Monday, August 20, 2012
ELSA & FRED THE MOVIE
Today's foreign film was ELSA & FRED, Spanish, made in Madrid. Elsa is a complex woman and Fred a man who worked the same job forty years. She's a bit of a dreamer and he's bound by pragmatic reality. In the beginning, Fred moves into an apartment across the hall from Elsa's eight months after his only wife had died. Elsa falls for him, commits indiscretions to spend time with him. He gradually comes to realize she's not always telling the truth in anything she says, she lives in a fantasy world of herself as Anita Ekberg in Felinni's LA DOLCE VITA. In Elsa's fantasy mind Fred is Marcello Mastroianni. He has a difficult time with her whims. She wants to charm him into falling in love with her and she does it. She charms him with her excesses, her spontaneity, her loco mind. He goes from calling her loco unto almost having a heart attack from the stress of his internal fury in reaction to her nutty behavior. He inadvertently fell in love and became her accomplice in following her loco fantasies. Such fantasies as taking him for lunch at a restaurant neither was equipped to pay the bill. She talked him into walking out with her and driving away. He did and he was hooked.
Elsa turned out to be such a terrific liar that Fred saw he couldn't believe anything she told him about her actual life with a son as a failure abstract artist and a stuffy son and daughter in law who were driven by money and appearances. The story goes on and I caught onto her lying as Fred was catching onto it. Fred's way of responding to her fantasies about herself was to appreciate it in her. He came to see that the dream was the real Elsa. Once he stepped through that passage Elsa became more fun than ever before. Both have their medical ailments and both are living in a time of their lives when any day is their last. They take pills, have doctor appointments, have grown offspring who believe their role is to control these old people. Both Elsa and Fred liberate themselves from that belief, while not alienating their kids either. They fall in love and their kids don't like it (naturally). They demand their freedom to live their lives as they will. Reluctantly the kids let them have their way, which they had already taken.
Watching Fred puzzle over Elsa's fantasies became the story for me. Finally, he discovers she really is loco and that's ok. In her dreams is where he found her. A couple of times he told her she was a teenager in an old woman's body and she thanked him for seeing it. Every minute throughout the story is a dance in the face of death. Two people in their last days refuse to give in to what is expected of old people. They will themselves to have happy times anyway. Who's to say old people can't be happy? This was also one of the questions entertained in the story. So they're a little bit silly in their giddy, sometimes childlike behavior. Sometimes they act like teenagers, laughing and cutting up in public whenever the whim strikes, getting a kick out of being seen in love. Elsa's successful son asked her what her purpose was with Fred. It was the first interjection from the world where Elsa and Fred are not understood, like teenagers. They had never entertained the question, as I had not either, of why and where it's going. For me, the viewer, it came as a kind of shock, because it was not a matter of consideration for them. The purpose is now. How could they explain that? They explained it by living it.
Neither Elsa nor Fred have much longer to live. They both know it. Her fantasies don't deny her dying. Her fantasies are about making the days entertaining, having fun, unconcerned about spending money. They were seizing the moment, living in the now. In love they had found the now. So what if Elsa lied about her past. In her apartment she featured a b&w photograph of Anita Ekberg from LA DOLCE VITA. She identified with the photograph, and it turns out she identified with Anita Ekberg and she was a knockout in her younger years. She wished she had been a star, but she had never come anywhere near being a star, but in her mind. Fred watched LA DOLCE VITA with his friend the doctor. It was funny for me hearing them comment on the brilliance of the photography, the sensuality of the fountain scene where Elsa visualized herself in Anita Ekberg's form. They talked like Europeans. It was notably not Americans talking in relation to a Fellini film. There are some, but not many. It had the subtlety only Europeans have access to, some Asians too, basically the subtlety of appreciation for art.
Fred did not care about her past, did not want to know her past anymore. They didn't have a great deal of time left. She had never been to Rome, had never seen the fountain in the film. Fred's loser soninlaw had wanted a huge investment of cash to open a business that Fred reluctantly gave in to, having nothing else to do with his money. He came around to seeing the soninlaw was not worth the money that would be the same as thrown away. He put that money in plane tickets, hotel rooms and dining in Rome, the fountain the goal. Elsa waited until the third day to want to go to the fountain. By this time he had joined her fantasies as her partner. She wanted them to act out the scene, Anita and Marcello, standing in the fountain in evening clothes. They played their parts in such a way that it was Fred and Elsa as well as Anita and Marcello at the same time. It was done with incredibly subtle photography and editing. In the moment they were acting the scene, it turned into b&w like in the original. Their souls united in that moment. It stunned me to see how effective the transition in and out of that scene worked, how powerful the scene was. Even subliminally the viewer knows this is their moment ordained from when they first met.
The scene in the fountain was the purpose of their relationship to answer the soninlaw's question. His daughter, for apparently the first time in her life understood her papa for a day when he withdrew the money from his agreement to invest in their small business and take Elsa to Rome. Soninlaw complained he spent the money on that woman and daughter saw it as Fred and Elsa saw it, the money well spent for a priceless moment. The priceless moment was one of the themes that ran through the story to have its apex in the ultimate priceless moment for them. Early in their relationship she told him she was going to teach him to laugh and we see him finding occasion to laugh more and more until there comes a time he is laughing unselfconsciously out loud and in public. The actors, Manuel Alexandre and China Zorrilla, appear to have been well known acting in films in their younger years, he in Spain, she in Argentina. They were Anita and Marcello in Elsa's "teenage" mind, young and beautiful falling in love in a Roman fountain in LA DOLCE VITA. During the fountain scene I spoke out loud, "Beautiful movie!" in awe for every detail of the film and the story. It is about the ultimate heart movie that never even remotely fell into sentiment in its plunges into the depths of feeling that play all the strings of the heart.