Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Alas for Me

We all know Richmond can be behind the curve on certain things.

But nineteen years for a film by a French directing legend to show here?

All I can say is better late than never.

Pre-movie festivities took place at Rowland where I met a devoted friend for happy hour and debriefing.

With the front door propped wide open, we got the benefit of a beautiful evening without having to inhale the exhaust of Main Street.

Inside, the music blared and we chose our poison off the happy hour five dollar menu.

She did a Cote du Rhone and told me about the recent ball she'd attended, which was apparently over-supplied with giant cupcakes.

I hear it's tough to plan how many cupcakes a formally dressed crowd will eat.

I went with white burgundy (Cuvee Hortense) while talking about talking because she wanted specifics about frequency.

Talking frequency.

How can I not love a friend who wants that kind of information?

Since it was her first time at Rowland, I insisted we get the butterbean cake, but it was by mutual agreement that we ordered the fish sticks.

Chef Virginia was doing flash-fried rockfish strips on a bed of arugula with Cesar dressing and tartar sauce on the side.

If only we could all grow up eating fish sticks like these, there'd be world peace, I feel certain.

Our bartender joined the conversation organically after eavesdropping on my friend telling me about how hard it is to get her husband to take her out to dinner.

"Bring him in and I'll lecture him about not being so tight," he advised her.

I had to ask if he'd been listening in. "Well, sure," he grinned. Translation: "Duh."

No doubt about it, barkeeps earn their money listening to the trivial bar chatter of people like us.

Sadly, our tete-a-tete had to be cut short because I had aspirations to catch the next-to-last screening of the VCU Cinematheque series at the Grace Street Theater.

My, how the school year flies when you're not paying attention.

I took my usual aisle seat only to be joined shortly by a girl I'd met years ago when we kept passing each other on our walks.

"I haven't seen you in five years," she said, sitting down. "What's new with you?"

Honey, you don't have the time to listen to the answer to that question before this movie starts.

Or enough brain space to handle that and French New Wave.

When the film, Jean-Luc Godard's "Helas Pour Moi" (or Alas for Me), was introduced, it was with the surprising fact that the film is not available with English subtitles in this country.

Luckily for the audience, one of VCU's professors had a very rare print which he was sharing with anyone brave enough to swim in Godard's drowning pool of deep and dark issues.

The story is based on the myth about a god taking over the body of a mere mortal so that he can have sex with the man's faithful wife.

We were warned that the film was not for the lazy-minded and even offered some safety lines to hang onto as we watched it, themes that could pull us back in if we got in too deep.

What is romanticism in this day and age? What does it mean to love one person? How important is fidelity?

I was more than happy to splash around in Godard's pools, expressed in so decidedly an un-American way.

Because it did get dense, with bursts of classical music, disembodied voices and words flashing on the screen even as the story loosely unfolded.

All I can say is that I hope the film students in the audience weren't sporting altered states because there's no way they could pass a quiz on this film without full attention.

As it was, most of the crowd just sat there when it ended, trying to absorb what we'd just seen.

I was hardly surprised to hear that the film couldn't find a distributor when it was released in 1994 (the VCU professor actually had a distribution company at the time that released it in this country), back in the dark ages.

So it worked out well for me that it just now got shown here since I was free and looking for a little mental stimulation tonight.

I don't want to take a quiz on it, but I'm willing to fire up a few synapses on such weighty topics as romanticism, love and fidelity as conceived of by the French.

Make no mistake, though, I followed up the mental heavy lifting with a glass of Paarl Heights Pinotage at Bistro 27 afterwards.

Maybe it was the short night Monday, maybe it was the drive to and from the Northern Neck today or maybe it was the hour and a half swimming in Godard's bottomless pool of soul-searching, but I couldn't finish my wine.

Pouring it out, the bartender shook his head, saying, "The Pinotage gods aren't smiling right now."

I'll just have to live with that.

As long as they don't want to take over my merely mortal body.

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