On “Harvest” and “Potiche”

Now that I’ve gotten the three plays out of the way, I might also mention that my wife and I squeezed in a pair of movies while we were in New York last week.  While I tend to go berserk with tickets when I’m in the city on my own, the two of us together are usually much more temperate.  This may set a new record for the pair of us, although we also found time on two beautiful days to do the Central Park Zoo, the Top o’ the Rock, and the bronze “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads” by the well-known Chinese artist and political activist, Ai Weiwei.  Ai was arrested in China on April 3, and his whereabouts since that time are unknown.

Both of the films we chose were movies we deemed unlikely to ever make it to Charlottesville, but in one special case, I hope I’m wrong.  On the basis of one review in the NY Times, we trotted down to the Quad Cinema to see the just-opened Harvest.   It’s a new indie, only the second feature film by writer-director Marc Meyers.  Meyers was there in the lobby in person to encourage us to encourage friends to go see it, which we enthusiastically agreed to do.  Hats off to the privately owned Quad for continuing its hospitality to new film makers in an age of rapidly decreasing opportunities and rising costs.   Harvest has already garnered several awards at regional film festivals.  But it could have so easily slipped through the cracks had not Stephen Holden spotted it and written it up for the Times, fortunately for Marc and all the rest of us.  The film was reportedly made for under a half million, which is both astounding and encouraging.  It’s the story of a very feisty patriarch of a multigenerational Italian-Jewish family in a Connecticut coastal commuter town.  Played by the terrific Robert Loggia (my favorite “Zorro” of yore), Grandpa is dying of cancer, and the family is gathering for the end, for which nobody is prepared, least of all the defiant Siv.   His wife, a still beautiful and brilliant  Barbara Barrie, suffers through the process mostly in silence, in advancing stages of Alzheimer’s.  His three children squabble.  And his grandson (newcomer, Jack Carpenter), who would rather be anywhere else, with his girlfriend, watches and learns, and for the most part serves as audience stand-in, as he is gradually drawn into the family drama.   Like any family, it’s all very complicated, but none of it is belabored.

It’s an absolutely charming and sensitive little film, about real people and situations, without a trace of cloying sentimentality, or elaborate wrapping up of what happens.  It just happens   Everything is quietly understated, and nothing is “milked,” even when dealing with the inevitable clichés that come with the end of a life.  Loose ends are deliberately left alone, and if they are important, we the audience are asked to fill in the blanks appropriately.  How refreshingly un-Hollywood!

With a nonjudgmental, impersonal distance maintained, many of the scenes are very funny, if at the same time startlingly familiar to those who have already gone through such inevitable ordeals.  This is a very positive, upbeat, wonderful little movie, and we deserve a lot more of them.   It tells gentle, simple truths, in wonderfully humanistic, sensitive ways, filtered through the veil of humor and acceptance.  Hopefully, the little push by Holden will help move it along.  And word-of-mouth will push it further.   If you can find it, go!  Marc Meyer is an artist to watch, and we wish him huge audiences and the appreciation he deserves.

The other film we slipped in was Potiche.  We went for three reasons:   I love the little art deco Paris Theatre, which sits on prime real estate across the street from the Plaza and Central Park.  Now managed by the folks at the Angelika, it is a survivor, but for who knows how long; I go when I can.  Secondly, I love classic French comedies.  And thirdly, I’d see anything with Gerard Depardieu in it.   The man has the most pliable face in the world, (… next to his countryman Fernandel, and who remembers him?)   He can be menacing and hilarious at the same time.   I’d also go see anything with Catherine Deneuve in it, and here she shines again as the title character.  In French, a potiche refers to fine china, or in this case to the perfect “trophy” wife, who attends to details and makes everything look terrific.  Meanwhile, the self-indulgent, clueless husband has no notion of why he is successful in his business, and goes about pursuing his affairs paying no attention to her.  French farces being what they are,  this is about the unraveling of such a charade, with a few hilarious surprises along the way.   So what if it’s a kind of a dated, fluffy, typical “sex farce” with no sex. based on an old play and set in the 70’s?  It pokes delicious fun at itself and all the old clichés along the way.  It was a fun way to pass a couple of hours laughing freely, the one thing we did not have an opportunity to do with our choice of otherwise superb dramatic fare for the weekend.

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