Il Grido (1957)
This is supposed to be a depressing film. It depicts the story of a man suffering from the very Antonioni-like ennui and purposelessness, wandering around the countryside aimlessly, his daughter Rosina tagging along for some length. After his great love of 7 years, Irma, abandoned him for another man, Aldo is unable to find any purpose in living. I sympathised with Aldo and all of the women he encountered on his journeys. They were all such fragile, lost creatures. Aldo withdrew into himself and became emotionally dead after Irma. The three women that happened along his path, particularly the petrol station owner Virginia, and the prostitute Andreina, they struck me as trying hard to put a brave face on it, but really being absolutely desperate for love. That scene of Aldo and Andreina in the middle of a misty field was poetry. Two broken souls together and yet completely alone. Talking of their dreams and what went wrong, but not really connecting. Andreina wanting to, but Aldo being too dead. I thought the suicide-like death of Aldo was also very fitting. It was difficult to tell at the end whether he accidentally falls down the tower staircase or is overcome by vertigo and drops unintentionally.
This sounds like the most depressing plot one can think of, but I was not depressed by it. I seem to be depressed by other things. I’ve thought of this subject before and found it a bit mysterious how I’m not depressed by films like Il Grido or the writings of Thomas Hardy, who is one of my most favourite authors. I am instead depressed by films like Sex and the City – okay, it’s a comedy, so not a fitting comparison, but if it were not a comedy, I’d be hugely depressed by it. From the compulsory readings in school, I remember being depressed by the writings of Zadie Smith and Margaret Atwood. Zadie Smith in particular. No one else seemed to see it. So I have tried to untie this knot a bit. I think it’s something to do with the manner of telling. Antonioni and Hardy create poetry out of misery. They elevate. Their characters one can sympathise with, they are suffering, they don’t deserve it, they can’t help it. They are lost and stand in the mist on an empty field in the most poetic atmosphere one can think of. Their tragedy and misery, Antonioni here even emphasising the pointlessness of it, still gains a certain larger than individual dimension. The manner of narration is elevating. And I think it is this sort of elevating that prevents it from striking me as truly depressing. Conversely, what I am depressed by is baseness and banality. The tendency to debase rather than uplift.
Jeux d’enfants or Love Me If You Dare (2003)
This film is relatively modern considering my usual repertoire. It belongs to one of my favourite sub-genres – the over-the-top mad friendship/love films. Other examples of this would be Harold & Maude and Heavenly Creatures. The us against the narrow-minded world theme has always appealed to me. I have envied the strength of such bonds, even if I might have been repulsed by the outcomes or the personalities of the characters. And I have liked how such characters challenge the norms of society. The characters in this one are not at all likeable. They seem damaged to the point of being sociopaths. They start playing a game of dares as children. Some of the dares are already fairly cruel and humiliating at that age, but when they grow into adults, it goes quite out of hand. Who can hurt the other the most seems to become the aim of the dares and their dysfunctional relationship in general. But hate is also a very exciting emotion, to quote the classics. Those two never really care about anyone but each other. The guy, Julien, even marries and has a family, but all he thinks of is that in 10 years he will hear of the girl, Sophie again. Sophie is the only person that can bring “life” to his life. And vice versa.
In short, I didn’t really like the characters. I thought they were far too cruel and heartless. And I don’t even know what to call that thing they felt for each other. Love seems to be a bit misguided. Hate does not seem right either. Dependence and limerance.
But what I liked in this film was the story-telling. The lightness, the charm, it was completely seductive as a story. I loved some of their happy scenes. And the ending was great. They had concrete poured over them at a construction site and died kissing each other until the concrete completely covered them. I found it romantic, in all its absolute depravity.