Grace

OK. Grace. The movie about the woman who wills her stillborn baby back to life.

First problem: Written and directed by a dude. (Where’s Catherine Breillat when you need her?) Second problem: This is what happens when we encourage hack artists to justify their regressive exploitation-film nostalgia with high-minded arrogance. Now, you might want to say, “Lighten up.” But I want to say, “Nah.” You know who should lighten up? Writer-director Paul Solet.

The content of his highly over-determined movie — bleeding wombs and breasts and flies buzzing up babies’ nostrils and such — doesn’t offend me. The denial of its mediocrity does. With such a heavy, mauling touch, it ruins itself. The thing is just way too clunky to work as campy horror shlock, let alone as some nouveau-Polanskian high style. So, with embarrassing desperation, it makes the false claim of having deliberately split the difference. As if that would be worth anything anyway.

I can at least begin to sympathize with its reactionary rage at the fashion-trend cooption of veganism, midwifery, etc., by entitled hipster-yuppie maternal solipsists. But any prospect of real critique is squandered through clumsiness and self-ignorance and geeking out on having named the main character’s pet cat after Sigourney Weaver’s pet cat in Alien, among other, grosser, tree-seeing but forest-blind details.

Unfortunately, in a San Francisco International Film Festival post-screening Q&A, Solet didn’t do much to allay suspicions that he might just be another shallow pseudo-provocateur, and maybe even a pretentious douche. His motive for the movie, he said, was that his mom once told him he’d had a twin who didn’t survive.

I was willing to meditate on that, and on his further elaboration that mom gave the movie her blessing. But then he started in with the industry-poseur workshop jargon, talking about character arcs, as if there were any, and rationalizing the “journey” of his severely corner-cut dramatization. “We had to earn every beat in the picture,” he intoned. Or: “This isn’t a movie that spoon-feeds you anything; I believe in an audience more than that.” He was like an angrily written character in some hollow adolescent satire of the movie business, and whatever remaining shock value he had, this cravenly bogus posture of discretion and refined intelligence, this obvious seeking of approval, swiftly depleted it.

Had he faced his audience as just some sneering punk, of no apparent means and absolutely nothing left to lose, well, maybe all would be forgiven and I’d right away want to go see his movie again.

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