Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Malabar Op goes to the movies: The Final Reel

The story so far...

The Setup
the bits in the middle

And now...

I must've watched 20 films in those 6 days.

There was "The Storm in my Heart," a film about two uncompromising loners, who try to make seaworthy a rickety old boat that hasn't seen the seas for decades. Their goal is a foolhardy voyage along the Norwegian coast, to the older man's girlfriend - to reclaim a love as old as the boat itself. "l travel around the world, and write about it afterwards. There are two ways to do it, you know. The easy way: when you buy plane tickets, and come home when the money's gone. And the hard way: you walk out the door, without money, without plans, away from it all."

Then there was "The Medal of Honour," a Romanian film about a taciturn, crusty old man who's lived what he tells himself is a worthy life - one of honour and achievement - but he knows that no one respects him; not his wife, not his son. He gets a chance to regain some respect for himself when he's awarded a medal for the one worthwhile thing he may have done decades ago... but he barely remembers any of it, and others have different versions of that deed. Rather hard to watch, this one.

There were a few lighter ones, too. "Fight, Zatoichi, Fight" was a no-holds-barred action flick about a blind swordsman taking care of a baby while fighting off hordes of evil henchmen with the other hand. Even a film like "Little Rose," an underwhelming film about government persecution in Poland, had moments like this: "Books are not there to be read at once. First, they are beautiful objects. Second, they are like friends."

And then there was my favourite, "4 Minutes." It begins with the camera rising high over a red-bricked prison, taking it in from a bird's eye-view - a shot sinister and beautiful at the same time. The movie's about terrible memories and sins that won't wash away. And escape through great music. What purpose is there to life, if not to fulfill our talents, it asks.

As the week ticked closer to an end, I knew I couldn't put it off any longer. No sooner had we walked out of the final screening on the penultimate day of the festival - a screening of the Javier Bardem starrer "Biutiful" - than I reached into Sally's purse and pulled out the ruby.

"I believe this is not yours?" I asked quietly.
She didn't try to take it back... just gazed at me with infinite sadness. "And is it yours?"
"I've been hired to retrieve it."
"Do you know what it is?"
"Nope."
"It persists emotions."
"Sorry?"

"Film-makers... storytellers... they're the supreme Gods. These are people who know how small the creator of our world must be. And since they can do something about it, they pour all their creativity, all their passion, into a spool of film - one that has their universe in it; where they sculpt in time, where it plays according to their rules."

"Erm, yes?"

"With ideas so powerful that they sneak past our defenses and speak directly to the dark rooms of our soulsTell me something. When Maetel told our little hero that she would be nothing more than an illusion of a young boy's heart, a phantom of his youth, what illusions from your own youth did you remember?"

"I don't understand."

"I think you do. Hard to get rid of them, yes?"

"All right. Fine. A film got to me. Where does this thing here fit in?"

"There's the sad part. The moment the projector's turned off, the moment we step back out into sunlight, our world starts to take over. That ruby there can change all that. You've experienced a bit of it yourself."

"What a load of poppycock. Disappearing into a reel is no way to live. Isn't it one of these movies of yours that had this to say: 'It's these cards, and the movies and the pop songs, they're to blame for all the lies and the heartache, everything.'"

"Are they? There are mediocre films, just like there are of everything else. But only the ones by the craftsmen really speak to you. The rest... well... all they do is magnify your own lies."

"Convenient. And what if your craftsman's idea of a bit of fun is to scoop out your neighbour's insides?"

"So difficult for me to judge on matters good and evil. Besides, there's the film, and there's you. I quit my job the day after I watched "The Kings of the Road." It spoke to me of people who live life all alone - on the road - spending years on a highway drifting between towns. Lives without meaning or shackles. And it struck me that that is the way of the world. Full of coincidences, and with no real purpose. Of brief, wondrous meetings; but also quicker farewells. We've convinced ourselves of the opposite. How unnatural is our world of unthinking allegiances - to flags, to anthems, to plans, to order, to morals, to each other. But that was me. The boy I watched it with wanted to know whether the screen had frozen up. See? There's the film, and there's you. All that the ruby does is to make you truer to yourself."

"What do you want me to do?"

"Give it back to me. Your client has rather different views to mine. Hers is a world of responsibility and achievement and billing rates. People being true to themselves would destroy that world, would shatter the name plates outside office doors. You've tasted a bit of what the ruby has to offer. It could do so much more for you... and for others."

"Look, there are rules I live by. I can't betray a client. What use are principles, if you're going to be selective about them? You either follow them all the time, or you have none at all. I can't abide a world without a Code."

"A code is for men without souls. If you really cared, you'd just do what feels right."

"I am sorry."

As I turned and walked back, I pulled the coat tight around me... and I don't remember whom I wore my hat like - if I wore it at all; I had to buy a new one the next day. Where could I have left it?

Case closed.