Saturday, November 17, 2007

Broken English (2007)

Thanks to Erin's mention of this movie on her blog, I added it to my Netflix queue and watched it tonight. I REALLY liked this movie. I think I am terrible at writing summaries of movies but I'll do my best here. And for anyone genuinely interested in watching this movie, you may not want to read this. I don't spoil the movie necessarily, but I do say a lot about it. And in my opinion, it is best watched with limited knowledge!

Broken English is about a 30-something single woman (Parker Posey) in New York who wants love so badly she eagerly anticipates it with every date and is crushed when her dates fall completely shy of anything compelling in this regard. So, she feels that something is wrong with her. She feels herself become increasingly anxious, afraid, closed off. And Parker Posey plays a great part. She is complex, softly neurotic and miserable. When she meets the French Julien at a party, she is not to be fooled again. She is not taken over by his initial advances but maintains a seeming curiosity. It isn't long before her curiosity gives way to the quirky connection between them, particularly as Julien is persistent and Nora seems to need this. But Julien must return to Paris and she tells him that she cannot go with him because of practical issues. Then she breaks down later and finds herself in Paris looking for him, made impossible by the fact that she has misplaced the piece of paper with his telephone number on it. But despite this, Nora finds something more important in Paris: herself. Having quit her job before leaving abrubtly with her best friend for Paris, Nora suddenly finds herself open, alive. She is at peace with the fact that she will not find Julien. And we all know the irony of finding peace. Once we let go of that obsessive desire for something/someone, it so often seems to come easily.

Of course, being a single 30-something who occassionally feels that something is wrong with me where relationships are concerned...the movie resonates. And in that regard, the movie has a particular audience. But I would like to think that anyone who periodically finds themselves lost in the complexities of love (and wanting love) and with some kind of romantic sensibility...might appreciate this movie. But the movie reonsates for me on a deepr level. I have seen my share of love movies...with the protagonist desperate for love. But I felt so "into" this movie to a degree I don't think I ever have with other such movies. The juxtaposition of NYC and Paris, the psychic who calls out to Nora on the street (a man approached me in Central Park a few years ago claiming to "see" a predominant fear within me...I'll have to blog about that sometime), the way that Paris is portrayed, Nora's stormy thoughts and feelings on love. I was so "into" this movie that I was literally on the edge of my bed watching it and as certain conversations and events took place, I found myself so invested in it all, on an emotional and physical level.

But it isn't simply the theme and emotional thrust of the movie. The directing (Zoe Cassavetes) is brilliant and the story is well told. The scenes are wonderful (punctuated by a great soundtrack) and the emotion powerful but not at all overdone or pretentious, and Paris!!!! French people are not portrayed in the stereotypical way but Paris and Parisians serve as Nora's point of transformation with herself. The French cab driver politely takes them to their hotel upon arriving in Paris and wishes them happiness, which the girls hear as "a penis." A Frenchman invites her to coffee with his two friends and when she declines, he says that they will be at the café across the street and that he will see her there. She smiles at this and finds herself indeed having coffee with these three French guys and thoroughly enjoying it, finding herself naturally witty and appreciated. Then, after a day of walking around Paris, she stops at a nice bar and another Frenchman approaches her and they talk about her futile quest to find this man. The older Frenchman tells her, "most people are together just so they are not alone but some people want magic. I think you are one of those people." Nora's eyes fill with tears and she asks him if there is something wrong with that and he replies, "no, there is nothing wrong with that but it doesn't happen all the time." And such simple dialogue proves so moving throughout this movie, particularly for those of us who do want magic.

The Frenchmen do not possess the often aloof and standoffish behavior of American men. Rather, they seem to push their way into Nora's space and again, it is as though she needs this. It reminds me of my own experience in Paris. Frenchmen often came right up to me, standing or sitting right up next to me. But interestingly, when you tell them you are not interested in going for a drink, they smile and let you go, not seeming to be put off like so many Americans do.

Cassavetes also takes great care not to ruin the movie with superfluous dialogue. The most powerful moments of the movie incorporate wonderful pauses and non-verbal communication/behavior. This approach reminds me of Sofia Coppola's movies (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette).

Such a great movie. Maybe apsects of it could be seen as predictable by others but I had no expectations and often found myself wonderfully surprised by how the movie progressed. The ending is brilliant! As tired as I was last night...after watching it the first time, I downloaded the soundtrack off iTunes and rewatched the movie again! Thanks again for the great recommendation, Erin!!


La Belette Rouge said...

This is such a WILD synchronicity. I literally just watched this movie today. It was my first time seeing it and I really enjoyed it. I have always liked Parker Posie and Gena Rowlands. Didn’t realize until it was over that it was Zoe Cassavettes who directed it.

As I watched this film, I was struck by the soundtrack and felt it would be a good one to write to. At the end, I found myself wishing that I could have seen Parker and her French man, forgetting the character's name, in Paris together for a little bit. In total contradiction of what I just said, I also would have like to have seen Nora find herself instead of the guy. All that said, I really enjoyed the film and your analysis of it. I personally prefer it to “Before sunrise/sunset.” For some reason, I am unable to explain why, I find Ethan Hawke unwatchable. I know I am one of the few Francophiles who don’t love those films.

b said...

la belette rouge...wild synchronicity indeed!! such a great movie and yes, parker posey and gena rowlands are great. did you know that gena rowlands is zoe cassavetes mother?

i personally loved the ending. there are no guarantees that they will live happily ever after, but nora is open to whatever. and she definitely doesn't seem to possess that naive sense that everything will suddenly be easy and without struggle. but she is open to the extreme happiness and sadness that lie ahead of her. and i think that is the thrust of the movie...that openness. yeah, it is romantic and incredibly fortuitous that he happens to get on the subway at the end, but i think that is the hopeful element of the movie. that we truly can find ourselves and love ourselves and that we can simultaneously have magical love. and again, there is no guarantee of happily ever after and i thought cassavetes did a great job of making that clear but in a subtle (and not overdone) way.

i much prefer broken english to the before sunrise/sunset. those were okay but didn't evoke anything really strong within me. i can see how you feel that way about ethan hawke. he is just meh. nothing spectacular. and the chemistry between them wasn't very compelling compared to nora and lucien. and by "chemistry," i love how nora and lucien weren't just immediately awestruck by one another...proving that chemistry can be this strong underlying current that must be drawn to the surface but certainly cannot be manufactured.

so glad to hear your response to this film and again, it is crazy that we both watched it within 24 hours of each other! :)

La Belette Rouge said...

I thought that Nora was initially hesitant about Lucien was very authentic. It makes sense, in her state, that she would have had difficulty trusting anyone who pursued her.

I also liked the mirroring of their experience in how Lucien had just been with an actress and Nora had just been with an actor. Both had been with people who were not authentic and what they needed were relationships with people who weren't "acting."

Nora's pursuit of a lost masculine...a man she loves that she has no way of connecting with was a nice metaphor for the loss of her father. It made me wonder about Zoe's relationship with John Cassavetes.

Happy I found your post today. It made me think about the film in a deeper way. Fun ; )

b said...

la belette rouge...yes, nora's initial hesitancy was very authentic and you raise another great theme of the movie. nora and lucien did find authenticity in one another and the actors they previously dated punctuate this fact.

and i am so happy you mentioned nora's lost ideal of a masculine presence, given her father's death when she was young. that was a critical aspect for her and what a great moment when the psychic calls out to her.

i am so happy you stopped by my blog today too. how fortuitous! and it is such a great movie, it is wonderful to be able to discuss it! thanks for the great comments!

Richard said...

I wonder if I would like it. I tend not to enjoy angst movies or romantic movies (unless you count Forbidden Planet).

Mind you, I did enjoy Under a Tuscan Sun years ago (Sofia's pick, not mine).

Randal Graves said...

I want to see this movie, and I also want to say that I somehow managed to not read any of the spoiler-ish material in the post and the comments! Which I'm sure I'll read when I get to work.

b said...

richard...i'm not sure if you would like it. tough one to call.

randal...i know; even with the spoiler alert, it is tempting to read ahead anyway, isn't it?

La Page Française said...

B, I too only read the first paragraph of your post because I didn't want to read any spoilers before I saw this movie. I am dying to see it. Not sure if it was released over here, I will have to check and see. Once I see it, I will come back and read your post!

b said...

la page française...good to "see" you again! i hope you are able to find a copy of this movie, as i think you would appreciate it. email me if you have a hard time finding it and i can mail you a copy if you'd like!