himself. It’s gruesome to watch. But he is good and starts making money through the fights.
Like many movies about boxers and fighters, we see how sad their life can be. We see him destroy his body for the sake of a few euros and make many mistakes along the way, specially with his son and his family. But fighting is the one thing he knows how to do, the one thing he is good at. And in the end, it’s his physical brutality that saves his son’s life and his own, in every sense. In between, Ali and Stéphanie come together romantically but their relationship is presented in the least romantic and sentimental way possible. In an interview Marion Cotillard did recently, she spoke of how difficult sex scenes are always for her. The exception she said, were the sex scenes in this movie, which she cherished for the sake of her character who has gone through so much pain and trauma. Those scenes (specially the later ones) are truly special and for me, unforgettable. This is brave film-making, unsentimental and honest. I’m so happy I took my husband on a date to see this movie; he loved the cinematography. And I did too.