One of the things I have lamented about (if not publicly), has been how harder it was for me to go watch indie and offbeat cinema in Delaware. We have a fairly decent multiplex about 20 mins drive away. But it shows a lot of movies I would not watch. Of course I have been thoroughly spoilt having lived in New Haven, Connecticut.
The city had at one time two movie houses that’s showed independent and not quite mainstream cinema. The York Square cinema, as rundown as it was, showed great movies. Sadly it has shut down now. But closer to downtown the Criterion cinemas has opened, just about the time we left town. It has newer facilities, but what I loved was you could buy a glass of wine in the lobby and then take it with you to the movie.
Back to Wilmington, we do have an art house cinema here, the theatre N. I have not been there yet. So that remains to be explored. With time and other constraints, we have sort of missed out on several good movies like volver, which we really wanted to watch.
What is the big deal right? I mean the movies do come out on DVD and we can watch them later no? True. However, I have always found something very alluring about the whole communal experience of going to watch a movie in a cinema house. I feel particularly strongly about being able to go and watch good alternative cinema, and maybe I am also looking for assurance that there are other people out there who enjoy these movies.
So this weekend, I was bitten by the movie bug. I wanted to see “Venus”. The only place running this movie was the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, over in the town of Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania. I also was not sure what movie house it was running at. All I had was an address (I was in a rush and forgot to note the name of the place showing it). So I drive by this little building that called itself “Bryn Mawr Film Institute”. I have never been to this town, so was pleasantly surprised to find that it is home to both Villanova and the Bryn Mawr College.
The town reminded me of New Haven, Connecticut where we lived for almost a decade and I have a soft corner for college towns. There is an interesting story to this place as well. From their website..
“Bryn Mawr Film Institute (BMFI) is a non-profit community theater founded in 2002 by the region’s academic, business, and civic leaders. The Mission of BMFI is to strengthen our community by providing the opportunity for diverse segments to meet, learn, share ideas, and develop talents and understanding through the catalyst of film.”I loved this cinema house and I feel like I discovered a small gem in our backyard, I plan to be back to catch movies here , what with the weather warming up and all, it should be fun.
The theater re-opened to the public on March 12, 2005 with Sir Ben Kingsley cutting the “ribbon” of 35mm film.
Sir Ben spoke eloquently of cinema as a “tribal mechanism by which we communicate profound aspects of humanity,”
On to the movie..Venus
I had read probably a review or two about this movie and based on that, knew that it should be something worth watching. I was not disappointed. There are plenty of reviews here, and this is not a review just my opinion about the film and how it connected with me. Plot summary below..
Screen legend Peter O'Toole stars in this moving story of an elderly actor and his somewhat questionable relationship with a teenage girl. Maurice (O'Toole) and his friend Ian (Leslie Phillips) are two classy curmudgeons whiling away their hours in coffee shops and at the theater, but their routine is thrown for a loop when Ian's niece's daughter Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) is sent from the country to act as his nurse. Jessie shows up on the scene sullen and pouty, immediately drinking all the liquor in the house and slouching her way from room to room. But Maurice befriends her, taking her to museums and getting her a gig as an art model, and along the way he openly expresses the lust she has awakened in him.
I loved this movie. It is a very touching and candid look at growing old and the toll that it takes on you in more ways than one. It is a frank examination of the reawakening of desire in a man who is almost in the doorway of death and how he feels alive once again.
Venus, has an excellent, excellent cast, and even Vanessa Redgrave in her small role as Maurice’s wife is just amazing. Maurice’s friend Ian (Leslie Phillips) is an admirable foil to Peter O’Toole’s Maurice. Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) also held her own against a giant such as O’Toole.
But this is O’Toole’s movie all the way. It is a very poignant performance by a truly great actor, if ever there was a high note to go out on this is it. One look at his eyes and you know that without saying a word he can convey so much more to the audience. I was reminded of this several times during the movie.
A number of scenes struck with me, especially the one where Maurice gets up along in his apartment next to the railroad tracks. As he looks out of the window while sitting on the bed, the sun falling on his face, his eyes say it all (the first time he even slaps himself in the face to get himself moving), the desolation and the loneliness.
There is a scene where Maurice waits by the river from the afternoon thru the evening for Jessie to show up for lunch. I thought that scene said a lot too although there are no close-ups of O’Toole.
There are some great lines in the movie too (typical wry English humor), I can’t recall them all now (sure sign I am getting there eh?). There are also a couple of moving scenes between Maurice and Ian and one with Maurice and his wife.
The evolution of the relationship between Jessie and Maurice is also beautifully handled by the director Roger Michell with the help of a screenplay by Hanif Kureish (some of you may be familiar with his earlier work esp “My beautiful laundrette”). The initial disdain and ignorance of that Jessie had for Maurice, gives way to a grudging respect and on to something akin to caring or dare I call it love in some form.
This is where the movie really works, because the inherent nature of a relationship such as this makes it nuanced, layered and complicated to explore and perhaps troubling in some way. To bring it alive on screen is perhaps even more hard, but it works here. The first time Maurice and Jessie go out, she passes out drunk in cab, her face on his chest. Maurice touches her face and that is an awkward moment, and as things change Jessie lets him kiss her bare shoulders and the moment while complex or even uncomfortable in some ways was also tender.
It also offered me a look at something I will have to face in a couple of decades and was a sobering reminder about the process of aging and increasing frailness. The reminder of what is coming stares at you in so many ways big and small. I have an opinion about how I would face life if I ever made it that far and found that I could no longer go on, on my own, but this is not the forum for it. The movie also brought home to me how my parents must be coping being on their own. I can only begin to imagine that.
This movie is worth your while, it only runs an hour and 35 minutes but it packs an emotional, gut wrenching punch. An authentic look at the sunset years of life and the nature of desire and it’s ability to take us to places high and low, that manifest themselves both in physical and mental ways, that can often surprise us.