Category Archive: Our Favorites

Jun 22

Breakfast On Pluto

In three words or more: Turning this Serious World into a Fairytale

Take Voltaire’s Candide, place him in a 1960’s Ireland plagued by the Irish Republican Army , throw in a couple of high hills, a dozen flamboyant dresses, and don’t forget to add a touch of Alice in Wonderland‘s folly. The result is Patricia “Kitten” Braden (Cilian Murphy), the irresistible transgender protagonist of Breakfast on Pluto.

Framed as an autobiography of her life, the movie opens with Kitten’s deep but gentle voice explaining the circumstances under which she was born. I usually consider the presence of narrators a sign of laziness on the director’s part, and am skeptical of their use, as it distracts the audience without contributing to the plot. However, Kitten’s performance surprised me: Her voice is authentic and unique, captivating the viewer and ushering him into her world.

Photographer: Filippo A. Nesci

The autobiographical quality of Breakfast on Pluto is enhanced through the use of chapter headings that divide Kitten’s life into sections, similarly to the chapters of a book. Coincidentally, Breakfast on Pluto is based on the homonymous novel by Patrick Mc Cabe, who collaborated with director Neil Jordan in writing the screenplay. However, the movie lacks the overt sexuality of the story: while the original Patrick liked to be called “Pussy” and engaged in all sorts of immoral activity, the more prude Kitten doesn’t even dare to kiss the people she loves. Nonetheless, she makes up for it by concocting wacky side- stories. For instance, Kitten imagines herself transforming into a leather-dressed spy which defeats I.R.A. bombers with the help of a Coco Chanel perfume.

For those who have seen one of Neil Jordan’s previous works, The Crying Game, some of the themes discussed in Breakfast on Pluto will sound familiar. However, Breakfast is far from being “the Crying Game redux,” as Stephen Holden had dubbed it in his review on The New York Times. While the two movies both narrate the story of a transgender character and use the I.R.A. as a backdrop, the Crying Game lacks the talent of Cilian Murphy. The actor’s performance as Kitten puts a new spin onto Jordan’s repertoire, turning what could have tasted like stale bread into a refreshing laughing game. Incredibly at ease in his role, Cilian bolsters the script with sensuality and startling blue eyes, never lapsing into the stereotype of the effeminate freak. Additionally, this role confirms him as one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, considering that he had last appeared on screen as the evil –and masculine –  plane hijacker in the Red Eye.

Ultimately, Cilian Murphy is not the only reason to see this movie, which stands out for its cinematic techniques. For instance, Kitten’s emotions are enhanced through the use of soft focus, which consists in the blurring of the frame or parts of it. Another aptly used device is overexposure, a technique which creates a light hue brightening each shot, imbuing them with a heaven-like quality.

Aesthetically, Breakfast is also notable for its editing, which is well thought out and demonstrates the director’s familiarity with the Kuleshov effect.  Inspired by the Russian directors of the 1920’s, Neil Jordan cuts from disparate images that seem to have no spatial or temporal connection, but are linked on a deeper level that speaks to the viewer’s subconscious. This device enables the emotional tension to reach its epitome, and might shed a tear from even the driest and most stoic eyes.

If there is a soft spot in this movie, it’s definitely the length: (2 hours and 9 minutes). Fortunately, however, the combination of Jordan’s unorthodox creativity and Cilian’s charm bend reality – and time – as easily as they were made of play doh. Birds talk through the aid of subtitles, and priests make love with cleaning ladies who resemble the famous American actress Mitzi Gaynor. Then there’s Praticia “Kitten” Braden, who doesn’t let herself be worried by this “serious, serious” world, thus incurring into serious, serious trouble. For instance, she has the “brilliant” idea of throwing  her lover’s guns into a nearby lake during a burst of “spring cleaning.” Too bad the weapons belong to the I.R.A., who is ready to kill to get them back. Unsurprisingly, Billy is terrorized, and runs for his life. Surprisingly, however, Kitten’s life is spared. Have the I.R.A. become tender-hearted? Not really. The reason? I guess you’ll have to watch the movie, if you want to find out…

Unscathed, Kitten then proceeds to explore London, the city in which her mother supposedly lives. There, our hero gives yet another demonstration of her unworldliness by bickering with a woman who argues that the pavement has got her name on it. “What is it, Concrete?” inquires Kitten, oblivious to the fact she’s talking to a prostitute. She then unwittingly steals Concrete’s next client, who almost strangles her, but is saved by quick reflexes and her lucky weapon – perfume. At this point, the audience is righteously worried that Kitten won’t survive the journey, and they cringe when she trusts the umpteenth stranger. Will Kitten meet her mother, and will she ever find someone who truly understands her? Maybe, like Candide, Kitten and her audience will have to admit that ours isn’t the best of possible worlds. But give this movie a try, and you might discover that, although this world might sometimes be intimidating, or utterly disappointing, there’s a rich breakfast waiting for you…

…on the “icy and mysterious wastes of Pluto.”


Enchanted?

The Movie: Breakfast on Pluto

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Jun 22

Amelie

In 3 words or less: Delectable, Quirky, Enchanting.

Interested? Read on:

Experimentalist cinema has its own distinct likability… and European movie makers have been pioneers in this specific genre. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini) would be an appropriate example of  movie in which the Director crafts a story about himself, his work and how hard it is to be a well-respected and marginally understood filmmaker. Amélie is yet another example of a movie in which the Director puts forth a lot of his own personality and little quirks, which make the entire experience all the more delightful… whether it be the extraordinarily spectacular sequence of Amélie’s Mom’s death, or the extremely specific likes and dislikes of the many individuals peppered around in the movie.

In all my knowledge, this is the only non-animated movie (barring Garfield) where a Cat’s likes and dislikes are showcased with significant interest… Which brings me to my first observation on the movie… it’s delectable and exotic, but you should have a refined palate to digest this exquisitely gourmet meal full of varying flavors ranging from the astounding to the perplexing to the downright weird. You can remark on the sanity of a man who collects torn up photographs from under the passport photo booths and makes an album out of them.. or about the artist who has made the same painting twelve times and still isn’t sure about how to draw the hands and expressions of a plain-old girl holding a plain-old cup.

And yet, you come across much more mundane characters like a guy smitten by a waitress, refusing to make any attempt of getting over her (what he does in the café every day is a whole another story) or, the man (Amélie’s Dad) who wants to travel the world but doesn’t, because of an inherent fear. What is most remarkable about the treatment of the subjects is that Monsieur Jeunet weighs their fears, aspirations, insecurities and well.. quirks (I’m becoming very aware of the over-usage and probable abuse of this word in this review) with the same balance. He looks at these personal attributes through the same lens and amazingly, makes us believe that any kind of irrational behavior, however socially acceptable it might be, is essentially.. a quirk (again!).

Since the movie is innately overdrawn and wildly imaginative, it often poses questions such as why was a particular scene necessary in the screenplay (like the number of Orgasms reaching their climax in the city of Paris at a particular instance in time) or how does a particular character, who remains unreferenced throughout the movie after the initial mention, contribute to the Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain (this coincidentally is the exact translation of the French title of the movie.. mind you.. coincidentally). The only person who could answer this question is, sadly, no longer amongst us, although his work lives on through the ages and never fails to fascinate the children who come across it for the first time. Yes, I’m talking about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) and his book “Through the looking glass, and what Alice found there”. I won’t be wrong in interpreting Amélie as a version of this book tailor made for adults… it has all the elements that would make any author who writes stories on wizards and flying dragons proud, although the issues dealt with here are anchored to reality (albeit its own) a lot more firmly. Add to that some amazing music by Yann Tiersen and you have an experiment that can’t possibly go wrong.

They say the true skill of an expert Swordsman, Pianist and Calligraphy Artist lies in their supple wrists. So why is it, that their skill is not attributed to their sharp minds and rather to an insignificant part of their body? It’s because the mind can create great compositions and plans, but you need extraordinary control on the hands which execute them. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to create a movie like Amélie without having that extraordinary control over the fragile nature of the protagonist’s fantasies. Projects like these have a tendency (and arguably a history) of becoming too fantastic for their own good, and eventually collapsing in on themselves due to the sheer burden of their self-created complexities. The remarkable thing about Amélie, is that instead of becoming an onerous and suicidal beast, it floats along like a butterfly, never failing to entertain or fascinate us by the whimsical path of its flight.

 


Enchanted?

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