The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear



I have put off writing about Roma even though I have seen it twice (and intend to see it many more times).  I have seen it at home on Netflix and also in 70mm at the beautiful Chicago movie palace, The Music Box. Let me say that both modes were wonderful.  Roma is a film for the ages and its brilliance comes out in both formats.  So if someone tells you that the only way you can appreciate it is on the big screen, just smile and walk away.

You don’t need me to tell you why this movie is an instant classic. It has been written about endlessly. But I can tell you how I feel about it.

What makes me so happy about the success of Roma is that it is such a cinematic movie.  I know that sounds redundant, but most mainstream films are basically illustrated stories, and they are approached and discussed at the plot level only.  You can’t do that with Roma. There is not enough ‘plot’ to discuss. What there is, is pure cinema.  The characters, the story, the sense of place and history, these are all conveyed in purely cinematic terms. Something to make Hitchcock’s heart sing.

And it is amazingly popular.  You would think such a cinematic film would be too austere to be so beloved. What I encounter is people telling me how much they love it, but they don’t know what to say about it.  I think that is wonderful.

It is the triumph of image over dialogue.  Norma Desmond is smiling on us from wherever she wound up.


The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Get Me Roger Stone (Dylan Banks &c.)
  2. That Uncertain Feeling (Ernst Lubitsch)
  3. They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson)
  4. Henry V (Laurence Olivier)
  5. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Marielle Heller)
  6. The Third Man (Carol Reed)
  7. A Letter to Three Wives (Joseph Mankiewicz)
  8. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
  9. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville)
  10. Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi)


1- I have revered Ernst Lubitsch mostly based on three movies: Trouble in Paradise, Ninotchka and the perfect The Shop Around The Corner.  I find that when I stray from these three, the other Lubitsch films are not great or, more often, downright bad (I’m looking at you Cluny Brown!).  I watched That Uncertain Feeling hoping it would join the immortal 3, but, alas, it is really the bottom of the barrel.  The thing about The Shop Around The Corner that makes it so splendid is the perfect comedic timing beautifully blended with a dash of vinegar and sentiment.  I have seen the three stars of That Uncertain Feeling before but as comic actors they are flat-footed. Plus the story is just nasty. And it’s good that Burgess Meredith is already dead, because otherwise I couldn’t be responsible for my actions.

2- They Shall Not Grow Old is stunning.  It is one of the most visceral and magical films I have ever seen.  There is such an immediacy. You are in World War I.  It is no longer a remote set of images, blurred with time and primitive camera technique.  I always bristled when silent clips were shown with added sound.  It just seemed so artificial. I also felt insulted as if they were implying that modern audiences couldn’t handle a film without ambient sound.  Why do I admire this so much? It is done with such care and obvious love (Peter Jackson is a WWI fanatic).  It never feels like it is cheating the way that CGI always seems to me.  CGI is there to dazzle you, but more often winds up numbing you. What Peter Jackson does here is to completely remove the barriers of time between us and the participants of the war.  The voice dubbing is remarkable and for once 3D is an enhancement.

3- Thanks to the amazing AMC A-List deal I have been seeing a lot more movies in the theater than I ordinarily would.  And even though I think the Oscars are stooooopid, they were a good excuse to see contemporary films.  Can You Ever Forgive Me? was a great surprise, and it is a film I probably wouldn’t have gone to see.  An adult character study of a protagonist who is absolutely unsympathetic played beautifully by Melissa McCarthy.  I don’t understand the glowing reports for Richard E. Grant.  I usually love him but not here, through no fault of his.  His character was such a cliched, bitchy queen (and stupid on top of it) that there was not much sympathy from me.

4- I had the same feeling about A Letter to Three Wives as I did regarding the Lubitsch films above.  This film is an earlier product of most of the same people who gave us the masterpiece All About Eve, but this one never takes off for me. The snappy dialogue seems too self-conscious, the characters are not very appealing or funny (except, of course, for Thelma Ritter).  Plus the Macguffin of which husband has run away, turns out not to be a Macguffin at all.  When it is revealed, it is such a disappointment since you feel the movie could have been so much more.  Maybe it needed Bette Davis. Maybe every movie needs Bette Davis!

5- I was so happy to see a foreign language film in wide release.  I had high hopes for Everybody Knows. I mean, come on! Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Ricardo Darin?  Plus a friend had told me the director is  fantastic. Well, it was good, beautiful to look at, and kept you pulling along, but the plot/mystery became so top-heavy and red-herring-laden that at the resolution I wasn’t sure what was resolved and I felt just glad that it was over. But Penelope Cruz is gorgeous and a great actress much in the same vein as Sophia Loren. And too bad Darin is not better known here.