My love of foreign independent film began in grad school.
Just half an hour away was the historic Key Theater in Georgetown. I stumbled by it one evening after dinner with a friend across the street at Au Pied De Cochon, a copycat establishment fashioned after the original bistro in the Les Halles neighborhood of Paris.
We patronized Key Theater after dinner, settling on a movie that was about to start. I don't remember what that film was called but the acting was so well executed that the lack of subtitles was irrelevant.
When the Key Theater closed its doors a few years later, I was crushed, but not for long. I simply moved my favorite cultural indulgence to the smaller (but cleaner) indie theater that straddled "The Grand Old Ditch"
on Thomas Jefferson Street, one block from Moby Dick
(the best Persian Food in D.C. that doesn't cost a barrel of oil).
It was there that I saw the youngish Brenda Blethyn in "Secrets and Lies"
(1996). Blethyn played a character with such likeness to my British grandmother that I later rented the movie from Blockbuster on the many occasions that I missed her "dirty" jokes (which were actually pretty tame) and distinct cackle.
Independent films offer a snapshot of people and lives that often never tally up at the box office. And I don't know that their intent is to take the big screen universe by storm anyhow. Often the sole purpose of those films is to make the case for questioning one's fixed notions of good and bad, right and wrong (and very wrong).
For example, my ideas regarding refugees were softened after viewing the French film, Welcome
(2009). That film put faces on policies and I was glad that I watched it. But there are two films that had quite the opposite effect, only confirming my staunch support of one particular, unwavering rule.
I was on a business trip with my fella the first time I had the displeasure of viewing a movie involving incest. He was at a dinner and I was in some chi-chi hotel room in Manhattan, watching The Other Boleyn Girl
on Netflix because I'm a sucker for Tudor-era nonfiction.
The film depicts an abundance of unsavory story lines, but two were notably distasteful to me personally. The first was the affair between Henry VIII and two young girls from one family, the Boleyns. First was Mary, who was already married but had no choice but to indulge Henry's advances, then later Anne, who actively pursued Henry, desiring to be queen. As if that wasn't close enough to incest, after miscarrying, Anne, now the queen, seeks her brother's assistance in getting pregnant again before Henry finds out that her uterus no longer houses what was to be his heir.
I was on the edge of the bed scolding Anne (played by Natalie Portman) under my breath as she began to touch her brother in a way that triggered my gag reflex, "Don't do it George! It's wrong!" I lamented.
Luckily, George had better sense than Anne did, although they both paid for the almost fornication with their heads.
That was twelve years and dozens of movies ago.
Last week, I found myself happily alone with a T.V. and a king-sized bed covered in clean clothes, begging to be folded. That may not sound like much fun to a single gal, but for me, two hours of peace and Netflix ranks up there with 23-year-old whiskey. Getting some chores done in the process was just a bonus.
My husband had taken our brood ice skating so I scanned newly added foreign films on Netflix and came across a trailer
with two absolutely beautiful French preschool-aged children playing outside, running hand in hand. It was Marguerite and Julien
, based on a true story
that took place toward the end of the Renaissance and during the Catholic/Calvinist conflict in France.
I should have watched the entire trailer. Boy, was I surprised thirty minutes into the movie when I figured out what a dark (and icky) road that flick was headed down.
What I thought would be a beautiful narrative of siblings as best friends, a bond I can certainly appreciate and relate to, unfolded into an incestuous boink-a-thon that made me physically nauseated and absolutely sickened. Not to mention it was sacrilegious.
Following an earthshaking romp on the forest floor, the next scene had Marguerite standing in front of a large wooden hill-side cross, asking for forgiveness just before embracing her brother as a lover in front of the universally understood symbol of Christ.
No surprise that this film was selected as a candidate for the Palme d' Or at Cannes, 2015.
The film encourages the viewer to root for the deviant siblings, cheering them on as they run for their freedom, their love, and their lives. Urging one to defy the religious and societal standards that both define and confine love, and ultimately separated a mother (Marguerite ) from the child conceived with her brother.
Instead of being an effective lesson in self-control, this film was celebrated as art, urging viewers to understand that every passion is worth pursuing, even when it is obviously wrong and grossly misguided by the flesh. And even if that passion leads to death, the orphaning of a child, and loving parents having to withstand the public beheading of two beloved children.
It's strange how right and wrong can be so contorted yet so celebrated by those who practice humanism
Or perhaps it is just French film being French.