Three is a Magic Number, Man and a Woman Had a Little: Aftermath

You remember School House Rock cartoons from the ’70’s, right? The one about the number 3; “man and woman had a little baby, they had three-ee-ee in the family.” I loved that cartoon and was reminded of trinity significance after seeing the critic maligned movie The Aftermath written and directed by James Kent.

First, let’s talk about the triumvirate of actors: Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Clarke who commanded the movie each with a particular set of respective skills: welling believable tears, pained, but not annoying countenances, and polite European rage. Their love triangle is plausible and moving. While I don’t know Skarsgard as well (wasn’t a True Blood fan, mainly due to middle class HBO-less wages), I’ve loved and hated Knightley (loved: Atonement, eye rolled: Laggies) and thought Clarke nailed Kennedy (well technically Mary Jo, ok bad joke) in Chappaquiddick.

In The Aftermath, the love triangle doesn’t take long to build, but this is war torn Germany where wives are often alone and some men happen to be widowed. What worked best is some snappy Double Indemnityesque dialogue: Skarsgard, “I was going to apologize (for kissing you),” Knightley: “Why?” as well as other witticisms from the invaded Germans, “They’re making themselves at home”, “yeh, just like maggots in the bacon”.

An additional bonus saving this film from being a stuffy period piece is characters experiencing joy (Skarsgard and Knightley frolic in the snow and have some hot cabin sex). Hence, kudos to the other terrific trio (James Kent had help writing the screenplay from Joe shrapnel (great war writer name) and Anna Waterhouse). Bless all three of you for writing a script that had light as well as dark; and for having layers of stories, the teenage daughter of Skarsgard naively falling for the malevolent German boy also was credible.

To finish my troika analogy and commendation, watching The Aftermath had the delicious combination of a mudslide (Kahlua, Baileys, Cream aka the actors) with Napoletana pizza (Tomato sauce, achiovies, crust aka the writers) without the cheese. Unfortunately, all the cheese was in the trailer which probably dissuades some from seeing this impressive film.

Just like 1981: Colette

Funny, when I looked up the 1981 Commodore’s song Lady (You Bring Me Up), a commented posted under the YouTube video said, “Back when it all still made sense”. Amen, brother!

But I’ve actually had a couple of 1981 experiences that made perfect ‘sense’ this past week. First was dancing to “Lady, You Bring Me Up” and feeling like a kid again. In fact, all the Lionel Richie songs remind me of college (and/or high school). I mean who doesn’t remember dorm room dancing to MTV’s former video days repetitive play of Lionel’s “All Night Long”?

My second 1981 flashback was inspired by film class advisor, Gus Molassis, who assigned our class Colette. Having just seen The Wife, I was miffed thinking it was just the same story minus 100 years. (And this is partly true, the stories: wife ghost writes for husband were eerily similar). My negative presumption paralleled the 1981 emotion I had freshman year at St. Bonaventure when the only elective available for me was Detective and Sci Fi Literature. I immediately said spoiled brat style “yuck”, similar to my film assignment reaction.

Boy, was I wrong in both circumstances. If it hadn’t been for the Sci Fi class back in 1981, I may never experienced Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, which brought me to tears with its beauty. And today, while Colette didn’t move me to tears, it was heart warming and much MUCH better written than The Wife.

The key difference between The Wife and Colette were the scene specificity of the marriages. In Colette, we see a real couple with genuine difficulties; infidelity, gender and sexuality self-discovery mixed with cultural aspects of the time period; in this case, the tail end of Victorian Age repression, with tiny fissures cracking its frigid core.

Was some of the dialogue unrealistic? Sure, like Dominic West‘s pompous ass Willy (though also lovable and charming) who talks with such self-knowledge you would think he had a Masters in Johnson (joking aside, I meant Counseling). The old ‘honey I stray because I’m a man and can’t control my penis’ -I paraphrase of course-that’s probably what Harvey W. said).

Yet, the acting was superb and West and Keira Knightley seemed very realistic, unlike the more jokey Pinnochio Jonathan Pryce in The Wife. Other acting praise goes to Denise Gough, an Irish actress who plays the masculine half of Knightley’s bisexual experience. Her performance showed tremendous verisimilitude.

My misgivings about the movie were also its tributes. These two seemed to have enough marital joy that the suffering didn’t seem painful enough, more, ‘I’m hurt, but skipping along, tra la la’. And it seemed Colette got her own way most of the time, and if so, wasn’t Willy more of the victim? A well developed point of contention though, which again, equates depth and excellence. Props to Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, co-screenwriters and the director respectively.

I will say the trailer did it no favors, a large reason for my premature bias. The trailer made it out to be a simplistic man-keeps-woman-down story when it was so much more.

So here’s to trying experiences which seem foreign and finding gold!