Thursday, April 02, 2009

Stories, Movies, and Books

I've had several discussions with family members recently about books and movies. We've reached a consensus that if a movie is based on a book and you've read the book, you will be disappointed by the movie. We've tested that with classics and new releases alike. I've always been a fan of movies, but I like movies that are more than "entertainment". I like movies that have a story, more than just a sequence of scenes.

I watched "I've Loved You So Long" a week or so ago. There are so many subtleties in the movie that would make sense only to the French or people steeped in French culture. For example, I'm not sure everyone would catch the meaning of the title. The french title, "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime", is part of a children's song that plays a role in the movie. It's the little song Juliette teaches Lys to play on the piano, the same song Juliette played with her sister when they were kids. The song itself is very meaningful and relevant to the primary theme of the story, the relationship between the two sisters. The song's title is "A La Claire Fontaine". And Juliette's last name is Fontaine. Little details...

The full song lyrics in French and English: A la claire fontaine.

The movie was directed by Philippe Claudel. Claudel happens to be a professor of literature and novelist, both of which become relevant in the movie. A key character in the movie teaches literature at the university and characters discuss books and literature in general. More importantly, the way the movie is constructed, the way information is provided to the viewer in subtle ways, in small installments, is more typical of how a good book is written than of movie plots. This was a movie that was written and directed from a writer's point of view. The result was excellent.

There's also a key difference between how French (or European) movies tell stories vs. typical American movies. In an American movie, nine times out of ten, you can predict how the story ends, you almost know what the next scene is going to be. A French movie is much less predictable. To the uninitiated (my spouse included), a French movie can be maddeningly slow and confusing.

No comments: