Thursday, May 16, 2013

Love is all You Need (orig. Den skaldede frisør) [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (B. Sharkey) review
AVClub (B. Kenigsberg) review 

Love is all You Need (orig. Den skaldede frisør) [2012] (directed by Susanne Bier, screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen, story by the two together) is a Danish (English-subtitled) at times appropriately R-rated romantic-comedy that's passing through the United States currently (May 2013).  In good part, the film's made it to the States because it co-stars former "James Bond" actor Pierce Brosnan.  However, since the film's also oriented at least as much toward middle-aged/older viewers as toward the young it offers American viewers possibly something "new" or at least "unexpected" in the realm of romantic comedy.  Finally, its orientation toward middle-aged/older viewers, probably helps explain why the film was released here for Mothers' Day weekend.

For my part, this is the second rather surprising (and honestly surprisingly entertaining) Danish comedy that I've seen in recent months, the first being Superclásico [2011] that played at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center's 2013 European Union Film Festival in March (honestly, comedies from Denmark?  Who would have guessed? ;-)  And yet the director Susanne Bier is no novice.  Her film In a Better World [2010] won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011 and her film After the Wedding [2006] was nominated for an Oscar as well.

Now the film comes from Europe, indeed Scandinavia, where at least by reputation much of traditional personal morality has "gone out the window."  And this film does certainly does push a number of potential buttons in this area.  So I don't approach this review with the intent to give the film an uncritical pass (and as a Catholic priest, after all, I really can't ;-)

However, I do intend to approach my review (as I've done throughout the whole history of this blog) in the spirit of the optimism/dialogue that I was taught in the Seminary at my Order's International College in Rome.  Specifically, I was taught in our hermeneutics class that we should be able to dialogue with ANYBODY and be able to discuss ANY TEXT (even Mein Kampf we were told :-).  OF COURSE, this by no means to imply that we have to agree with anything (much less with everything) in a given text or that we have to agree with the views of Nazis or Communists or "anything goes" hedonists, etc.

But we were taught that truly _any_ "text" could serve as a "teaching moment" (even Mein Kampf could offer an opportunity to talk about our fundamental values.  Are we in this world as brothers and sisters to each other? Or do see ourselves primarily as members of "competing tribes?" And even within those tribes do see some as fundamentally superior to others?  As I write this, I find interestingly enough Hitler's book's title "Mein Kampf" to be profoundly egotistical.  Honestly who should care if the book outlined Hitler's "struggle"/"aspirations" (other than it/they proved murderously toxic to millions of people)?  We share this world with billions of other people, each of whom have their own aspirations as well...

The tone here may come as a surprise to some Anglophone readers, both Catholic and non, but this really was the generally optimistic tone of our instruction at our International college in Rome, where we were taught largely by cheerful and definitely well-read Italian theology professors, many of whom also worked in various ways directly for the Vatican whose approach toward theology was largely informed from the experience of living "in the center" (Rome) a city that at least one of those professors happily reminded us students has been visited by people from all over the known world for at least 2500 years and a city that's been threatened and at times even sacked by all kinds of invaders / barbarians over the millenia (from Hannibal to Hitler, from the Vandals to the Nazis ...).  And yet both Rome (and its Church...) have proven despite all kinds of predictions to the contrary (by all kinds of people, long since gone) to be Eternal.

So there's an optimism that comes from the Church in Italy that may not be as apparent "in the Provinces," an optimism that does not necessarily fear "romantic comedies" even if they don't necessarily follow (or even want to follow) "traditional Church teaching."

The job of someone like me is reviewing a film from a Catholic perspective is to point out some of the issues at hand (and why in fact they would be issues) even as one also acknowledges the film's positive points that could be surprising and/or even edifying. 

Indeed, imagine where we would be today if St. Augustine of Canterbury in the early 600s would have gotten all upset at the still pagan Anglo Saxons he was sent to evangelize for "stupidly making fetishes of trees by bringing them into their houses during the winter time."  Instead, he looked at the trees, remembered that trees show-up at various times in the Bible, blessed them and ... today throughout most of the English speaking world, and indeed throughout most of Europe, we celebrate Christmas, how?  In part by decorating Christmas trees in our homes.  Thus in all times, we can choose to bless things that are good or even simply cute / neutral.  No one requires us to approach religion with the attitude of the Puritans or the Taliban ...

So then, with this rather long introduction (I wrote out the long introduction because I am actually approaching a film that comes from a rather distant culture and one that since the wars of the Reformation may not see itself as having much in common with the Catholic Church long since broken away from.  And yet, here we are in this ever more globalizing world finding running into each other and watching each others' films (and other cultural products) and hopefully over time learning from one another ;-) ... So let's get then to the movie:

The film is built around a wedding.  Patrick (played by Sebastian Jessen) and Astrid (played by Molly Blixt Egelind) both young Danes in their early 20s, though Patrick has a British father named Philip (played by said Pierce Brosnan) met somewhere in Europe and after a whirlwind romance (of actually only 3 months) have decided to get married ... at a house, actually a lovely (and perhaps symbolically) "lemon orchard" owned by Patrick's family standing at a lovely spot by the sea somewhere outside of Naples, Italy.  (Part of the subtext of this film is clearly the mixing of the different peoples of Europe as a result of the EU and the experience of this mixing -- here Danes, Englishmen and Italians -- to be actually largely, or at least often, very positive.  The collaboration between various EU countries  in countless film projects -- actors from two or three countries playing in a story set in a fourth with funding of the film coming from a fifth and/or a sixth  -- appears commonplace today and played-out repeatedly in the above mentioned EU Film Festival that played here in Chicago a few months ago).

Philip, Patrick's dad, had indeed worked much of his life "with lemons."  At the time of the film, Philip ran a fruit and vegetable distribution firm out of Copenhagen, but we're told that he "started with lemons."  And if Philip came across at least initially in the story as being "rather sour" ;-), it was the result of the "lemons" that life had given him.  The big tragedy of his life was that he lost his Danish wife (Patrick's mother) when Patrick was young to a completely random auto accident.  From the time that Patrick's wife had died in that tragic accident to the present, we're told that neither Philip nor Patrick had returned to that lemon orchard where Philip had actually presumably started his business.  And yet Philip buried himself in his work and had made it thrive (in a sense "turning lemons into lemonade ...") even if he remained at least at the start of the film a largely terribly "sour" person to work for (or to live with ...).

Astrid's parents, Ida (played by Trine Dyrholm) and Lief (played by Kim Bodnia), and especially Ida, had their own story.  At the beginning of the film, we see Ida at her oncologist receiving word that her bout with breast cancer appears to have ended, at least for the moment, successfully.  Her cancer appeared to have gone into remission.

But the cost of the bout had also been great.  Ida had to go through a partial mastectomy and the chemo had left her at least temporary without her hair something that could not have been easy for her as we soon find that she was hairdresser by trade.  Further, we soon find that she's been betrayed by her husband.

When Ida comes home early from the doctor's office with a bottle of wine to celebrate the good news that she's (at least for the moment) cancer free and thus free to go without worry to their daughter's wedding, she finds Lief carrying-on with Thilde (played by Christiane Schaumburg-Müller), a young blonde accountant from Lief's place of employment, on the couch in the living room.  Embarrassed, Thilde runs to the bathroom to put her skirt back on, while Ida demands from Lief: "What the...?  Who the heck is she?"  "She's Thilde from accounting."  "I'm here dying of cancer and you're screwing some bimbo named Thilde 'from accounting' on the couch that my mother gave us when we got married?"  "Your mother didn't give us the couch for our wedding."  "That's beside the point!  Now get out, both of you!"  So Ida's left opening the bottle of wine to drink for her health.... by herself.

This then is the set-up of the story.  And yes some of it is cheap.  Lief's flagrant/stupid infidelity becomes the film-makers' excuse for setting things up for Philip and Ida to get together.  And there is more.  Remember the two young lovebirds, Patrick and Astrid, really knew each other for a only very short period of time -- three months.  So there is some unresolved, indeed as yet undiscovered business that needs to be dealt with, notably that while Patrick is honestly a REALLY NICE GUY, as the wedding approaches, both he and Astrid realize that something is wrong ... that indeed, honestly _nice_ though he is, and honestly wishing to be both a good son and soon a good husband ... he's also gay.  Now how's that as a challenge for a Catholic priest setting out to write a review of the film? ;-)

Well returning to my experience in "my day job" (as a Catholic Priest in a parish here in Chicago), it turns out that in the course of the six month or so Catholic marriage preparation program prescribed to us by the Archdiocese, the question that Astrid and Patrick find themselves having to deal with at the last minute, just days before their wedding, comes up twice:

The first time it comes up is in the initial interview, where I as the priest would take down the basic information of the couple seeking to get married (and yes, I'm positive that there will be those reading here that would be laughing at me and the Chruch for there being a marriage prep process at all ... But look one of the main things that we priests do in the marriage prep process is to ensure that the couple is, indeed, free to marry and then knows what the heck it is getting into...) I'm required to ask each of the two seeking to get married the following questions: (1) Have you been married before (either in church, civilly or by common law? (2) Are there any canonical impediments to your marriage (age, sacred orders, public perpetual vow of chastity, crime, public propriety, or impotence)? (3) Do you understand the nature and obligations of marriage and do you agree, without any condition or reservation: (a) to enter into a marriage that is for life, (b) to give your spouse the right to have children, (c) accept the obligation of being faithful to your spouse, (d) to give your consent freely and without force of any kind?

Now I've always found the question regarding impotence to be kinda funny.  After all, as I tell the couples (and always with a smile): "If you're good Catholics and entering into marriage for the first time, how would you know?" :-) But given that we've been at war for the last ten years (with tens of thousands of veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with all kinds of injuries...) and there are all kinds of (for instance) young cancer survivors who as part of their treatment may have lost their ability to have children, the question is an honest one.  And if one knows that one can't have children, then this is something that the other person entering into marriage has a right to know.

The second time the matter in question (of whether one or the other of the partners is actually gay) comes up is during the couple's taking of the FOCCUS exam (a questionnaire involving about a 150 brief statements to which each of the two preparing for marriage answer with responses of (a) agree, (b) disagree, (c) uncertain), with the question: "I'm concerned that my future spouse may have homosexual feelings."

Normally, the FOCCUS exam is taken near the beginning of the marriage prep process, so the couple has close to six months to "figure things out."  And yes, I have known couples of my generation (not so much of the younger generation) where after 10-15 years of marriage, one or the other came out as gay to the bewilderment (and at least at some level betrayal) of the spouse who was straight.  (Note also that after taking the FOCCUS exam, regardless of whatever it may indicate, we always tell the couple that they remain free to marry.  It may come out that the groom wants to live with his mother forever, the couple has no mutual friends, and as a couple they do _only_ what one or the other partner wants them to do ... if the couple still wants to get married, we as Church are NOT standing in their way.  However, since marriage in the Catholic Church is a life-long commitment, it behooves the wife-to-be to know that "ma's" gonna be living with them until she dies and the husband-to-be to know that "having a single beer or playing basketball with friends after work once in a while" is gonna be a life long source of conflict prior to entering into the marriage).

Anyway all this is to say that Patrick and Astrid's problem in the film is a real one and that the Catholic Church which does take marriage preparation seriously thus requiring that the process be reasonably slow and deliberate, could have helped these two discern the problem before it came to a head right before their wedding.  

And indeed, the Catholic Church does require the six month marriage prep process because in the Catholic Church, marriage is for life and not simply until one or the other gets disappointed and/or "someone better comes along."  Hello Lief and later Ida ... who provide the other drama playing out in the story. 

Now I have long understood that romantic comedies have a certain "Wouldn't it be nice?" daydream quality to them and I appreciate that there's a certain irony/justice in this film with Ida finding the dashing (and rich ...) Philip after balding and pudgy Lief betrays her for his young, "cute" and giggling accountant Thilde.  ("That slut!" Astrid calls her.  "Stop calling your dad's girlfriend a slut," Ida actually, if half-heartedly, defends her. "Oh come on mom, she's exactly for whom the word 'slut' was invented for!" Astrid responds in one of the funnier dialogues in the film ;-).  I get it, and I'm sure that pretty much everyone seeing the movie gets it.  Yet, the reality is that there are a lot more balding/out of shape Liefs in their late 40s-50s out there than "007 quality" Pierce Brosnans running around ... Still, I understand the occasional daydream: "Wouldn't it be nice?" ;-)

So all in all the film's, above all, a diversion ... and yet it has its definitely poignant moments like when Astrid and Patrick realize that really shouldn't get married (even if it involves the embarrassment of announcing this to their assembled guests) and when Philip (and the audience) see the bald, big chunk missing out of her breast Ida coming out of the sea one time after taking a swim no doubt trying to find some peace to "process it all."

Those two scenes IMHO more than justify the making of (and going-out to see) the film.  Obviously, the film deserves an R-rating.  However for families dealing with breast cancer or even dealing with the simpler transition of "the kids leaving home (and what now?)," I think the film is quite good.

Finally, I have to say that I did enjoy the film, and (who would have guessed...) having seen two very good Danish comedies in the last few months, the next time another one comes by, I'll probably go see it as well ;-).  There is a neat gentleness to the humor present.  Good job ;-)

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

No comments:

Post a Comment