Archive for the ‘the movie’ Category

Le Haut/Up

October 27, 2009

This won’t be a movie review, because the movie was in French and, as I think is clear by now, my French is pretty weak. I now warn those of you who haven’t seen the film that I will be spoiling the entire thing by relating the plot as I understood it. Some things need no direct translation: the pursuit of a life dream, the discovery of the essential life adventure, kindness, love.

From the day we arrived in Saint Araille, the children have been seeing flyers for Le Haut, or Up, the animated Disney film, which was scheduled to play as the community center’s once-a-month feature on a Tuesday night. (Remember, there’s no school here on Wednesdays.) James, having been traumatized last year back in Vermont by a very scary preview that was completely inappropriate for an audience of small children waiting to see Ratatouille, has since been afraid to go to any movie in a theater and chooses to stay at the château with Susan and watch a DVD. Izzy and I have a date.

After school on Tuesday afternoon, we play outside with the dogs, then go in to dinner, clean up the dishes and take our showers. The movie doesn’t start until 9 p.m., late even for me. I keep offering Izzy the chance to opt out, to stay home and watch the DVD with James, but she—our night owl—is determined to go out. Even though children seem to stay up later in France than the States, I find it hard to believe that there will be many at a 9:00 movie on a Tuesday night. I remind Izzy that the whole thing will be in French so we won’t understand many of the words. “I’m ready to go,” she says, dressed in her leopard-print skirt and black leggings, buttoning her favorite sweater. We tromp down the ancient wooden stairway, pick up a flashlight, unlock and take the key out of the door, and leave it with a note for Pete on the bottom newal post, as usual: Pete, Izzy and I have gone out to the movie in the village. We have our key. Don’t lock us out! T. The door won’t open from the outside if there is a key in the lock inside.

Clouds block the stars and a warm wind rustles the drying leaves. We crunch down the long white-stone driveway hand in hand. “Mom,” Izzy says, looking up at me, “it’s fun to have you to myself for a change. I almost never get to do things just with you.” I squeeze her hand and thank her for coming on a date to the movies with me. We can see the lights at the community center in the village on the next hilltop. “I like France,” she says, “a little.” I think about her tears at the school drop-offs. “It’s fun to be here with you,” she says.

“Me too,” I reply. “I’m glad to be here with you, on an adventure.”

We cross the main road, hug the shoulder for ten yards, then turn downhill into the shortcut to the village. We speculate about the movie. “Do you think we’ll be able to understand it?” I ask. Izzy shrugs. “Sometimes the pictures are enough to figure out the story,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says. “Like that library book you read us.” It had been in French, something about a little girl named Manon who fancied herself a detective and whose cat loved marshmallows—choumouloo. The three of us had memorized that word. I had understood about a tenth of the words, but I still read the whole thing aloud, stopping at the end of each page to try to figure out what had happened with the kids. “Sometimes you can guess from the words and sometimes the pictures,” she comments. She pauses. “Mom, do you think they’ll have candy at the movie?”

I laugh. “I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t know what it will be like.” We reach the bottom of the gully and start climbing to the community center, joining the lane that leads to the village. “If there are treats,” I say, “we’ll get some.”

“Yum!” Izzy laughs with me.

Ahead of us, a single torch bobs in the darkness, someone else walking to the movies. Cars pass us, slowing when I wave our light. We can hear laughter at the top of the hill.

“Did anyone in your class talk about going to the movies tonight?” I ask. “The cinéma?”

“No,” she says, then pauses. “Well, I don’t exactly know. I don’t really understand them.”

We can see about twenty cars in the parking lot. The steep drive makes us breathe harder, or maybe it’s the anticipation of the movie. I silently rehearse my bon soir and un enfant, un adult. I wish I had asked Susan the word for adult. I check my pocket for my money.

We enter the same building where the fête was held, the big room now set up with the plastic chairs in rows facing the stage where a large white screen has been lowered into place. At the entrance is a table where a woman I recognize from the village or the school or the fête—I can’t remember—is selling tickets. The snack bar is open to my left, and a small group of adults are buying espresso or cups of wine. Bon soir! The ticket seller smiles at me. Bon soir! I put my hand on Izzy’s head, gesture to myself, and hold out my money. “Un enfant a un adult,” I say with a little shrug, an apology for my English, and she smiles. “Oui. Huit,” she replies. I hand over ten euros and glance down.

A small pack of little girls are standing at the table, grinning at Izzy. “Bon soir, Isabelle,” they say. One, a girl I recognize from Mme. P.’s class holds out her hand to Izzy.

Izzy stares, then looks up at me.

“This girl is from your class at school, isn’t she?” I say. “Bon soir! I greet the girls, who all say hello. I bend and put my hands on my knees. “Say bon soir, sweetie. Say hello.” Izzy mumbles bon soir. The little girl is still holding out her hand. “I think she wants you to come play with them,” I say. “Why don’t you go along? I’ll just get a seat right over here.”

And so she smiles, shrugs off her jacket, gives it to me, and runs off with the pack. They race in a circle around the chairs, across the front, around the empty back of the room. I see a couple of other children I recognize from the schoolyard. A couple of boys jump off the bench seats that line the walls over and over again, laughing. There are more three- and four-year-olds than I expect to see at such a late hour. Izzy comes back to sit beside me for a few minutes.

“That was nice,” I say, hugging her. “Did you have fun?”

“Yes,” she says. “But I don’t know what they’re saying.”

“Did it matter?” I ask. “You knew they wanted you to come with them. They seem very nice.”

Izzy shrugs. “Yeah.” We watch them running around the room. We identify a boy sitting with his mother a couple of rows up as Max, a big boy in Mme. P.’s class. There are perhaps thirty adults and twenty children in the hall. A young man sits alone in the row behind me. A group of youngish mothers sit together, laughing. Men lean on the snack counter. Couples chat. Kids roam and play. The girls return, holding out their hands to Izzy. She looks at me.

“You can go play if you want,” I say. “So long as you stay in the hall.”

And so she goes again. The man behind me smiles. I sneak glances back now and then, and see them talking animatedly to her, gesturing, introducing her to other girls. She nods now and then. They hold her hands and lead her to the glass window in the back where the camera operator is setting up. Finally, the lights dim, and the children all rush to the front, to a large open area in front of the stage, and sit on the floor. Izzy returns to me. “Do you want to sit with the other kids?” I ask.

She shakes her head no. “I’m on a date with you, Mom,” she says. She climbs into my lap to see better.

An animated short precedes the feature. In it, storks deliver babies—human and animal—to earth from the clouds. There are no words at all. The story doesn’t need them. Each stork flies up to a anthropomorphized cloud, puffy and funny-faced, who whips up an infant shape from cloud puffs and brings it to life with a little lightening flash. One stork seems to be stuck with a cloud who keeps making difficult babies: an alligator baby that bites the stork; a porcupine baby whose quills poke through the diaper; an electric eel baby that shocks the stork. Our poor bedraggled stork looks longingly at other clouds—those who make kittens and puppies and baby chicks—for their storks. One cloud creates a football-playing infant, complete with a ball, helmet and pads. Another creates a giraffe whose neck and legs sprawl out of the blanket. Finally, our bedraggled stork flies off to a different cloud. Our cloud grows dark and weeps rain, rejected. But what’s this? The stork returns, wearing football pads and a helmet, protective gear! Of course he remains true to his own cloud, even though he creates difficult babies. We all laugh. No language needed.

I know the basic idea of Up (translated into le haut, literally “top”) from previews in the States, as does Izzy. A man decides to pursue his life-long dream of going to South America by tying a zillion balloons to his house and floating there, along with a small boy.

The movie begins with a boy, Carl Fredrickson, at the movies, watching a news-reel about a famous explorer who travels in a zeppelin with his dogs, making important discoveries. The boy in the theater idolizes the explorer, who, it turns out, is disgraced when one of his discoveries is announced to be a fraud. The explorer disappears and is presumed dead. The little boy is devastated. We get all this, of course, from the visuals. The film is in French. There is no lip reading of the original English in a dubbed animated film. But it’s not a problem. Whenever I whisper some explanation of a plot point to Izzy, a word or phrase that I can translate, she shushes me. “I know, Mom.”

The little boy, with his favorite balloon, meets a little girl who shares his passion for the explorer. She shows him a scrap-book she’s made titled Mon Livre d’Aventure. I forget that livre is “book” (“My Adventure Book”) and mistakenly translate this as “My Life’s Great Adventure,” which I continue to think throughout the movie. In it, the girl, Ellie, has pasted a picture of a house on top of a Peruvian mountain next to a dramatic waterfall. The couple grow up and get married, Carl becomes a balloon salesman and Ellie a zookeeper, and they buy a little old house, which they paint to look like the picture in the scrapbook. A doctor tells them they can’t have children, and they are sad, but they determine to redirect their goals toward the trip to South America, the house on top of the Peruvian mountain. They save money in a jar toward the goal, but, as for us all, little life crises—a broken car, a tree falling through the roof—intervene. Carl wakes up one day to discover that they are old. He buys tickets for long-delayed trip to South America, but Ellie falls ill and eventually dies before they can fulfill the dream of her scrapbook, Mon Livre d’Aventure. It’s a sad moment. Soft-hearted little Izzy sniffles and hugs my neck. “Why did she have to die, Mom?” she asks. I don’t have to answer; she knows: it’s the final destination of life’s great adventure.

This is a Disney film, so the tone turns quickly. Mr. Fredrickson seems lonely. His house, still exactly as his wife left it and filled with memories of her and their life together, is gradually surrounded by skyscrapers, a huge construction site. We all laugh at the old man’s daily routine, the stair climbing elevator that gets stuck, his walker with the yellow tennis balls on the feet. A little boy in a Scout uniform, Russell, shows up at the door, trying to earn his last merit badge. He has no father to help him, we understand, but he’s trying hard to be a good scout. This is a common theme in movies for children—fatherlessness. It’s especially poignant for James and Izzy in their special situation—two moms, no dad. I’ve learned to anticipate this theme in popular culture, and I often wonder, as I do watching Le Haut this night, if fatherlessness is one of those commonalities of life that crosses cultures. Do we all fear it? Why does the loss of the father, the missing masculine in our lives, mean so much to us? What exactly is missing? Could it be, rather, that this absence itself is a fact of life with which we must all learn to live? Maybe it’s a kind of love we all instinctively seek because it is not assured in the biological way of a mother’s love. Maybe learning to father ourselves and learning to find love are part of life’s great adventure.

The old man turns the little scout away, but he’s persistent, returning to his door again and again. When one of the construction vehicles pushes over the old man’s mailbox, still hand-printed by his wife’s palm, Mr. Fredrickson pushes the driver, who suffers a cut on the head. The evil construction people—clearly the villains, even in French—sue. The adversary—modernity or progress in Up, the thing that inspires us to change and get going—is necessary in life’s great adventure, is it not?

Mr. Fredrickson is summoned to the courts, where he is ordered to vacate his home and move into a retirement village. But when the orderlies show up to cart him away, he shuts the door in their faces, goes to his fireplace and releases a giant bunch of balloons through the chimney, which pull the house up off its foundations and into the city sky. He’s off on l’Aventure. Rebellion! Flying (literally) in the face of conventional wisdom, refusal to accept the easy path, the desire to buck the status quo. This story surpasses language. It is, I think there in the dark, the hero’s journey to take on the challenge.

A knock on the door. What’s this? Mr. Fredrickson hoists himself from his easy chair with his walker and opens the door. Beyond the porch are clouds and blue sky. He looks left, he looks right. The little scout, clinging to the windowsill. Of course Mr. Fredrickson must invite Russell inside; he has no choice. Rebellion meets persistence. Need meets need; lack meets lack. It’s not an easy alliance, but they are stuck with each other, le haut, floating to Peru. Mon Livre d’Aventure.

And then the reel runs out. The lights come up, adults stretch, and the children at the front of the room rush the snack bar and restrooms. Izzy’s little friends return, hold out their hands, and, in a daisy-chain, shepherd her to the back of the hall where they can watch the camera operator change the reel through the window. I see the man behind me smiling at the girls. I wonder if Izzy wants an Orangina. The woman who sold the tickets and couple of pre-teens circulate through the room with trays filled with sweets, offering them to everyone. I take one. Merci.

The girls materialize beside me, drawn by the treat tray. Izzy, confused, I think, doesn’t take one before the woman moves on. The girls follow her. “Don’t you want a treat?” I ask.

“Well,” she says. “I would like to try those ones that look like berries.”

“Okay,” I say, “come on.” We track the sweets trays to the snack bar window, and the woman there, smiling, lifts one down for Izzy to choose from. She selects a berry treat, then at the woman’s urging, a wrapped toffee and a chocolate and mint layered petit four.

“Merci,” she says to the woman, meeting her eyes. “Merci beaucoup!” My heart swells.

The lights dim and we make our way back to our seats. “Wow, Izzy,” I say. “You said that so well.”

“Yeah,” she says, shrugging. “That’s what you always say when somebody gives you candy.” Of course.

The rest of the movie is more exciting. After a harrowing thunderstorm, the house lands (what a coincidence!) within site of the exact mountain-top with waterfall in the photo pasted into the scrapbook. There aren’t enough balloons to re-launch the house, so Mr. Fredrickson and his Scout friend, Russell, must drag it by its tethers through the jungle and up. They encounter a strange huge bird being hunted by a pack of dogs that seem to be able to speak (French) through devices attached to their collars. Most of their dialogue is completely lost on me, but the important fact is that the leader is a Doberman whose collar translator makes his voice squeaky and silly. Everyone laughs. A silly voice is silly in any language.

One of the dogs—not a hunter, a misfit obsessed with the tennis balls on the feet of Mr. Fredrickson’s walker—befriends the boy, old man and bird. The pack of dogs corrals them into a cave where (what do you know?) the missing disgraced explorer idolized by the old man, with his zeppelin, have been living all these years, apparently trying to track down the strange, huge bird, which is almost the last of its kind. The dogs are his.

What happens? Well, the scout refuses to abandon the bird to the explorer, who turns out to be our second villain (first villain, the capitalist builder; second villain, the ruthless anti-environmentalist explorer—Up is a decidedly 21st century film). Mr. Fredrickson and Russell part ways, cranky old Carl determined to see his dream to its fruition, dragging his house held up by balloons toward the top of the mountain. He takes another look at Mon Livre d’Aventure, his departed wife’s scrapbook. Pages fall open that he’s not noticed before: pictures of the life the couple had together. And she’s written him a final message at the end: Thank you for being my life’s great adventure. Mon Livre d’Aventure . Well, of course Mr. Fredrickson gets it—he lets go of the house, which floats off into the clouds, grabs some balloons and drifts off to the rescue of the boy and the bird from the evil explorer in the zeppelin. Some hair-raising, edge-of-your-seat antics, the explorer plunging to earth, the bird reunited with his mate, a batch of chicks scurrying into the jungle, and the clouds part to reveal the little house, settled of it’s own accord in the very spot Mr. Fredrickson and Ellie imagined it. Voila! In the final scene, our little scout stands on stage alone next to the other scouts with their dads, who pin on their merit badges. Mr. x shuffles in from the wings, the stand-in for the missing dad. In the final credits, we see photos of Carl and Russell doing things together, a new Mon Livre d’Aventure. Izzy turns on my lap and hugs me.

In Saint Araille, everyone stays for the credits. After all, there’s only the one movie every month. The lights come up. It’s after 11 p.m. We get our jackets and flashlights and exit, bidding each other au revoir. Izzy and I head down the hill. The fellow who was sitting behind us, thirty-something, dark curly hair, walks beside us with his own torch. He smiles and says something in French.

I shrug apologetically and respond: “Je ne comprends pas.

He laughs. “It’s nice that there is someone else walking home in the dark,” he says in English.

And Izzy and I agree. “Yes,” and, “the stars are beautiful here.” He peels off at the first left—Au revoir!—and we walk on up, toward the château.

“Merci, Maman,” Izzy says. “Thanks for taking me to the movies. That was fun.”

I squeeze her hand in the dark. “Merci, Isabelle,” I respond. “Thank you for going with me.”

Epilogue: My Life’s Great Adventure, or, This is a Fine Pickle

The château is locked, the key is in the lock inside. Izzy and I are locked out. It is after 11 on a Tuesday night. The ground-floor doors and windows are shuttered and grated, all locked from the inside. The walls are stone, a foot thick, rising up five stories overhead. We step back into the driveway and look up. There is one light on at the top floor of the tower, occupied for the month of October by a nice couple from New Zealand, Jo and John. At least it isn’t raining.

First, I knock gently on the big wooden door. We listen. Nothing. The wind rattles the dry leaves.

“I guess we’ll have to wake someone up.” I ring the bell once, long enough for someone to hear, I think. We can hear it ring inside the wide stairway that goes up to the tower past Rosie and Pete’s wing and our wing. No dogs bark. No one comes to the door. I ring the bell again, three long times. We wait. It would take someone a bit of time to get down the stairs, I think. “This is a fine pickle,” I say to Izzy. I explain the idiom while we wait on the doorstep, listening.

“No Mom,” Izzy says, laughing. “It’s an adventure.” This is what we always say to the children when we’re lost on the road, or when we set off for an unfamiliar destination or when a plan goes awry.

There’s a pretty good semblance of light-heartedness in my laugh, I think. I ring the bell again. And again. It’s probably nearly midnight.

“I’m tired, Mom,” Izzy says. “I don’t want to have to sleep out here.” She looks around. “The chickens always poop here,” she notes.

I chuckle, pounding on the door with my fists now and ringing the bell in long bursts. “The chickens poop everywhere.”

We step out and look up again. The light at the top of the tower goes out. “Hello!” I shout. “Open the door! We’re locked out!” I flash the light at the windows, waving it around to attract attention. No one comes to the door. The windows above stay dark.

Izzy takes a turn on the bell while I pound harder on the wooden door. The fortifications of the château are pretty good, I think. We both stand back and yell, Izzy screaming and laughing at the same time, “Open the door! I’m sleepy! I want to go to bed!” Not a sound inside.

I’m getting a little worried. I don’t even know the phone number here, not that it’s likely that I could find a place from which to call. The lights at the community center in the village on the next hilltop have been turned out. The cars will be locked, and I’m not sure how we’ll fare if we have to sleep outside. It’s chilly. There are fox and wild boar and weasels here.

I imagine the marauding infidels or crusaders trying to get into the castle, the monks and peasants huddled inside with the sheep and cattle and grain stores, praying. Or sleeping. Apparently, they wouldn’t even hear the invaders at the door….

“Okay,” I say. “Come on. We’ll throw stones at Mommie’s window until she wakes up.” I’ll break one if I have to, I think. Izzy follows me and the flashlight around the side of the château, past the wooden doors, closed and locked, over the French doors that lead to the patio, down the steps toward the back room where I know Susan is sleeping. I start by flashing the light on the big window with a little balcony railing. It’s about thirty feet up, but maybe she’ll see the light on the ceiling, in the rafters. Maybe our wall-mouse will be gnawing, keeping her up. Izzy and I yell. “Hey, Susan! Wake up! We’re locked out! Hey!”

It works! The light comes on. Susan opens the window and looks down, back-lit and pale. She’s never looked more beautiful to me. What a relief. What a pickle. What a great life adventure.