Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No Country

Last weekend I finally caught the Coen brothers' latest at the Colonial Theatre. It's a rich, intense film, certainly one of the year's best, though I found it something to appreciate rather than fall in love with. I do, however, admire the brothers' ability to bring off a particularly elegant yet unconventional narrative, the logline for which might be simply: “Tommy Lee Jones retires.” Imagine pitching that to a studio.

The day before, Jenifer and I saw the children’s double feature of the newly restored White Mane and The Red Balloon. White Mane was a revelation, both a dreamy fairy tale and a masterpiece of cinematography. The Red Balloon I had seen when I was in first grade, barely older than the boy who ran through the streets of Paris. The images of that city have stayed with me all these years, and except for its airports I have not yet experienced it firsthand. I wanted to go back.

These are children’s films, for and about children, and they are strange. Both feature child protagonists who reach out to the irrational and thereby escape the limits of society. Today you probably couldn’t film these images any more than these images, these movements, exist to be filmed. Where would you find children capable of such actions? Where would they be allowed to run, to climb, to ride with such skill and nerve? I found myself wondering about what kind of liability insurance the filmmakers had taken out, whether France had any kind of humane association to monitor the horses.

The children of these films enjoy a greater freedom and fitness than their modern counterparts. If Folco in White Mane had both more skill and more responsibility than I did at his age, I identified with little Pascal in The Red Balloon because I, too, walked to school. Today, the mothers in my condoplex drive their overscheduled and underwild children to the bus stop, releasing them from the minivan only when the bus rolls up. A “No Skateboarding Allowed” sign now stands in the greenspace where the goblins (as Jenifer calls the tweens) once gathered.

Now that I’ve gotten to the end of this thing, I find my lament as cranky and bewildered as that of Tommy Lee Jones’s sheriff. The constriction of the suburbs, the inevitability of death, maybe the young and the old suffer the same things.

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