Yvan Attal starts his film Happily Ever After with a hackneyed twist. Gabrielle (Charlotte Gainsbourg) flirts with a few men at a bar, giving her phone number to one but eventually leaving the bar with another, Vincent (Attal). They warm to one another and get downright passionate on the elevator up to her apartment. When they enter the flat, there’s … a babysitter, who says all’s fine with their son, and departs. We’ve been pranked! And this is the sort of cinematic gamesmanship that can put a viewer off a film from the start.
But Attal wins us back–some of us, anyway–by deconstructing that opening gambit, which is built on the idea that the couple know themselves much better than the audience knows them. Well, no: Although he loves his wife and son, Vincent is also having an affair. This being a story rather than a situation, the affair must be exposed. The people involved react in credible, complex ways.
To give the story breathing room, there are other lives rotating around our central couple: a single man, embracing the uncommitted life; and another couple whose relationship is a series of angry skirmishes. There is a lot of philosophical conversation about love and its variations–pleasing, if not quite at the level of a Rohmer film. And that elevator ride from the start of the film? Let’s just say the idea is revisited, to pleasing effect.
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Grand Piano, directed by Eugenio Mira from a screenplay by Damien Chazelle, also challenges itself. The plot centers on a classical music concert threatened by a hidden sniper. I suppose you could say Mira isn’t really looking to be compared to Hitchcock, unless he makes the film a second time. All right, never mind that; the convoluted plot falls apart on its own. I feel duty-bound to ridicule and spoil it.
When Norman Reisinger (Don McManus), a musical entrepreneur, died, he left no trace of his vast fortune. That fortune is of the finders-keepers variety, because it apparently belongs to whoever holds a certain magic key. That key is hidden in Reisinger’s prize piano, which will release it with a clink-clink-rattle-thump if a particularly difficult musical passage is played correctly. Only Reisinger’s locksmith, Clem (John Cusack), knows about the key. Reisinger found Clem by looking in the Yellow Pages under Locksmiths, Evil.
The magic piano has been hustled out of storage to be played by Tom (Elijah Wood) in a concert. Tom is the only pianist skilled enough to play the difficult musical passage, and Clem has snuck the piece containing that passage into the program for the concert. Tom doesn’t know this until the show starts, and he finds instructions scrawled on his score. (Thank goodness Tom isn’t one of those fancy pianists who perform without a score.) Tom knows that Clem is in hiding, pointing a rifle at him, because of the red laser dot that shows up on his desk, his keyboard, and his person. Plus, Tom’s glam Hollywood actress wife (Kerry Bishé) is attending the concert, in case the shooter needs an additional target.
You may remember that in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the assassin’s shot was timed to take place when there was a crash of cymbals, to cover up the sound. That’s not a problem in Grand Piano; Clem’s rifle (in case Tom fails to deliver) is, how shall I put it, pianississimo. But with luck there will be no shooting. If all goes well, Tom will execute the difficult passage, the piano will go clink-clink-rattle-thump and drop the key to the stage floor, Clem will put down his rifle, make his way to the stage, pick up the key in view of the entire audience, say something like, “Ah, there’s my key! I wondered where I left it,” and exit a rich, rich man.
Everything does not go as planned, but can you blame me for not caring?
Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is a remake of a 1975 horror film, Ganja & Hess, which I have not seen. An anthropologist is stabbed with an ancient dagger from a blood-addicted African kingdom, and he develops a vampire-like bloodlust. He finds a lover, with whom he shares his addiction. There are various killings and resurrections, and the whole thing is performed in a stilted, unnatural style. I didn’t take to it, but if we have to get one of these for every splendid film like Chi-Raq, I say amen.