Bill Forsyth After an End to Housekeeping

I couldn't attend the screening of Local Hero yesterday, but I did make it to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Housekeeping. Writer/director Bill Forsyth — lucky for me — stayed an extra day for this screening and for a question-and-answer session afterward.

Anyway, the film is excellent and human like Forsyth's other films, but also just a bit disconcerting. It's the story of Ruth and Lucy, orphans who get bounced through the family lineage until they are cared for by their Aunt Sylvie, but what makes it disconcerting is how I was forced to judge Sylvie: are her actions eccentric, insane, misplaced, enlightening, or harmful?

She goes just a little "too far" with what would otherwise be just personality traits — for instance, finding old newspapers useful, but collecting them to an obsessive degree (and yet, she also seems perfectly able to part with them). On the one hand, that kind of thriftiness could prove useful in a time of scarcity, especially when compared with one who is wasteful. On the other hand, she doesn't seem to be making conscious effort to drive her life, allowing whatever whim suits her to guide her.

I found the question-and-answer session afterward to be enlightening, revealing Forsyth as a modest fellow who wasn't particularly driven to make films, yet ended up producing work that is warm, unique, and expertly-made.

I had been tipped off before the film that he might go on to socialize with some of the Eastman House staff afterward, but I forgot.  I intended to join a couple friends on the staff to walk with them until they got to their house, but when they went instead to The Strathallan (550 East Ave.) I considered excusing myself out of courtesy as I hadn't been invited, but I decided instead to leave it up to those who were there to ask me to leave if they so wished.

The conversation was fun and interesting as one might expect. We had some laughs and talked about movies, people, and the state of the world. Ordinarily I wouldn't think of myself as excessively brash, but next to the quiet gentle wisdom of Forsyth and the woman he traveled here with (who I assumed is his wife), I felt like some loud-mouthed, opinionated, know-it-all, American stereotype.

On the actual walk home with my friends, we talked about some of the quirky people and their unusual mannerisms. One example is a guy who supposedly couldn't get Forsyth's traveling companion's name right — yet we also know that he's said he has Asperger syndrome, so his unusual behavior is somehow acceptable. Another case was a friend whose palpable social discomfort was given attention in friendly mockery — yet since we know of no diagnosed disorder, it was somehow acceptable to do so.

In the film, Sylvie's behavior was likewise dead-center in the gray/grey area between unusual and insane. Why is there a difference in how we react to someone we know has a psychological problem versus another who acts the same but is not diagnosed? One's individual reaction to any other person is certainly unique, and perhaps it's the "political correctness" drummed into our psyches that causes a reactionary rift between those afflicted by a proper disorder and others who are not. If that's the case, then perhaps the best course of action is to assume everyone you meet is somehow disabled and should be treated cordially nonetheless.

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