Sometimes films are more tone poems or mood pieces without the kind of definitive narrative arc that we have come to expect from more conventional cinema. As with abstract painting it would be a mistake to imagine that these pieces are merely put together to look pretty without a thought for structure and that "any one could do it".
While Sarah Polley's second film Take This Waltz is much less structured than her wonderful debut film Away From Her - based on an Alice Munro's short story and featuring the still very lovely Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent as an ageing couple who must struggle with Christie's slowly advancing Alzheimer's – it is still a carefully thought out film which lingers over its characters and scenes and is poignant and beautiful to the eye.
As with Away From Her , this follow up film is a careful study of a couple's relationship: the intimacies, intricacies, daily joys and disappointments of being with someone over a long period of time.
Margot, played by the pixie-like Michelle Williams, is a free-spirited, poetic housewife who meets the tall, dark, handsome and sometimes brooding artist Daniel (Luke Kirby) while on a trip to Novia Scotia. Sharing an immediate connection and a taxi ride home from the airport, they discover to their slight consternation that they are neighbours. As Margot leaves Daniel at the taxi she tells him "I am married".
Lou, Margot's husband played by Seth Rogan, is the opposite of Daniel. He is tall, with a fireman like build, spends most of his time obsessively cooking varieties of chicken in the kitchen (for his cookbook) and is taciturn, though obviously very much in love with his wife. It is both easy and painful to see how the charming, child-like, slightly erratic Margot drifts towards Daniel even as she remains physically faithful to the husband that she loves, but to whom she has become too accustomed.
Sometimes with a heavy hand and other times with a feather light touch, Polley's film addresses the issues inherent in a long-term relationship. In the words of a wiser old lady in a shower room after a wonderfully comic scene where the women are doing water aerobics taught by a pushy gay instructor, "New becomes old". This is the recurring theme in the film, and perhaps herein lies the essential tragedy of modern relationships.
We witness Margot's small but telling intimacies with her husband, their little jokes, as well as the torrid beauty of her mini escapades with Daniel in episodes that are alternately charming, occasionally too precious, but always beautiful and lit with a glow that is almost other-worldly. It is difficult to portray certain stories without surrendering to the power of beautiful cinematography and of course, to music, which heightens every important scene in the film.
Take This Waltz was written by Sarah Polley, and the title is after the tragic and mysterious Leonard Cohen song of the same name, loosely translated from a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca. Needless to say, the song does make an unforgettable appearance in the film in a montage of slow moving 360 degree shots that dissolve into each other and convey the burning heat and the slow simmering down of a new and passionate relationship.
The song, perhaps one of the most enigmatic ever written, ends with these lines:
And I'll yield to the flood of your beauty
My cheap violin and my cross
And you'll carry me down on your dancing
To the pools that you lift on your wrist.
As with any great, searching, independent film, perhaps the best way to view this one is as an attempt at portraying a slice of life.
Life is never wrapped up in the neat formula of the romantic comedy, and while Take This Waltz is not perfect, it still has a ragged beauty and mystery that is best taken with a measure of wonder and a certain acceptance.
All DVDs reviewed in this column are available at: Music and Expression, Thamel, Phone # 014700092