I returned from the mailbox today singing in my mind, No movie in the mail today, to the tune of the bluegrass standard, No letter in the mail today. Yesterday's movie picked up in today's mail was curious as it can be. French. Ultra French. This one could never have been funded in our country. I doubt even an independent would dare such a venture. For one thing, the key characters are classical musicians. That's the kiss of death here. End of interest before it began. Also, it was devoid of action. The closest to action is a finger striking a piano key. Not a great deal of talking either.
The drama amounted to the intensity of wondering what this young woman has in her mind that she aims to accomplish before the movie runs out. She has a quiet intensity that tells you when she gets it done, it aint gonna be pretty. Everyone's behavior is mannered, the home of a ruling class lawyer in Paris, whose wife is the classical pianist. The name of the movie is THE PAGE TURNER. This is a young woman just out of school, who had aspired to classical piano when she was younger, but quit the day she flubbed an important competition she aimed to win. How and why she flubbed it stays with her in the later years when she was offered the job to be a tutor for the son, who was studying classical piano. Mother learns the girl reads music, takes her for her page turner in concerts. The story itself is no more dramatic than that last sentence.
At the very end, the girl makes a subtle, small, out of sight gesture that answers the question of what was going on in her mind. For awhile, you think it's one thing, then you think it's another, then in the last minute of the film is the oh-shit moment. It answers every question that went before, and by the time you get to the end, there are plenty of questions. What she's scheming, because it's clear she is scheming, and the motive behind what she's apparently up to are the main questions. Chilling moments occur from time to time, like in the kitchen when the girl's facility with a meat cleaver cutting porkchops was noted. Asked what work her parents did. Butchers. Moments like that suggest it might get really weird by the end. But it never did. It just kept on being a tension around what's in the girl's mind that has a certain inexplicable edge to it.
Just a few characters in mannered lives passing each other from time to time between schedules. All are intelligent people doing well in their worlds. He is a "top lawyer." And the 12 year old boy is practicing at the piano all the time. Very undramatic people. Tennis for exercise. Schedules to keep. What I loved especially was the drama of the film stayed within that anti-dramatic framework. And it worked with little more than a hint from time to time that something is going on in this girl's mind and it leads one to think something sinister is on the horizon. And it never happened. And it never happened. Everybody went on in their everyday lives, passing each other like sailboats in a harbor, a few words in passing. One scene close to the end establishes it's a fact the girl is capable of about anything a mind can imagine. It sets off the alarm that it's time to run for cover.
The film keeps dramatic tension going by nothing happening. From scene to scene, nothing "happens," except you learn a little bit here, a little bit there that all point to something ahead. Anticipation is held by inaction, waiting for something to bust loose. When it did bust loose, it's a big surprise for everybody concerned, esp this viewer. It was vicious and the girl could walk away like nothing ever happened except she's satisfied with what she'd done. A very well told story and something that could only be made in France.
My interest in the film was sparked by my friend Jean, who told me of a dream she had once of herself in a nice gown sitting at a piano beside the maestro turning pages for him in concerts. That seemed to me a good picture of Jean's life. A gentle soul inside, and on the outside functioning in the background supporting a man all attention is on, her function to turn the pages and do it right. That fairly well pictures her 3 marriages with redneck narcissists. They made her tough. They also annihilated any self-esteem she might have found. She wasn't allowed an iota of self-esteem from the day she was born. A page turner--the invisible woman behind the great maestro.
Of course, I never expected the movie to relate to Jean in any way. The only way for it to relate would be the human way which we're all susceptible to. I believe Jean would have enjoyed the film in very different ways from what I've mentioned. The character of the girl I would not relate to Jean. Nor anything about the movie. Only that one dream. Still, I was thinking of Jean while watching, thinking I'd have liked the chance to see it with her. She would have enjoyed it as much as I did and could enlighten some of my thoughts with her own. We would have talked some more about her dream and her invisible life. Crazy Jean she was called. And the Crazy Woman of Whitehead. I've heard, "C'mon TJ, you gotta admit, Jean was crazy." There was no way I could affirm that sentence, though she'd spent most of her adult life in mental institutions. The only thing crazy I ever saw about Jean was she had good sense in a world where it has no value. It taught her to be tough and able to take it, whatever comes along, and she did.