« January 2008 | Main | May 2008 »

April 29, 2008

Romulus, My Father

Romulus, My Father is a film adaptation from a memoir by the Australian writer and philosopher Raimond Gaita. The story takes place beginning in the nineteen twenties when Raimond is born to a somewhat dysfunctional family. He lives with his father a Romanian immigrant in New South Wales, Australia and their mother lives in a nearby big city where she continually has love affairs outside of marriage. The father and Raimond live and work on a somewhat isolated farm, yet there are enough neighbors who keep them company and help out in all the family crises and celebrations.

As much as I love books and reading and even though I feel that the printed word often has more power than the visual, I also found myself believing that film can also lend itself to portray complex events in a human life, their vacuity, their poignancy, and their impact. In Romulus, one sees the gradual decline in the health of the father as he becomes less and less capable of sustaining the lies and deceit of his wife. One also sees the effects that this conflict has on their young son, who as time passes in the movie becomes more vacant and shows visible signs of a growing hopelessness. The father tries to find a balance through a hard work ethic which is portrayed beautifully in the film by sweeping shots of the Australian countryside and long scenes of him working. These add a rhythm that the viewer can almost feel, one can feel his anguish. In contrast, the rhythm of the scenes in which there is fighting and conflict in the family is much more urgent and also somewhat reckless. An example of this is during one of the final conflict scenes during which brief shots of the different characters and cut off sentences add an element of confusion. This is a very effective way of portraying a situation which is full of confusion since neither party knows exactly where the other party stands or his thoughts. A written version of these same scenes would seem to have to be much more explicit in order to evoke this confusion. The isolation of the son from his family is clearly visible in scenes which portray a visual emptiness which portrays his anguish and despair.

I began to wonder how my life would be portrayed in a film memoir. I would choose long drawn out shots to portray the seemingly insurmountable distance that separated my small hometown from the rest of civilization. Likewise, I would have short, cut shots portray my failures in my relationships and family problems. I would use short sequential shots to portray my hectic life during the week. I would start with a shot of about 10 seconds in which I was jumping on a bus that is late and already full, and I would be bumping into people. Then it would cut to me walking in late to class with a look of despair on my face. Another cut would feature me eating a hot pocket while reading. Then a call from a girl and me saying “why don’t you want to see me anymore?? My weekends would be portrayed as a mixture of confused shots taken in bars with a blurry camera focus and then a dull long shot of me being lazy and trying to figure out what I did and what I need to do (in front of the TV). All these shots would take up around on minute on film, and I could also add some more from my youth, my time in the Navy and my time in France. But then I realize the problem, they wouldn’t really have any meaning. That is not to say that I don’t believe that I have done interesting things with my life and met interesting people, but that I don’t know how to connect these images and experiences to give meaning and significance to them. The Memoir, it seems to me, can only be undertaken by someone who has a strong self awareness and who has spent a significant amount of time to figure out their life. Unfortunately, I am not yet one of those people and nor do I believe that my life would hold enough interesting events to fill a memoir. I do on the other hand believe that memoirs like Romulus, My father have the ability to teach people how to analyze their life. In reading how others analyze their lives, I think that everyone can gain a sense of the significant events and people who have affected their own life. In other words, the memoir instills a reflective spirit in the reader and it is for that that I do not share the disdain for them that is common today.

April 28, 2008

The Wayward son

The Grocer’s Son is a French film which contrasts urban life urban with rural life. It also highlights how crises can bring families together. I started thinking about the different ways of life experienced by city people and also by country folk. In this film, the country folk are at first portrayed as simpletons given the contrast that the first 30 minutes of the film take place in the big city of Lyons, France. The father has a heart attack so he must leave his grocery store in the country and come to Lyon to get medical aid. It is there where one learns that his son, with whom he no longer speaks, did something in the past and abandoned his family to search for his dreams in the big city. His father never forgave him for leaving the village. The one interesting thing about this grocery store is that it also has a delivery van which takes groceries to the older people who live in the countryside. In fact, it serves also as a taxi to bring one of the old ladies to the salon, and also as a delivery vehicle of all sorts, delivering propane, wine,etc. In other words it is a highly unusual service that is provided by the father. With the father in the hospital the son is forced to make a decision of whether or not to come back to the village and help his mother run the store. His decision is made easier by the fact that his lovely neighbor in his apartment building also would like to get away from the city to study for her precollege exams. They soon start delivering groceries together and develop an affinity with the simple old folk and also begin providing the unusual services much like the father did. In the end, the son and his girlfriend end up taking over the family business, a typical Hollywood style ending but an interesting portrait of the life in a rural French region. One of the other things that this movie does is examine how conflict can resolve familial problems: for example it is through the sickness of the father that the son is brought back into the family circle and forgiven by the father. In the end scene the father and the son embrace as if there had never been any dispute between them. In fact, the old couple, his parents, is going on a voyage and it serves as symbolism for the fact that the family business is being taken over by the younger couple. The moral of the story seems to be that all old wounds can be healed and that the family bonds are strong.

I found myself empathizing with the main character who could no longer live in his hometown and who found his parents way of life despicable. I think that everyone has felt this way at some time towards their parents and their origin. I had to get out of my hometown in Wisconsin and since I didn’t have that good of grades in High School and I wouldn’t receive any scholarships or anything like that I was forced to choose a different route. So I joined the Navy. The Navy offered me everything that my little town in Wisconsin didn’t: cultural diversity, travel, a high paying job. But obviously with all these added things came stress that I was not used to. Much like the character in the film I found myself feeling lost sometimes and often being angry with my upbringing and origin. After I had been in the Navy for awhile though I began to realize that everyone feels that way. People from big cities have similar sentiments towards their origins. I began to realize that it was about trying to do something different in order to find out who you really are. For me that meant leaving my hometown to find out that that I really don’t hate it as much as I thought. I can’t hate it since it made me who I am. I am someone who appreciates intimate conversations and calm but I am also someone who looks for a bigger world and a bigger meaning to things. This is only possible because I grew up in a small town and I had to wonder what else was out there. Many people from New York for example probably don’t have the same way of looking at life since they were surrounded by diversity and were much closer to the bigger world than I was. In other words they don’t have to search as hard as I had to. However, even though I have a new found affinity for my hometown I do not see myself moving back there like the character in the movie. His situation was different: neither my parents nor my friends live there any longer. Everyone has gone and looked for something different. However, I still keep in touch with many of them and we all look back with a sort of wistful remembrance to the place that made us who we are.