Saturday, April 14, 2007

Movie Watch! - The Last Day

Le Dernier jour
(The Last Day) (2004) – Writer/director Rodolphe Marconi is certainly an enigmatic man. I must say that this film was one of the most difficult films to follow that I have seen thus far, and that’s saying a lot. My initial vibe was that it’d be in the same vein as Ma mère, but fortunately, there was a lot more in here for me to dissect without feeling ill to my stomach. The basic story is that Simon is an art student in Paris who is joining his family at their seaside cottage in the west of France for the December holiday. On the train, he meets the impossibly lovely Louise, a free-spirited jeune fille who ends up joining Simon and his family. As Simon introduces Louise to his family, we see how secrets unfold, creating a slow-moving portrait of eventual self-destruction that lingers and haunts long after the film is over. Louise meets Mathieu, an old acquaintance of Simon’s, with whom we learn he may have had some sort of intimate relation in the years past. Louise reveals to have more mysterious intentions than we initially see her to have, but what exactly is up for debate. Louise and Mathieu strike up a romance, which eventually leads to Louise telling Simon that she and Mathieu are going to go north together because she says they are in love. Meanwhile, Simon’s mother, the only person who seems to care for him, gets a call from a former lover, who seems to have more on his agenda than just a random booty call. Well, I couldn’t possibly ruin any more of the film, but yea. It’s even more complex than this, and combined with the sparse dialogue, it’s really a test of intellect (or patience) to really get to the core of all the mental neuroses and vague symbolism.

I guess I was just a bit confused after watching the film. I totally had one rather shaky interpretation of the film, then after reading about it online, I feel like I either missed something, or just didn't get everything straight. But I think I get what's going on now, after two or three very close viewings. Here's what I think.

Spoilers to follow!

I think I mostly understood Simon’s relationship with Louise. Louise followed him for a reason. She knew who he was, probably because her father had been away so much when she was younger, she must have either investigated him on her own, or somehow her father let her on to the fact that Simon was her half-brother. Either way, M. Bromberg knows what his daughter is up to at this point for sure.

Louise knew how Simon felt about her, and everything she learned about him over time, she used against him in the end, like his continuing feelings for Mathieu. She knew Simon had a certain amount of attraction to her, but that this attraction was really based on his desire to have a connection with Mathieu. Simon longed to be in her position to the point that he wanted to be with her just to feel something along the lines of what he had before with Mathieu.

When he asks if he can make love to her, I almost took it that he wanted to be where Mathieu had been, to experience what Mathieu had experienced, maybe in an effort to recapture some of the closeness he may have had or felt for Mathieu in the past. My other guess would be that he was trying desperately to make a relationship out of nothing to show to his father and win his approval.

Louise definitely knew the whole time that she and Simon were related, but that didn't stop her from provoking him in order to manipulate him. She enjoyed manipulating him to the point of breaking his heart and breaking his soul. When she figured that he probably wouldn't be so interested in her (which she figured out in the first lighthouse scene), she probably figured out that the key to really manipulating and hurting him would be through Mathieu.

Her whole motivation? To somehow find balance or even revenge for having to grow up with such a broken family, with a father who always cheated and a mother who left. She wanted to find somebody to blame and spread her angst to somebody else, albeit in an incredibly evil, sneaky way. She craves maternal love and more, she wants everything that Simon has in his life because it's everything she's been missing.

Why does Simon allow her into his life? Maybe he was attracted to her in a sort of novel, unexpected way and he wanted to know more. He probably thought that he could bring her home, which he probably had never done with girls in the past, and maybe he just wanted to show his family how “normal” he could be, considering his father thinks he’s a lazy hack and his sister just plain despises him. Besides, he might have actually found a measure of attraction to Louise. She does have a slightly boyish look to her, like so many models seem to have. That may have made her more attractive to him. Even her behavior was boyish, like when she wants to go pee outside the bar, which perhaps is a result of not having a mother in her life growing up.

I think the fact that Simon’s father asked about Simon’s "fiancée" when she isn’t there shows just how distanced Simon and his father are. His father approves of the idea of Simon being engaged to this girl, and Simon surely seems to want his father's approval. I think the fact that his father saw that Simon’s “girl” was gone from his bed, just as Simon’s mother was not in bed with her husband, created a bit of a connection between the two, at which point his father even goes so far as to invite Simon onto the boat that he hadn’t even mentioned before.

What I was less sure of was the relationship between Simon and Mathieu. Different reviews seem to label their relationship as everything from former lovers to best friends with Simon really in love, albeit unrequited, with Mathieu. My stance is that they shared in incredibly close, difficult to define relationship in the past. They may have been extremely close friends, and there are many allusions to them having shared physical intimacy, likely in the lighthouse as well. (Louise may have been keen to this fact and tried to ruin the nostalgic sentiment for the lighthouse with her remarks of how disgusting it was.) But I think it would be wrong to label Mathieu and Simon as best friends at the point that the film takes place. That may have been what Simon led his family to believe in years past, but they don't seem to have that sort of connection at all during the film. Indeed, when the three are on the beach and Louise is filming Mathieu and Simon, the boys looked more like a couple there than at any other point in the film. Simon smiles with his mouth open, which he never does throughout the film. That's one of the biggest indicators that he really feels something for Mathieu. I thought it was incredibly endearing!

What Mathieu sees as just a friendship with intense physical relations, Simon looks back at with completely different feelings. The kiss Simon has with Mathieu is way more passionate than the one either of them has with Louise. This scene is also a very important one to dissect. This is where Louise seems to really confirm her suspicion about Mathieu and Simon. You really get to see how passionate Mathieu and Simon had been in the past.

As far as Simon's masturbation scene in Mathieu's bed, I don't agree with those who think that he was doing it to smell Louise. Nor do I think he was strictly in it for Mathieu. I think he wanted so desperately to be part of Mathieu and Louise's relationship, one that he sees as creating an irreparable chasm between Mathieu and himself and one that he foresees will end in his abandonment, which he fears because he felt the same sense of abandonment within his own family. He looks up at the branches outside the window to put himself in Louise’s place. Maybe he had been in that exact same position in years past and he remembered what it looked like.

Simon especially fears abandonment once his mother turns her attention away from him/her lover and back to her husband. His mother connects Simon to her lover, and when she can no longer pay attention to her lover, she sees Simon as a constant reminder, or rather, the remainder of her discretions, and she feels a need to somehow back away.

Marie’s decision to explain the situation to Simon (that he was a sort of replacement son) sort of shows how she wanted to get back at her lover, but she does so by emotionally attacking her own son. She cannot seem to separate the two in her mind, just as Louise cannot separate Marie from Simon. It’s sort of a twisted game of revenge, manipulating those who don’t deserve to be manipulated.

I feel like maybe, possibly he didn't really mean to commit suicide in the end, but he just happened to be so caught up in his sense of confusion and abandonment, feeling lost, to the point that he had to physically react to it. But maybe he did.

The film as a whole was extremely subtle in its subtexts. I’ll mention just some of them here.

- The symbolism with the seagulls was of particular note. Seagulls are noted as a bird of flight and scavenge along the coast, more graceful than vultures and pigeons, but essentially the same. Their comparison to Louise is inevitable. With the feathers in her hair, she almost becomes part of what Simon has nightmares about. Furthermore, when seagulls scavenge for food, they get incredibly competitive going for the same scraps. Louise and Simon are like seagulls in this way, almost competing for the scraps of a relationship that they can muster out of Mathieu.

- If you didn't know or pay close attention, you would miss the gorgeous wardrobe. Simon is a marvel in Dior Homme straight-leg jeans, slim white collared shirts and black jacket. The incomparably marvelous wedding dress that Marie gives to Louise to wear is almost the very same dress that was featured on Tasha Tilberg in the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2002 ads, designed by Marc Jacobs. I think he modified the skirt with additional layers of chiffon to make it seem more "bridal" but not too "bridal", and he removed the satin hem. Gwyneth Paltrow wore a paisley version of the dress on the cover of Vogue, the last cover ever shot by Herb Ritts. Other outfits featured pieces from Balenciaga, agnès b. and Dries Van Noten, among others.

- When they're all sleeping together in the same bed after Simon goes nightswimming, I was a little confused. Why are they all in the bed together? Simon just stares at Louise cuddle with Mathieu, but when Louise gets up and Mathieu closes his eyes to sleep more, Simon is wide awake just staring at what used to be his to hold. Does he pull one of Louise's hairs off Mathieu's chest and blow it into the air for a reason? Perhaps his own symbolic sense of blowing her out of the picture?

- Notice the dad's face instantly go dry at the Christmas party when they announce Simon and Louise as the young couple about to get married? He looks stunned. Who did Simon tell that to? His mother? Louise looks equally uneasy with the revelation, but everybody is trying to hide it. Why does Simon look so happy about it? Because he must've told somebody that they were going to get married. He seems to enjoy his little game.

- At the bar after the party, things really become clearer. Simon's comments on Mathieu going after the underage must be a reference to himself. Simon is now only 18, so whenever in the past that he had a relationship with Mathieu, he must've been underage. Mathieu must've been of age if he was working at the lighthouse at that point, so it speaks to Mathieu’s preference for those younger.

- The whole point of Alice was to show how their dad loved Alice more than Simon, even giving her money for the trip to Biarritz and actually showing affection with a hug. She was also there to foreshadow how, indeed, staying with someone's folks always has its price, just like Louise is proving.

- The point of the horse riding? Riding a horse is so public, so free, so liberating, whereas the lighthouse is a symbol of secrets and confinement, where the keeper is alone in the dark of night. The lighthouse itself is a symbol of solitude, which Simon seems to feel. Comparing the activities of Mathieu and Simon (meeting in the lighthouse) to those of Mathieu and Louise (horse riding) shows a stark contrast.

- As far as the tennis scene, it was one of the very few readily understood symbols (or at least it was one of the few that I thought I might have understood). I think it represented how Simon was fighting on two fronts, fighting to keep up with both his continuing attraction to Mathieu and his continued confusion about Louise. He felt like both were turning against him, leaving him. You can't play tennis with three people. Simon became superfluous. The fact that Louise was playing at the net (and definitely holding her own) while Mathieu played the backcourt speaks to how Louise really is getting in between Simon and Mathieu, deflecting the normal path between the two. The third wheel effect comes into play here, and Simon realizes that he’s had enough.

- What is the significance of the second swimming scene?

- At the market, Louise knows what's going on, she smiles in the slyest way possible without revealing herself too much. After Marie suggests her relation with Simon to be “like brother and sister”, Louise no longer looks Marie in the eye when talking about the relationship, only bringing her head up again when she asks about the clementines. She realizes she might be getting caught in her own game.

- When Marie gets up in the middle of the night and tells her husband it's to go for a walk along the harbor, this is when things shift for her. When she's actually with her lover in the car at that point, she ends up having to get out and walk along the harbor because she no longer wants to keep things like that from her husband. She wants to turn back to her husband, to try and be loyal again, even if it means doing what she said she was going to do instead.

- When Simon tells Louise that he can see that she's bored when she's with Mathieu and Simon isn't there, she seems to counter with her revelation of being in love very suddenly. She wants to take back control of their situation. She think's that Simon is on to her evil game, so she needs to strike back - for all we know, Mathieu has no idea they're leaving.

- Why exactly does Marie want to leave a day early? Was she really so desperate to get out of town and leave all thoughts of her lover behind? And why does M. Bromberg leave a day early? Had he had his fill of his lover? Either way, it causes Simon to feel even more abandoned, which may have led to his suicide.

- Simon shows how he's losing grip during the last stroll. That’s when we see the sole lighthouse out in the middle of the ocean, the sole seagull flying in the sky, and then he is alone. He realizes he has ultimately been abandoned one too many times.

- I don't believe M. Bromberg came to see his son. I think that was his excuse to tell Marie when all he really wanted was to hook up with her.

Anyways, those are my scattered thoughts on the matter. The excellent soundtrack is as follows:
Prelude to the End of the World Symphony - Pascale Ducourtioux
J. S. Bach's Prelude No. 13 - John Lewis
Brick - Fake 2003
Foule Sentimentale - Alain Souchon
In Every Dream Home a Heartache - Bryan Ferry and Jane Birkin
Daydream in Blue - I Monster
Mamy Blue - Nicoletta
La Bonne Etoile - M

As for the actors? Mélanie Laurent as Louise looks like some magnificant cross between Julia Restoin-Roitfeld and Luca Gadjus. She is stunning in her ability to be extremely feminine, while still possessing a sort of insouciant, boyish charm. Gaspard Ulliel as Simon is, of course, amazing beyond belief. He can say so much with the way he varies his smile, the way he clenches his jaw, the way he changes his eyes. He is a much more complex actor than some give him credit for. He’s more than just an (incredibly, incredibly) pretty boy. Nicole Garcia as Marie is intense, portraying her character’s conflict in the most convincing fashion. Marconi certainly does not portray women in a very positive light, but this movie is definitely worth watching several times, if you’re into that sort of thing. It took a lot of research and reflection on this movie for me to really get a grasp on what was going on, and another viewing is definitely in order, but the film gains strength in retrospect, the many layers gradually peeling away so that I can get a sense of who these people are and why they act the way that they act. 9/10

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