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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Waltz With Bashir at The Little

Ali and I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to catch a couple movies. She had read the book and wanted to see the film The Reader, and I've been meaning to catch Vals Im Bashir (Waltz With Bashir). They both started about the same time — although the shorter Waltz started 10 minutes earlier, so I got out some 45 minutes earlier. I headed to Spot Coffee (200 East Ave.) but couldn't figure out how to get on the Internets with their wireless Internet [assuming "Spot on WIFI" was the SSID of their network.]

Anyway, Waltz With Bashir is a rather interesting movie. It's an animated film about a man who had fought in Israel's war with Lebanon 20 years ago. He can't remember anything of his involvement in the war until one of the people he fought with reveals a recurring dream. The man then seeks others who fought in the war by his side to help him get his memories back — particularly about a massacre he has the most trouble remembering.

The scenes of war were particularly surreal. Not because of the unreal aspects of the animation, though, but from the insanity inherent in war itself: particularly those aspects that bridge peaceful life with war life. The soldiers are expected to behave a certain way, but their humanity draws their attention to commonplace things: sounds and silence for example, or the benign apathy of plants to politics, borders, and war.

I look at this whole war thing like I must be crazy. I mean, I can't see how it makes anything any better. It's a deliberate act of malice that changes the course of people's lives, justified in future retrospect that it will have been seen as unavoidable and written in history as a good thing by the victors.

So I see these films that portray war as this absurd exercise and it seems true through the rich approximation of emotions. But then I'll talk with some guy returning from Iraq and they all say it was such a rewarding experience. On the one hand I feel like my fellow fairly-trade-coffee-chewing aristocracy, proud of our nuanced and clearly superior understanding of war. Yet it's a much more filtered view than those who are actually at war.

Unassailable logic dictates that to really get an answer, I'd need to go to war myself. But aside from gaining more knowledge about the world, I otherwise find the idea, well, bad.

I think I might just leave this one unknown.

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