Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Trip to the Película Souk

We got a little confused on Saturday, when we set off for the Renoir Plaza de España cinema.

We'd checked the online map, and established that this was one of several cinemas in the area, and by the time we got there, late (my fault), and after dark, we were a bit tense. We found the right place, but La Joven Jane Austen was sold out, so we wandered aimlessly on for a hundred yards - if that - and almost fell over another cinema....... and then another (where Elizabeth, La Edad de Oro, was also sold out..) We were in the cinema souk!

Consider Exhibit A: The Golem cinema map. The Golem is situated, as you can see, at the junction of C. Martin de los Heros and C. Ventura Rodriguez, very handy for the VR Metro station.

Exhibit B: location map for the Renoir Plaza de España, at the PdE end of Martin de los Heros, (very handy for the PdE Metro)........and... if it please Your Honour...

Exhibit C, location map for the Renoir Princesa, just up from RPdE, though not as far as the Golem.... and then again, I have a feeling we might have passed a Yelmo on the way.

I rest my maleta.

In the end, we retraced our steps to Renoir PdE, bought tickets for the Sunday afternoon showing, and duly went to see Becoming Jane yesterday. Even then, we missed half of the opening credits: no-one warned us that - oh rapture - there wouldn't be any adverts or trailers. Yeehah! But this also meant that I didn't learn the film's English title til afterwards, because all the posters are for La Joven Jane Austen, in dubbed Spanish (versión doblada al castellano).

What we saw was the V.O. (Versión Original – in this case, of course, English – con subtítulos en castellano) V.O. is the Renoir/Golem/Yelmo speciality. We had the choice of La Torre de Suso, Qué tan Lejos, La Zona, Caótica Ana, Mataharis, and half a dozen other V.O. Castellano films ; Persepolis or Conversaciones con mi Jardinero (V.O. Francés); and Huella, Once, LJJA, EEdO, Tierra, Promesas del Este, Leones por Corderos and plenty more V.O. Inglés.

I'd like to see Persepolis, and Conversaciones con mi Jardinero (the French ones, in case you're hopelessly confused by now) but I'm not up for a Spanish film just yet, unless it's a shamelessly escapist romp like last year's Bandidas, starring Penélope Cruz and Selma Hayek - that was great fun! Basically, I'm looking for an hour and a half in my comfort zone, which means English, or French, with plenty of visual appeal to compensate for my feeble and tottering Français - so - garden or animation?!

So we went to see 'Jane', and wept through all the sad bits (well, I did, anyway) and came out very sad. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand, it was ok, very handsome, with some fine actors doing a good job of what they had: James Cromwell and Julie Walters as Rev. & Mrs Austen; Anne Hathaway and Anna Maxwell Martin as daughters Jane and Cassandra; Laurence Fox as Wisley, Maggie Smith as his aristocratic aunt, and James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy. But, it didn't hit home for me: not as a romance, as a historical drama, a rites of passage story or a 'biopic'.

One problem is that Jane Austen's been 'done' before, with sharper scripts, more breathtaking cinematography, and more sex appeal. I mean the - to my mind - flawless BBC TV adaptation of Pride & Prejudice; and the Columbia Pictures' Sense and Sensibility, with Emma Thompson's deft, warm and hilarious screenplay - and a superb ensemble cast to carry it off. Both came out in 1995, which is a long time in commercial film-making, but only a blink of an eye if we're considering potential classics of any genre.

Film and literature are completely different media, of course, and it takes a talented screenwriter with a powerful appreciation of both to provide the screenplay that glimmers with the promise of box office gold and critical acclaim. Both P&P and S&S owed much of their success to the sensitivity and skill of their screenwriters, and to their good sense and restraint in making the most of the polished structure, superb dialogue and ironic, compassionate insights of the original novels. Those novels, in their turn, were the product of a meticulous craftswoman at the height of her powers. They don't make chick lit like that anymore.....

So it wasn't a 'Jane Austen'. Was it even about Jane Austen? Or about the marketability of Jane Austen, and of Anne Hathaway, with her US chick-flick (uhuh) box office appeal and an English accent to make Gwyneth Paltrow look over her shoulder in the next anglophile casting session?

I was in no hurry to see this film, I'll confess, because I saw Miss Potter earlier this year; and much as I enjoyed Renee Zellweger's performance - and everyone else's, for that matter - and the touches of magical realism that brought back early BBC Narnia, well... well............ Beatrix Potter's life is well-documented, and the sugar-coating of her parents' perception and treatment of their only daughter irked me. Boy meets girl, boy dies, girl finds redemption in work, and subsequently recovers from broken heart to marry childhood friend and live happily ever after, all in 92 minutes: it's as authentic as any other picturesque image. And Miss Potter was very well done, and I shall no doubt watch it again, and enjoy it more whole-heartedly now that I know what it is - and what it isn't.

But I have a similar problem with 'Becoming Jane'. I don't know much about Jane Austen, beyond the fact that she was a writer at a time when women had very few choices, that she never married (which may or may not have been connected to her being a writer) that she wrote about the world she knew - and that there is a portrait of her. I don't know if the portrait is pencil or charcoal, but I've seen enough copies to know what Jane Austen looked like - and it was probably more Renee Zellweger - or Anna Maxwell Martin - than Anne Hathaway.

OK, that's a minor matter, but, as the film progressed, with clumping references to Austen's books, and to Hollywood adaptations, for goodness sake; and an increasingly predictable plot, which duly pressed all the usual buttons, I found myself wondering what - of this 'becoming' film - was actually true. And if it wasn't, what I was supposed to get from it? Later, I felt I'd been taken for a ride: relieved of my ticket money for an exercise in patronising, accountancy-driven sub-standard film-making. As a drama it was shallow and predictable. As a period drama it was formulaic. As a script, it got us from the beginning to the end. As a comedy, it was flat. As a tribute it was entirely fake. And as a source of insight into what made Jane Austen the woman, and writer, she was.......... yeah right........... now I can write my thesis.....

As a creative project - well, I hope the caterers were excellent, the weather perfect, and that all those people who put their talent and craft into this project were well paid for the efforts. And they all get to star in a cult indie before next summer is out. There's a lot to enjoy in Becoming Jane, but not enough to disguise the mediocrity of the original premise. Or the assumption that we'll lap it up.

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