DVD Round-up, Part II: Drama!
Okay, here is my (long-awaited? You decide!) short list of dramas I've seen recently...(in alphabetical order, since I'm feeling anal today).
Arranged (or, "Yes, We Can All Just Get Along")
This was a little indie film I found tucked away in the "foreign" section of my video store (even though it's an American film). It is a simple story of friendship between two young public school teachers in Brooklyn: one an Orthodox Jew, one a devout Muslim. After a few awkward encounters in the staff room, the two women end up bonding over their dislike of the school's principal after she calls both of them into her office to passive-aggressively chide Rochel for her modest long skirts and Nasira for her headscarves. (At one point the brash principal even tries to foist money on them so they can buy more "fashionable" clothes). The women also find themselves in similar situations because of both cultures' beliefs in arranged marriage: Rochel's mother has enlisted the help of a shadchan to find her a husband, while Nasira's father has begun setting up meetings with eligible Muslim men. They lean on one another for support, commisserating over their bad dates and sharing their doubts about adhering to strict religious tradition in an increasingly secular society. It's a bit predictable, but well-written and nicely acted.
Verdict: A good one to watch with your mom (and I mean that in the best possible way).
Betty Blue (or, "Bitch Crazy")
A guy with a hook on his hand rips apart a mattress. A woman eats a pizza topped with garbage. A young man rubs soup on his face in an attempt to comfort his grieving girlfriend. A student film? Nah, it's Betty Blue, a well-loved French arthouse film from 1986 that I just recently got around to watching. And the film is, well....weird. The story centers on the outstandingly dysfunctional relationship between Zorg (Zorg?) an unambitious would-be writer and his young girlfriend Betty, who is more than a little insane. The plot is meandering and relatively non-existent. It is probably best-described as a "character-driven" film, with a lots of psychosis all around. Beatrice Dalle turns in a believable performance as Betty (she's good at acting crazy, anyway). She is definitely interesting to watch, mostly for her outlandish behavior but also for her vibrant, fabulously slutty 80's dresses. (She also seems to have an aggressive aversion to underwear.) She and Zorg (Zorg!) ramble around Paris and the French countryside, carousing with fellow neurotics, pissing off people and having lots and lots of sex. As their relationship progresses, Zorg becomes increasingly unnerved by the frequency of Betty's "fits", but his codependent allegiance to the cute little nutcase keeps him chained to her side. Betty finally goes completely berserk and pokes out her eye (this happens off-camera, thankfully). Zorg dresses in drag(!) and goes to visit his beloved in the hospital, where he commits a startling, irreversible act.
Verdict: Unfocused but entertaining, with an oddly beautiful ending that almost makes it worth sitting through. Almost.
The Class (or, "I'm Sorry, Did You Say Something?")
The thing that pissed me off most about this Oscar nominated French film was the review I read in The Onion's AV Club, which basically praised the film for not being your typical, cliche-ridden "maverick teacher inspires troubled students" film common in mainstream American cinema. Fine, geeks, it's all well and good to flout the rules, buck tradition and avoid tidy endings....but seriously. This director's "daring" decision to employ non-professional actors, the endless improvised scenes and the conflict-free plot put me right to sleep after 45 minutes, and I saw this thing in the theatre. The only other film that's ever done that to me? The Grudge, Part 2.
The Lair of the White Worm (or, "Ken Russell Hates Women")
The best things about this 1988 crapfest: the title, Hugh Grant, and the ending.
Verdict: Don't bother (not that you would).