Dan Callahan: Tender is the Night
There were several things to get excited about in 2006. First and foremost was the US premiere of Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows (1969), an epic meditation on the French resistance that dwarfs Melville’s smaller noirs. Robert Altman made a graceful final bow with the death-obsessed but elegiac A Prairie Home Companion, and David Lynch crafted a three-hour love letter to Laura Dern, INLAND EMPIRE, that features his most loving and sympathetic views of women caught in traps. Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu made the movies feel like life again, with its real time study of a man heading towards the grave without much comfort along the way. And Emma Thompson spearheaded a charming and rather overlooked children’s film, Nanny McPhee, that captured some of the spirit of the old 1950’s Ealing comedies. A fleeting moment that has stayed with me: the way Vanessa Redgrave says, “You will burn, Maurice,” to Peter O’Toole in Venus, her voice filled with vengeful, “I’m going too far, but so what?” certainty. And two glories from the difficult but rewarding Jacques Rivette/Roberto Rossellini retros at MOMI and MOMA: the dreamy views of solitude in Rivette’s Out 1: Spectre (1972), and Ingrid Bergman’s lyric performance in the almost-never-seen, trance-like, valedictory Joan of Arc at the Stake (1954)
On a more depressing note, a film like Little Miss Sunshine became an “indie” hit; in the 1970’s, Little Miss Sunshine would have starred Ryan O’Neal and Jill Clayburgh and it would have been viewed as a completely artificial, commercial comedy. Today, it’s an “independent” movie because it didn’t cost too much money. Worse, though, to my mind, is the contemptuous Little Children, which got a bewildering number of critical raves for hating all of its characters and parroting arid old New Yorker short stories while adding a Dateline “To Catch a Predator” modern twist. Aside from the oases provided by tough-love Altman and romantic Lynch, 2006 was a year in film where contempt was in, from I Hate My Mother (the egregious Running With Scissors) to I Hate America (Babel). We even saw a revival of the Predatory Repressed Lesbian character (a syllable-munching Dame Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal) that I thought had been retired since 1968. If I was to wish for anything in the coming year, it would be a little tenderness and some gentle understanding in our films. We’ve all had enough, I think, of fire hose theatrics and mean-spirited, hollow mockery.
Dan Callahan is a contributor to The House Next Door. His writing has appeared in Slant Magazine, Bright Lights Film Journal, and Senses of Cinema among other publications.