Venice Film Festival: Les Beaux Jours D’Aranjeux

Les Beaux Jours D’Aranjeux
Directed by Wim Wenders
Starring Reda Kateb, Sophie Semin, Jens Harzer and Nick Cave

by Jenny Donoghue

Not many 3D films open with a writer staring at his typewriter and an apple on a tiny table. Adapted by director Wim Wenders from Peter Handke’s play, Les Beaux Jours D’Aranjeux is not your typical 3D film. The action all takes place in a single location, and in fact is more accurately a long conversation intercut with luscious nature sounds than action. The two characters occasionally shift position but remain largely seated at a table in a beautiful garden landscape.

The film is a conversation between a man and a woman, characters imagined in the mind of a writer. We cut back and forth between the writer and his subjects, with some musical interludes from Nick Cave on the writer’s jukebox. Nick Cave himself even makes an appearance in a surreal moment where the music on the record player conjures a grand piano with him playing. The surreal moments were delightful, and more of them could have kept things more interesting.

There’s a hazy intentionally timeless feel, whose tranquility is disrupted at the end as the static of the modern world quite literally begins to force its way in. It is unfortunately only when this tension begins in the final few minutes that the film gains any kind of urgency that compelled me to pay attention. Prior to that the pace, content and tone were all so tranquil as to be quite dull and a bit of a chore to sit through – quite literally like listening in on someone else’s conversation.

The bulk of the subject matter is the differences between men and women, particularly with regards to sex and dating, as well as the difference in the way they express themselves on the subject, with the female view always vague and poetic, where the male pushes for specifics and technicalities. From the female perspective there are some beautiful monologues about her connection to the ethereal, the eternal and the natural world. The male perspective is very detail oriented, focused on facts and practicalities. You do think after a while that the poor silly man might just be trying to get the woman to talk dirty with him while she’s off reliving her life’s meaningful experiences and pondering on what it means to be a modern woman. The actors do their best at holding our attention with the material and making it their own, but it feels a little artificial, a layer of fakeness, perhaps intentionally conjured with the cuts to the writer at his typewriter, which undermines the personal nature of the conversation and makes it hard to care about what they are saying. They struggle to breathe enough life into the introspective script to make impact beyond a watercolour impression of images and experiences tied up with the pleasant country setting.

The lush and tranquil garden is a calming and beautiful backdrop, brought to life with a rich soundscape and the 3D, although the 3D doesn’t really seem necessary here and in fact is a bit superfluous. Perhaps intended to bring the luscious surroundings to life, or make the conversation feel intimate, immediate and personal, it mainly achieves being a distraction making the English subtitles (the film is in French) harder to read.

The overall impression is a bit like two people reading diary entries out loud in a country garden. Although I’d never advocate for one less empowered female character who gets to speak long monologues about female issues, with only the rare interruption of a male, perhaps in this case the material is better suited for diary format. It feels somewhat masturbatory and self indulgent to be the focus of an entire film. It also feels a little disingenuous, an extension of the artificial feeling, to hear such intimate female thoughts from a male playwright, translated to screen by a male director, and even framed within the film’s narrative as the work of a male writer at his typewriter. It’s great to hear these things vocalized in the cinema, but I suppose it might be a bit too radical to give such long liberated female monologues without making it crystal clear a man wrote them.

The pace and tone and action still very much hold the feel of a stage play. It feels theatrical and perhaps a play is a more fitting form for this content. The liveliness of that experience might provide a relevance and connection the film is unfortunately lacking.



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