Archive for December 23rd, 2015


 © 2015 by James Clark

      One of the great attractions of Paris is the Musee d’Orsay, an art museum and a former railway station smack in the heart of the City’s fabulousness and specializing in France’s gift to transformation, namely, Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings. There the visitor—though he or she may never assimilate it as such—comes into a close encounter with a planet that resembles Earth but also comprises a bedrock of kinetic grace and communion (a Christmas morning fantasy of sorts) which our blue planet’s atmosphere would snuff out in a trice. Or would it?

Someone or some committee there, taking as a starting point the blissfulness of the collection, contrived (in the early years of the new century and new millennium) a union between the museum’s expressivity—and money—and the world’s front-line auteurs who would make what they could, in film form, of the possibilities of the world of untrammelled ecstasy on their walls (and, in a wider sense, their sculptures and industrial design of the late 19th and early 20th centuries). The first filmmaker recruited for such a venture could not have been a more promising choice, namely Hou Hsiao Hsien, proving, in pictures like Goodbye South, Goodbye, Millennium Mambo and Three Times, that visually, sonically and dramatically pregnant surges enliven the spirit of the refulgence of the work of Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Cezanne et al.

Whereas the tableaux in Paris are all about the magic of everything coming up roses, the motion pictures (as such) of Hou tend to determine that hell is other people. In the film resulting from this collision of sorts, namely, Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), our protagonist, Suzanne, a designer of puppet shows, comes to us as a pronounced subscriber to a career of manufacturing facsimiles of sentient creatures in contradistinction to a wider life of trench warfare. “The sea is rough!” she cries out melodramatically, during our first meeting her rehearsing the bearable vicissitudes of the puppet scenario. A near brawl with a deadbeat renter, along with anxieties about an adolescent daughter living with her divorced father in Brussels and, Musee d’Orsay notwithstanding, in no hurry to ever see Paris again and a Banana Republic latest sputtering flame adamantly living in Montreal, eventually spill over to the precincts of the museum of note, emitting a song, “Chin-chin,” more Surrealist than Impressionist, on the subject of a disappointed woman sinking into alcoholism. Evincing the excitement the commission knew they could count on from Hou, we have this dark plunge surrounded by and interacted with players (major and minor) in the City of Light having fallen under that spell of beatitude and goodwill served up (but not exclusively) by the genius of the d’Orsay deposit and often approximated at Christmas. That cornucopia constitutes the Yuletide presence of this out of season mystery. Here we have, in the language of the heart if not the specific register, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, Scrooge’s nephew and his wife and friends, as having attained to not only overcoming resentments but having also put into play an idiom of easy, undemonstrative affection—a Christmas gift like no other. (more…)

Read Full Post »