Tag Archives: grief

Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent) 2007

Given the delicacy of the subject matter, Those Who Remain (Ceux Qui Restent), a 2007 film from writer/director Anne Le Ny (Les Invités de Mon Père, The Chameleon) potentially could have been a three-hanky film, but instead of tears, this is a quality, thought-provoking film that soars above cheap clichés and easy solutions.

Teacher Bertrand (Vincent Lindon), appears to be coping with all the demands placed on him while his wife, terminally ill with breast cancer, is back in hospital. He manages to juggle his job, his domestic responsibilities, and frequent visits to the hospital with some ugly scenes with his uncooperative 16-year-old step-daughter, Valentine (Yeleem Jappain) who illogically and emotionally blames him for her mother’s illness.  During one of his visits he meets a young, attractive woman, named Lorraine (Emmanuelle Devos) who’s visiting her boyfriend about to have surgery for colon cancer.

those who remainSince neither Bertrand’s wife or Lorraine’s boyfriend are released from hospital, Bertrand and Lorraine continue to run into each other. The occasional cup of coffee morphs into a relationship that’s fraught with difficulties.

Obviously the subject matter places the characters in the middle of an emotional minefield. Both Bertrand and Lorraine meet due to the serious, life-threatening illnesses of their spouses, and they are drawn together by a strong mutual attraction. But is that the only element that pulls them together? One of the issues explored by the film is that when we support and nurse a dying spouse/loved one, we are essentially in a very lonely place. Relatives and friends can drop by to offer help, but they are able to leave. Both Bertrand and Lorraine are on a journey to the end of the road. At one point, Lorraine, who states that she’s no Mother Theresa, questions whether or not she’ll be ‘good’ or strong enough to be the person that she’s expected to be–after all, everyone expects her to stick with her boyfriend and it would seem extremely callous to dump him while he’s recovering from surgery. 

There’s also a supportive visit from Bertrand’s sister, Nathalie (played by writer/director Anne le Ny) who arrives with her husband and child in tow. It’s obvious that Nathalie has problems of her own, and the film does a wonderful job of showing how awkward it is to discuss one’s own problems in light of the impending death of another family member. It’s clear that the pall of illness and death is upon the household–no matter how much everyone tries to pretend otherwise. And it’s also clear that while Nathalie and her family are free (and relieved) to leave, Bertrand must remain until the end–whenever that may be.

If this sounds like a depressing film, it’s really not, and that’s largely due to the delicate, sensitive script which doesn’t wallow in the death aspects of the film or milk the obvious emtion of the drama, but instead includes little details such as the magazines bought by the visitors and the relationships carved with hospital personnel in the gift shop. And of course the film includes superb acting. Vincent Lindon excels at these wounded stag roles, and he’s sympathetic and admirable–always keeping his voice in a mellow reasonable tone–even as his world collapses around him. Emmanuelle Devos  as Lorriane is a bit of a dark horse here, and there are many unanswered questions about her attraction to Bertrand. Is their mutual attraction just an attempt to escape from the realities of looming death, or would their attraction extend beyond the hospital? They are both in that same lonely place, and so they understand each other’s concerns, but whereas Bertrand has been coping with his wife’s illness and battle with cancer for over 5 years, Lorriane’s journey is just beginning.

An excellent film about loss, grief and survival, Those Who Remain is highly recommended for anyone in the mood for serious French drama.

This is an entry into Richard and Caroline’s World Cinema Series 2013

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A Zed and Two Noughts (1990)

 “Grief doesn’t flavour anything. It’s just sour.”

a-zed-and-two-noughtsIn Peter Greenaway’s film A Zed and Two Noughts, the wives of twin zoologists Oliver (Eric Deacon) and Oswald Deuce (Brian Deacon) are killed in a freak car accident outside of a zoo. The driver, a woman named Alba (Andrea Ferreol) is pulled from the wreckage. Alba survives, but her leg is amputated. Oliver and Oswald are deeply grief-stricken, and they become obsessed with decay and the process of the body’s decomposition. Oscar and Oswald return to science to solve the questions they have about life and death. Oscar and Oswald initially blame Alba for the deaths of their wives, but a firm bond gradually develops between these three characters who are all mired in the grief process. The mysterious Venus de Milo (Frances Barber) is the fourth main character in the film. Venus is a teller of dirty stories who entertains the brothers while attempting to sway them from their grief.

A great deal of the film’s action takes place in and around the zoo. Here, Oliver and Oswald conduct their experiments, which involve the decay of fruit, and then they progress to mapping the decay of dead animals. Most of the decay is recorded with time-delay photography, so the grosser elements of decomposition are structured to resemble a frantic, chaotic dance of sloughing tissue. I don’t have the strongest stomach for these sorts of things, but it wasn’t too traumatic to watch. Alba is also subjected to an experiment of sorts. She claims she is “an excuse for medical experiments and art theory”–her doctor, Van Meergen, is actually a veterinary surgeon who is obsessed with the Dutch painter, Vermeer. His obsession seems to include turning real people into a living canvas, and his unscrupulous approach to medicine is tainted by his desire to convert Alba into a Vermeer subject. Van Meergen states that the “first symptom of decay” is the destruction of symmetry. Hence, Alba’s decay begins when she loses one leg. Symbolically, Oliver and Oswald attempt to restore symmetry by “joining” bodies in a suit sewed to encompass both of them. As the film progresses, Oliver and Oswald grow increasingly more alike, until they appear practically identical.

If this all sounds a bit bizarre, then you’re on the right track. A Zed and Two Noughts is one of Peter Greenaway’s most difficult and complex films. It’s also one of the least accessible. A Zed and Two Noughts is the first Greenaway film to team producer Kees Kasander, Sacha Vierny (cinematographer), and Michael Nyman (musical score) with director, Greenaway, and this highly successful team is responsible for Greenaway’s most fascinating films. A Zed and Two Noughts is visually a stunning film. Each scene is an exercise in perfection. The film’s failure, however, comes in its characterizations. Alba’s accent is extremely strong, and some of her best lines are practically indecipherable. While the three main characters are motivated by grief, they remain remote and unrealistic, and they exist to promote the film’s ideas and are often quite subordinate to the sets. Nothing exists in the film by accident–all is design, symmetry, and symbolism. And if the film watcher is intrigued by Greenaway, then unraveling the symbolism of this intricate film will delight. If, however, you are new to Greenaway, I recommend you start elsewhere–with one of the more accessible films, Pillow Book or The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover for example. Build up to A Zed and Two Noughts. This one is for die-hard Greenaway fans. If you enjoy A Zed and Two Noughts I also recommend David Croenenberg’s film, Dead Ringers.

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