Dec 072007

We finished watching Vodka Lemon tonight. I didn’t mean to watch all the way to the end, but it’s Friday night and we forgot about everything else for a while.

About the only movies I can stand to watch are foreign, non-English movies. I’m very pro-American but the shallow stupidity of almost all American movies drives me away. I sometimes make an effort to sit down and watch one just to be sociable, but usually can’t take it for long. Whenever there is evidence that the writers and producers come from very narrow, constricted backgrounds, with narrow ranges of experience and narrow ideologies to match (which is almost all of the time) I’m out of there.

There was a great Garrison Keilor radio skit about this, back in the days before Keilor started constricting his own self to this mold made himself fit this mold himself. It had to do with making a movie version of Heidi. Except the producers had some problems with the original concept and wanted to make a few changes. By the time they were done with their tinkering, Heidi was a helicopter pilot for the Los Angeles PD and the grandfather ran a deli in Long Beach. I’d give a lot to have an audio copy of that skit.

So why is it that in the foreign movies I like to watch, I focus on some of the most trivial details, like whether people in winter really act cold? Good question. I have no answer, just an acknowledgment.

Here’s another example. There is something I like about movies (and cultures) in which people take their good dining room chairs outside to sit and visit. Not on a patio or porch. Not even on a manicured lawn. Just on the grass or the dirt. Or in the case of Vodka Lemon, in the snow and slush.

It’s very unlike American suburbia, with its lawn chairs, patio tables, swimming pools and outdoor barbecues, and other outdoor parafenalia. But I do remember family get-to-gethers from my childhood like that, in which indoor tables and tablecloths were set up outside, and the good, four-footed dining room chairs were brought outside to supplement the wooden-slat folding chairs borrowed from church.

Old photos of pioneers on the sod prairie frontier often feature Ma and Pa sitting outside on the good chairs. In those cases, all photos were taken outside because that’s where there was light, and the family usually wanted to show off its valuable possessions.

We’ve sometimes taken our oak, slat-backed dining room chairs outside on the rare times we eat out on a table on the lawn, but it seems a little old-fashioned. And those types of chairs don’t rest easily on uneven ground.

So I like movies that show people doing that. We saw it in Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears (Moskva Slezam ne Verit) and in Unfinished Piece for Player Piano (Neokonchenaya Piesa dlya Mekhanicheskogo Pianino). And there is a lot of it in Vodka Lemon, except that the movie never made it all the way to springtime, green grass, and dry ground. The closest it came was some springtime melting and slush. But the chairs were out there. That as well as other things made up for the low quotient of spoken Russian.

Dec 062007

Tonight we started watching Vodka Lemon. I’ll definitely have to watch it twice to figure out how all the scenes tie together.

I had somehow not thought of Armenia as a cold, wintry place, but there are lots of good scenes of cold and snow. The characters are obviously living in very poorly heated houses. The concept is understood in a way that southern Californian filmmakers would never quite get.

So far not much Russian has been spoken, which is not making this one nearly as good for language-learning as was Mimino. I presume most of what I’m hearing is Armenian, but I understand not a bit of that.

I just now read on Wikipedia that there is supposed to be French in it. Well, the opening credits are in French, but if any has been spoken, I missed it. Wikipedia says the movie was forty-one French words short of enough to qualify it as French cinema; therefore the producing company went bankrupt.

Regardless of the language issues, this one is doing fine in the winter/cold department. I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of winter/cold temperature scenes in movies. One movie that was a huge disappointment in that regard was Krasnaya Palatka (The Red Tent). It isn’t a complete failure, but there are some scenes that are completely, off-puttingly unrealistic. Somebody who is naked and freezing to death is not going to do it the way it’s shown there. And there are other scenes at the end that come from glaciers calving, not the Arctic ice pack where the movie is supposed to take place. It was a poor editing decision to insert that stuff. The Russians usually do a good job on these things. Maybe that one would have been OK if Russians had been left to do the whole thing.